Leslie Damaso and Jason Kutz to Perform at
the Union Playhouse
The Call of Culture
Top: Leslie Damaso
Above: The graphic from her CD
“may laya.”
“Mineral Point is beautiful,” Damasco said. “It’s very hilly and there are a lot of historic buildings. We own one of them now, which is
super exciting. We purchased it a year ago. The bottom space is my music studio. It’s really cool. And we live upstairs. My students are
from all over the area, from Mineral Point to Darlington to Dodgeville to Spring Green. They are as young as five-years-old and as old
as 78. I work with all sorts of age groups. It’s very exciting.”

But while Damasco was living the dream, the culture of The Philippines kept calling to her.

“When you move to a different country, you have to be in the culture that you are in, so you assimilate,” Damasco said. “It’s the place
where you live, yet you look different. For 2-3 years, I was thinking, ‘How am I a Filipino living in southwest Wisconsin, an American
citizen, how do I deal with that? What is home to me? How am I Filipino, yet I am an American?’”

Damasco began to seek out her Filipino heritage online and learned about an exciting Filipino cultural “happening” held once a month
in San Francisco’s Mission district.

“Undiscovered SF started a year ago September and I went in October,” Damasco said. “An article said that 3,000 people attended. I
thought, ‘I have got to see this. I have to go there.’ It was really special to me because it was also Filipino-American History Month. It
was amazing.  It was at the Mint Building in San Francisco. Around the building, they had about 40 food trucks selling Filipino food. It
was incredible. And then when you walked into the building, each little section or room was dedicated to something. There was a
music room where there was a jazz singer and a jazz band. Honestly, I was in awe. And then they had a martial arts room and there
was literature. There was a poetry room. There was a fashion room. There was a room dedicated to everything. Just being in that
space and seeing so many people who kind of looked like me, all of these artists, was an incredible and powerful feeling. There was
even a courtyard where they had singers and rappers. It was really cool. It was like a cultural immersion. Everyone was just so
beautiful. I just wanted to cry. I was just like, ‘These people are too cool. I can’t cry in front of them.’”

The culture of The Philippines was calling to her.

There was a pain that Damasco had felt ever since she was transplanted to the United States, but she felt that she experienced it
alone. There were many things inside her that she needed to express and give context. And in reaching out, she found comfort from
her fellow Filipinos and the culture and history of The Philippines.

“Filipinos are scattered all over the world,” Damasco said. “The Spanish colonized The Philippines for 333 years and then we had the
Americans after that. And then there were the Japanese and then the Americans after that for a little bit.  It has caused so much
instability, political and economic instability. It has forced everyone to look for money elsewhere. The Philippines number one export
has been people. It’s sad. I realize that it is because of that history there is all of this pain. You force parents to look for money
elsewhere. And then there is no connection with the younger generation.”

And then Damasco turned to the Kundiman, the Filipino musical pieces that she received a long time before to help her express that

“I feel like the songs of the Kundiman represent the resilience of this group of people, of the Filipinos because they started writing
towards the end of the Spanish occupation,” Damasco said. “It’s really adaptation and making do with what the situation is. When you
are in that type of experience, you’re not really fighting all of the time. When you are at war, there is still time for music, for song, for
food. That was the space where these composers could console and create. It was meant to unify the people. There are patriotic
songs disguised as love songs. It’s really beautiful. I’ve come to notice that I can’t just sing them. I have to talk about it. I want to talk
about it and bring in the history of it and part of my story about it. What I’ve realized is that I’m not really unique because from talking to
all of these other Filipinos all over the United States, we all feel the same way. And that gives a sense of comfort.”

The culture of The Philippines was calling to her.

Damasco released a CD, called maya laya, filled with Kundiman art songs. And it is the reaction to these songs that Damasco saw
the power of the music and its power to heal.

“I’ve been friends with this Filipino girl from my town,” Damasco said. “And she sent her mom the album. A couple of weeks after that,
she sent me a video on Instagram of her mom singing with these songs and how happy she was. She said to me, ‘My mom has never
talked about The Philippines until she heard the music.’ Her mom used to sing it to her and her mom’s mom used to sing it. Because
it is so painful to think about back home, she never talked about The Philippines until now, the general life experiences that she had. I’
m really happy that it is getting people to talk. I think that is really important in the healing process.”

On October 21st, Damasco and pianist Jason Kutz, who worked on may laya with Damasco, will perform a concert of Kundiman music
in the Memorial Union’s Play Circle.

“With some of the pieces, we’re going to add percussion,” Damasco said. “We’re kind of shaking it up a bit and modernizing it. I’m
working with them and I’m like, ‘Let’s make it fresh.’ Next year, a band is going to take the album and basically re-imagine it. For a
combo of piano, trombone, bass and percussion and I will sing some of it with them too. It’s so symbolic. We’re going to do the old
stuff how it was done and then morph into this thing, but the music is still what it is.”

The culture of The Philippines has called to Damasco and she hopes that it will also call to you.

Damasco and Kutz will be performing on Sunday, October 21st, 3 p.m., at the Memorial Union’s Play Circle Theater. Tickets are $25 for
adults and $15 for students and may be purchased through the Wisconsin Union Theater.
By Jonathan Gramling

When she was eleven years old, Leslie Damasco found herself suddenly
uprooted from her native Philippines and transplanted to Champaign, Illinois. Like
any pre-teen, Damasco tried to fit in with her peer group and assimilate into
American culture, leaving all vestiges of Filipino culture behind.

But while Leslie thought she was leaving the culture behind, in some ways, the
culture kept calling to her. Leslie eventually attended the University of Illinois at
Champaign-Urbana to get a degree in music. While she was a sophomore there,
she met a grad student named Nelson Karincho.

“He was a tenor with an amazing voice,” Damasco said. “For some reason, he
ended up getting deported. I don’t know all of the details. Maybe a year or two later,
I got this present from him. He sent me two books of the Kundiman, which was so
generous. And we weren’t even really good friends. He just wanted to give me
these pieces of music. And I didn’t really look at it at the time.”

The culture of the Philippines was calling to her.

After she graduated from Illinois, Damasco landed a job at the Arboretum Music School in the
Arboretum. Anna Manalo started working there. Manalo was a member of PAMANA at the time
and so they decided to do a concert at the Overture Center with Marvin Suson, a violinist.

“She was Filipina and I had these pieces of music that I wanted to do,” Damasco said. “And I
really didn’t know much about Kundiman, a type of Filipino art song that came about because of
the Spanish colonization in the Philippines. I didn’t know much about Filipino music. I was
classically trained. It was a curiosity thing.”

The culture of the Philippines was calling to her.

Damasco and her husband lived in Madison for a while before moving to Mineral Point.