grace_nono.jpgGrace Nono, born and raised in Mindanao, is an award-winning musician and Philippine culture advocate. She enthralls audiences with her soulful, spiritual chants and her scintillating choreography during performances. Grace is credited for her efforts in spreading the word about the richness of Filipino cultural traditions and for making inroads into contemporary interpretations of traditional music. “My greatest achievement is experiencing and transmitting spirit through the chants I sing,” says Grace. “When it happens, it is a most profound transformative moment.”

Grace recently completed a fellowship this year in the United States under a grant from the Asian Cultural Council. However, Grace is loath to say that she’s achieved success. “Each day, we are presented with challenges that teach us strength, perseverance, humility, compassion, surrender. We are taught to affirm and to celebrate every little step we successfully take, while maintaining sobriety in the face of the divine.” Grace’s responses reflect a deep connection with the spirituality of the Philippine shaman, the babaylan. “One of my role models is the babaylan—a priestess, healer, leader, artist extraordinaire. She is an embodiment of strength, wisdom, spirit-centeredness, and freedom. Not a relic of the historical past, she continues to thrive.”

Grace’s commitment to promoting our culture inspires. “The biggest challenge facing Filipinos today is finding redemption in our Filipino-ness.”  Though we sometimes feel a malaise about where our country’s future is headed, it’s Filipinas like Grace who make us see reason to stay and give more. May her tribe increase. (Grace’s book, The Shared Voice: Chanted and Spoken Narratives from the Philippines, is available at all National Bookstore branches.)

(First published in Marie Claire, November 2008; Photo by Sara Black)

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