Anna Luisa Petrisko
Written by Anna Luisa & Sister Mantos
Produced by Sister Mantos
Video by Anna Luisa Petrisko
First off, thank you to Jennelyn Tumalad and The Music Center for inviting me to be a part of this. In our first conversation, Jennelyn and I agreed that disco and karaoke are definitely “mahalaga,” which inspired me to make this video paying homage to these cultural staples of our shared heritage. I used my analog video machines to capture the vintage vibe and saturated color palette, set to the grooves crafted by my longtime friend and collaborator Sister Mantos.
When Sister Mantos (Oscar Miguel Santos) asked me to sing on this tropical disco track, I knew it had to be in Tagalog. In an ongoing quest to learn the language, I co-wrote the lyrics to Ulit Ulit with my mom Ligaya, whose name means happy in Filipino.
In addition to the premiere of the song and video for Ulit Ulit, I created a “Mahalaga” playlist comprised of all Tagalog language songs from the 70s until today. Before you listen, I suggest you do the following meditation to get you in the mood.
Close Your Eyes. Take a few deep breaths. Say the word MAHALAGA slowly, pronouncing each syllable MA - HA - LA - GA. As you pronounce each syllable, drop your jaw like you're biting into a guava. Do this a few times until you get comfortable with the sounds.
Repeat, each time with a different feeling:
- With buntong hininga (a sigh of relief)
- With sobrang drama (melodrama)
- With kagalakan (joy)
- With pagnanasa sa nakaraan (nostalgia)
- With pag-aamor (romantic feelings)
Now, enjoy the Mahalaga playlist.
Anna Luisa Petrisko is a multidisciplinary artist in Los Angeles. Her mediums include experimental opera, video art, design, sound and sculpture. Her recent project is the sci-fi opera and multimedia VR installation VIBRATION GROUP. Collaborating with many artists and friends, she sees the shared work as a way to nourish relationships and create communion. Anna Luisa teaches video art and sound design at California State University San Marcos.
Oscar Miguel Santos is a transdisciplinary artist, event organizer and educator born in El Salvador and raised in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley. Oscar creates original music and videos, performs live and DJs under the pseudonym Sister Mantos. Sister Mantos performs songs of love, Queer identity, Brown futurism, empowerment and utopias that are free of war and oppression. Oscar also co-hosts a monthly party in Los Angeles called La Disco Es Qultura and is a member of Radio Pulgarcito (a Central American music podcast).
Jennelyn Tumalad: How have you been doing during these really uncertain and difficult times? What has been helping you stay creative and motivated?
Anna Luisa Petrisko: Thanks for asking. I am doing well. Meditation and staying connected with friends and family has been helping me. Going into my studio to create is also really helpful because it’s my way of processing emotions. It’s basically my therapy, and therapy is mahalaga.
JT: What I love about your body of work, is how much your work is all encompassing. It is performance, it is visual, it is musical, it is an entire world of its own! How did you find your voice as an artist and who inspired you along the way?
ALP: Thanks Jennelyn! My imaginative play as a child involved choreographing multimedia theatrical productions in the family room or garage, usually while my mom was cooking and my dad was working in the garden. In high school, I did dance, theater and music. In college, I started playing in art punk bands and everything coalesced from there. I am inspired by so many artists from Janet Jackson to Laurie Anderson to Laraaji to Pauline Oliveros. I teach “audio art and sound design” to undergraduates and that inspires me. I am also super inspired by my friends and collaborators here in Los Angeles including Julius Smack, White Boy Scream, Adee Roberson, Xina Xurner, Jon Almaraz (Bulbs) and Sister Mantos.
JT: You collaborated on this song with Sister Mantos. Tell me about the process of collaboration and what brought you two together.
ALP: Oscar Santos (Sister Mantos) and I met while I was on tour around 2010. Our bands played together at a warehouse party in Echo Park. Also around that time, Oscar, along with our friends Jeffzilla, DJ Crasslos, and TravisD., put on this amazing and inclusive party called CoolWorld where all of the BIPOC and Queer musicians and DJs of all genres would play. Often the parties were mutual aid fundraisers addressing needs in the community. It became my family. There is so much crossover in what Oscar and I do as music producers, video artists and educators, so it was natural for us to start collaborating. I love being in the studio with Oscar because I learn so much. We are both gear-obsessed, nerdy sci-fi Tito types so we get along well.
JT: Mahalaga means essential in Tagalog and was the idea I approached you with at the beginning of this project. What would you say are essential characteristics of what it means to be a Filipina American?
ALP: It can mean so many different things for different people. For me, I have an amazing giant Filipino family who loves to sing and dance and that obviously shaped me. I am grateful to have a group of really close Filipinx creative friends and keep meeting new people all the time through making art! What a blessing to know other Filipinx weirdos. A few of us started studying Tagalog together, which turned into a large class and that’s how I met you! We also started a Filipino melodrama and karaoke club which I will definitely invite you to. Maybe we’ll have a pandemic installment soon.
JT: You collaborated with your mom in writing this song. Tell us about that process and how your Filipinx heritage has played a role in your art.
ALP: My mom is the best! Both of my parents have been making cameos in my art since 2011 when I recorded them on my first 7” and since then they have appeared in my operas and videos. My mom really encourages me to learn Tagalog and helps me all the time, God bless her. After Sister Mantos sent me the instrumental, my mom and I wrote the lyrics together, taking inspiration from Disco and our Queen Donna Summers. We also solicited translation help from my tito Ruben Salazar, who enrolled me in a Zoom Tagalog class he organized during the pandemic. He is the executive director of the Filipino American Historical Society of Chicago.
It’s very special because this project has been part of a larger personal mission of mine to learn Tagalog and to spend more time with my elders. Making Ulit Ulit became this embodied way of doing both of those things, meanwhile having fun and learning some essential verbs like love, touch, listen, call and punish!
JT: What does For the Love of L.A. mean to you?
ALP: I feel so lucky to live here. I look at artists who grew up here such as Sister Mantos, White Boy Scream, Jon Almaraz (Bulbs), Lauren Halsey and Rafa Esparza, and they are all such wonderful humans who deeply care for this land—this land that belongs to the indigenous people of the Tongva nation and whose art intersects with activism in exciting and expansive ways. I love being involved with so many artist-led and nonprofit organizations in L.A. who do important work for the community including Coaxial Arts Foundation, Femmebit, Dublab, Los Angeles Performance Practice, LACE, CultureHub, PAM Residencies, Mutant Salon, Human Resources, Echo Park Film Center and Pilipino Worker's Center.
JT: In addition to your karaoke music video, you also created a playlist for people to listen to and experience in a very specific way. Tell us about the process you went through in curating that playlist.
ALP: It was really fun! Creating this playlist of all Tagalog songs is also part of my ongoing research into family and language. The pre-listening instructions I crafted are a way to become embodied in both language and emotion, which is important in order to become a better listener. I think becoming a better listener is the one of the most “mahalaga” things we can do now as a species on spaceship Earth! It’s also a way to meditate on the themes invoked by the music on the playlist, namely relief, joy, melodrama, nostalgia and romantic feelings.
JT: Do you have any future projects that you'd like to share with us?
ALP: I was an artist-in-residence at Coaxial Arts Foundation this year and I am currently in post-production for a new video opera I am making titled ALL TIME STOP NOW. The material was written during the Covid-19 pandemic and it explores some more “mahalaga” themes such as time, spirituality, nature and the self. It is a collaborative project with Mark Golamco, Julius Smack, Adee Roberson, and Mel Pak, and it is set to premiere in mid-November. I will also be showing an interactive piece from my opera VIBRATION GROUP, made in collaboration with Tonia B****** and Ana Carolina Estarita Guerrero, in the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival’s REORIENT: Emerging Media program on October 9.