Why I Keep Coming Back to Green Papaya— 04.15.2021
Green Papaya’s legacy can be partly measured by looking at their huge list of exhibitions, festivals, gigs, artist talks, recordings, publications, and other events. It’s an impressive resume! But I will always remember them for the influence they have had on my life.
I first met the team in 2016 when I did a huge music tour of South East Asia as part of halfsound. This tour immediately forced me to jump into something new, to adapt and be really creative in a way I hadn’t been for years. I trained as a classical musician but I play saxophone, so that meant contemporary and even sometimes experimental music, but usually notated with just a little improvising. I had dabbled in free improvising very little. It was only twice before the tour that I had performed something that was improvised where I had been part of the design process. Even though I play saxophone, I don’t actually like playing jazz (I know, I know), and I always thought that meant I wouldn’t be able to improvise professionally. But everything changed on the tour. By the time we reached Manila, we had already combined our notated music with improvising in a bunch of other cities and I was starting to feel like this improvising thing was going to work out after all.
The Green Papaya team were helpful, generous, patient, gracious hosts who helped with accommodation, tours of UP, Intramuros, and Chinatown, Merv’s famous cooking and more. In our gig, we were encouraged to play whatever we wanted, and switching between the commissioned notated pieces and our own improvised creations was no problem for the sound team or the audience. I felt invited into a world of people energetic about change, into a community of people who care about the past, present, and future of art in their city. Manila is a hectic place with a huge beating heart in its artists.
It was based on Green Papaya’s reputation that we stayed the longest in Manila out of everywhere on tour and I’m still glad we did that. We had only been able to search the internet for information as we didn’t know anyone who had performed much in South East Asia, but we liked what we saw. The variety of events that Green Papaya hosts show their open-mindedness and enthusiasm for all intersections of art, which ended up being perfect for us as we were playing such a mix of styles. While only in Manila for five days, I remember seeing glimpses of their plans for exhibitions and festivals, artist talks, and more gigs. We had completely invited ourselves into their midst, really just because we had a good feeling about it, and we were welcomed as if we were invited there specially. I felt valued as a contributor, and proud to be there. I remember when I got back to Melbourne after the tour, when people asked me what my favourite organisations were to work with, Green Papaya was number one.
It was such a fulfilling experience that halfsound returned for a residency with Green Papaya through Asialink Arts. And then I returned again to Manila for WSK Festival, and then I returned again, and again. The first return, as part of the residency, I was in a mood of wonder and excitement, but the second time I was heartbroken and alone. But either way, Peewee’s home was open to me, my improvising was still seen as valuable, the gin and conversation flowed freely, and it gave me some hope. When I came to Manila a third time, I was performing as a solo artist for the first time. I wanted to prove a point to everyone, but especially myself, that I could improvise in my own right. But no matter why I was there and what I wanted to prove, Green Papaya helped host me at Catch272, invited me to their events, and listened when I played. They gave me the chance to have a voice when I felt like I didn't have one, and the chance to be listened to when I really needed to be heard. And I’ll never forget the gig style of “okay, right now you’re playing with these people you've never met before, off you go” which honestly made me grow as a musician and person more than my degree did.
The last time I visited Manila I was finally settled in my life and the crazy whirlwind of my previous years was finally at an end. I knew Green Papaya was planning to finish up and I promised that I’d come to Manila no matter what to celebrate with everyone. Green Papaya has woven a beautiful tapestry out of local and international art. They’ve brought together artists from all walks of life and all kinds of places. The amount of creation and connection that has come out of Green Papaya’s long reign has had positive ripple effects throughout the world, and even though they're closing, it’s not going to be the end of their influence by any means. I know everyone who worked with them will never be able to forget their professionalism and drive and their big dreams and their contagious spirit. If it weren’t for the pandemic, I would come back again and again. Green Papaya might be closing, but their influence will be lasting in more than just a list of events, but within all the people who worked with them.
August 16, 2020