Susie Ibarra has the spirit of a jazz drummer. Intense, joyful, even playful as she artfully blends the beats of modern jazz percussion with the ancient and haunting rhythms of the indigenous people of the Philippines. Her range as a musician is impressive. She has studied the urban polyrhythms of artists like Max Roach and the plaintive brass and wood gongs of the T’Boli, one of the Philippines’ 100 native tribes.
Lake Sebu in southern Mindanao is the site of a huge tilapia farm and the T’Boli, a people known for their skills with cloth and their trance-like chanting, are suffering because of it. Their traditional way of life has been disrupted and their music is in danger of fading from memory. In 2005, Ibarra began making field recordings of seven indigenous tribes in the Philippines. She and her husband, the percussionist Roberto Rodriguez, are also making a documentary, Song of the Bird King, about the music, the people and the land.
This past winter, Ibarra was named a 2010 Ted Fellow for her efforts. The fellowships are meant to assist “world-changing innovators.” In this interview, she talks about her mission, plays music on a hand made kulintang (gong set) and reflects on the future of indigenous people in a country of over 7000 islands that faces many challenges from Islamic militants to a central government that has been steeped in corruption for years.