Arts and Culture

TEDxDiliman: A rapper, lawyer-musician, and businessman talk about their paths less travelled

A rapper who helped bring LeBron James to a slum area, a businessman who used 3D technology to restore heritage sites, and a lawyer who pursued his passion for music while representing the marginalized were among the speakers at TEDxDiliman, a conference on “Paths Less Travelled” held Sunday at the School of Economics of UP Diliman on Sunday, October 11, 2015.

Conrad Alampay delivers a talk on "High Tech Hope for Our Heritage." Photo by Tricia Morente for TEDxDiliman.

Conrad Alampay delivers a talk on “High Tech Hope for Our Heritage.” Photo by Tricia Morente for TEDxDiliman.

Conrad Alampay: “High Tech Hope for Our Heritage”
Conrad Alampay, president and founder of a firm that uses 3D solutions for architectural, construction, and engineering industries, found it hard to understand what it was to be a Filipino after living in Indonesia for 20 years.

Having studied in the Jakarta International School, he learned more about other people’s culture than his own.

It was experiences like visiting Malacanang with his family to witness his grandfather, Nestor Alampay, being inaugurated into the Supreme Court under President Ferdinand Marcos that helped him retrace his roots. Incidentally, his grandfather also became the first Justice to resign and help overthrow Marcos.

He enjoyed field trips. For him, history was about going beyond dates and names. It was about touching and feeling the atmosphere first hand, like visiting temples back then, and now, going on walking tours, food tours, and biking tours.

Unfortunately, historical places that he visited today could be gone tomorrow.

“We are losing our heritage sites faster than we can restore them,” he said. He named urban development, neglect, poor maintenance, wars, and natural calamities as the culprits.

In September last year, the Philippines lost the Admiral Hotel, Army Navy Club, and Michel Apartments because they were being converted into new hotels and condominiums.

“They survived the war but they did not survive the demolition,” Alampay lamented.

In October 2013, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck Bohol, destroying centuries-old churches. He said, “Somehow when we lose these sites, we somehow lose a bit of our identity, I believe.”

It was this dilemma that his business tried to address, as it used 3D laser scanning to document heritage sites. Here, a device fired a laser rapidly upon the structure. Any point the laser touched, it returned as a 3D point in a 3D space and became a 3D model, Alampay explained. It was like digitizing an entire space like a photocopier, except it copied the entire environment.

In 2012, Alampay and his colleagues used the technology on the Manila Cathedral, which was being restored to repair its structural defects. People no longer had to climb up on scaffolds to take measurements of the building because the technology captured the information for them, he said.

They also used the technology on the Fort Bonifacio war tunnel in Taguig City to see what it looked like deep down in the ground. It was dug out by General Douglas MacArthur in 1941 to be used as a command center to alert the Americans of the Japanese’s arrival, but it was never used for that purpose because the Japanese arrived before it was completed and took over, expanding the tunnel to over a kilometer long, Alampay said.

Through the technology they found that while it was pitch-black, there were chambers built by the Americans for storage and hospitals, while there were even smaller chambers built by the Japanese for their own use. The technology helped tell the story of an entire war, he said.

In a year or two the tunnel would be turned into a war museum, and all the data they gathered would be analyzed so that it could be designed safely for public use.

They are also working with the National Museum to understand what happened during the Bohol quake, why some buildings were still standing while the others had collapsed, and what would be done to these structures.

They are now categorizing the damages they found to be able to quantify the damage and how much effort, time, and money would be needed to restore these to their original state.

It was important to document heritage sites to give them the best chance to be maintained, rebuilt, and stand the test of time, Alampay said.

Vin Dancel delivers a talk titled "Where Music Has Taken Me." Photo by Tricia Morente for TEDxDiliman.

Vin Dancel delivers a talk titled “Where Music Has Taken Me.” Photo by Tricia Morente for TEDxDiliman.

Vin Dancel: “Where Music Has Taken Me”
Lawyer, social entrepreneur, and Peryodiko frontman Vin Dancel did not know that he would grow up to be a musician.

His parents had a conservative view of what a proper occupation was—priest, doctor, engineer, accountant, architect—and work that was in music and arts was not part of that list. The “bibo, pilosopo” kid, they thought, would be perfect for the field of law. He too grew up wanting to be a lawyer.

But music took an early hold on him. While they moved around Luzon frequently because of his father’s work, music was a constant, and he would associate songs with certain places.

“What was clear was there was always music. Music followed me everywhere and I learned to listen to music and follow it where it took me,” Dancel said.

The Beatles, Elvis, and Sesame Street were his first influences, and it was the latter that taught him how to read and write. “C is for Cookie,” he sang. In high school, music led him to dancing and he became a b-boy.

“We would walk around Tuguegarao with a boom box and a roll of linoleum. We would look for people to have a showdown with down the block. My shoulders were permanently bruised, but man, I had so much fun,” Dancel said.

In his senior year in high school, The Dawn came out with “Enveloped Ideas,” which inspired Dancel to create his own band. Then he went to pre-law in college at the same time the 1990s alternative explosion was happening. He would go to Club Dredd and watch the likes of the Eraserheads, Yano, and Color It Red.

“So I almost did not go to law school,” he said. He was more interested in alternative music and volunteer work, delivering food and water to soldiers in the frontlines of the coups d’état that then President Cory Aquino had to endure; packing relief goods after earthquakes, typhoons, and floods; and running a refugee camp in school when Mount Pinatubo erupted.

Law school seemed far away, but he realized that good people were needed in development work. He found purpose in law school once more, reasoning that he was into alternative music and development work, and therefore would be “an alternative lawyer.”

It was in law school that he discovered a skill for songwriting. It was also here that he went through a dark time, finding law school rigid, and unrelated to anything that was happening outside the four walls of the classroom.

“So I lost my way,” he said. But upon discovering Joey Ayala, with songs that went, “Saglit lamang ang ating buhay, tilamsik sa dakilang apoy. Ang bukas na nais mong makita, ngayon pa man simulan mo na (Our life is fleeting, a mere spark in the great fire. The tomorrow you wish to see has to begin today),” Dancel was moved. He eventually became a lawyer and was back on track, even if it veered towards the left.

He joined Saligan, a nongovernmental organization focused on developmental lawyering which worked with basic sectors. He and his colleagues trained farmer-paralegals in 21 provinces, and after a hard day’s work, they would bond over love songs played on the guitar, while having appetizers and beer.

But Dancel left to start the band Twisted Halo, which he also had to leave because his priorities had evolved. He started his own family and went into the corporate world. “It felt like slow death,” he said.

He left again to start Peryodiko, which had two albums to date.

In 2008, a friend approached him and said they should make music for kids. But Dancel wanted to take it a step farther, and JoomaJam was born to provide music-driven learning solutions that were “bilingual, fun, engaging, rockstar-made, educator-approved, (and) kid-friendly.”

“The idea behind that is, for as long as kids have fun learning, the learning doesn’t stop,” he explained. They created an app parents, teachers, and kids could use even outside of the classroom.

“My path now is developmental work, music, and education technology,” Dancel said. He recalled riding his bike as a child in Aparri and not stopping until the pavement ended, and then he pedaled some more.

Music was his vehicle today. It was what kept him and would keep him going.

“Do not be afraid of the unknown. When you follow your road, when you follow your path, you know it could lead somewhere, but roads end. The cemented pavement ends. And you actually have a choice to keep moving forward. And I will always choose to keep moving forward,” he said.

Mike Swift delivers a talk titled "How I used Instagram to bring LeBron to The Tenement." Photo by Tricia Morente for TEDxDiliman.

Mike Swift delivers a talk titled “How I used Instagram to bring LeBron to The Tenement.” Photo by Tricia Morente for TEDxDiliman.

Mike Swift: “How I used Instagram to bring LeBron to The Tenement”
“At first, all I wanted to be was a rapper. The title I was after. Camaraderie, the laughter, the memories, the chapters, money was never a factor,” rhymed Mike Swift, the creator of Instagram account Pinoy Hoops (@pinoyhoops).

“I got roots in Brooklyn. There, even brighter futures can look dim,” he said. “Long story short, I came from New York, invested my money from work of all sorts.”

He worked in a strip club where he “sold something you can smoke or something you can snort. Had no choice, I picked my poison, and what I chose still (plays) with my emotions.”

“That’s my luck, I lost a lot of money and I feel I’m stuck,” Swift said.

He consoled himself by listening to Filipino talents like Francis M. and Andrew E., realizing that Pinoy hiphop artists could fill up Araneta Coliseum without the help of international acts. Still, he felt lost, isolated, and depressed.

“I was broke listening to Wu-Tang, thinking about how I can pay back my utang (loans),” Swift quipped. “I was sad, I was depressed. Taking pictures, I was obsessed.”

He captured the Filipino style of basketball on photographs and would post them on Instagram, with some poetry as the caption. “I felt like that was the place where I got my inner peace,” Swift said.

Even members of the hip-hop scene who disliked him as a rapper praised the @pinoyhoops because they did not know that he was behind it. It was “my baby, my kid,” he said.

“Every single court I treated like a person. Each single one had their own little characters. All through New York or anywhere urban, I know for a fact it’s not like this in America. Hell no! You don’t just put up basketball courts in the streets! You know what I’m sayin’? You don’t play with nothin’ on your feet! How you gonna play in public with boxers on? In courts shaped like triangles, squares, octagons?” Swift rapped.

Nike discovered the page and collaborated with Swift on a commercial to depict the Filipino hoops scene.

“The whole world’s excited. Nike Global, they were delighted. Spark that I lost, got me reignited,” he said. “And if you really wanna analyze, in the Internet there’s a lot of lies. But here is living proof you can get something big out of giving truth.”

Instagram also featured him, earning him hundreds of likes for his pictures. He was even paid to go to Spain – presumably during the FIBA World Cup in Seville last year, where Gilas Pilipinas played – and he got “front row seats (to see) history made.”

“And it’s all because of love and passion. I wasn’t judged for my talk; I was loved for my actions,” Swift said.

But he seemed to take most pride in bringing the likes of LeBron James and Paul George to the Tenement, an abandoned building in Taguig City which was reportedly built to house urban poor families. In the middle was a basketball court.

He found that the government was about to sell the building. “Good people, they lived there, they’re about to get evicted, but they ain’t going nowhere,” he said.

So Swift organized “Picnic Games” with Nike, which gave away sneakers during the fiesta-like event. Celebrities, dancers, and athletes came to celebrate with them.

The residents’ plight caught the public’s attention, and he was able to bring Mayor Lani Cayetano to the area. The residents—friends to Swift in his time of need – were able to say their piece.