Founded in 2004 by Sister Paulita Astillero, a nun of the Benedictine order before leaving the congregation to serve her fellow Filipinos eventually as president of Centro Filipino in Barcelona, this group of kids whose ages ranged from three to fourteen years old, was then known as Centro Filipino Coro Infantil. The children’s choir was initially established as an extracurricular activity to enhance the youngsters’ education and immersion in Philippine culture and language at the center.
Since all of the choir members had been born and raised in Spain, there was an urgency among local Filipinos there to connect them to their roots and not let them lose sight of their rich heritage. This was the fundamental mission of Centro Filipino, which was founded in 1986 by Father Avelino Sapida together with the Benedictine Sisters. Sister Pau, as she was fondly called, joined the Centro in 1992, but it took her more than a decade to make the Coro a reality. For the next ten years until 2014, when Sister Pau had to return to the Philippines, Coro Infantil thrived and kept the children grounded in their parents’ culture.
Things started to change when three new trainers emerged to run the choir. First came Arnel German, a civil engineer by training from the University of Ghent, in November 2013. Certainly, he had big shoes to fill as Sister Pau prepared for her departure, but he was up to the challenge. Early on, he took courses in choir direction from Segovia and Mataro to be more effective in providing leadership to the precocious kiddos. In January 2014, he was joined by Nats Sisma Villaluna, who stepped in as a sort of general manager, taking care of logistics, liaisons between parent officers and children officers, finances, and choir outfits. He also took the role of director in many of their concerts. The third trainer was Nieves Cabacungan, their cultural relations officer responsible for coordinating with representatives of the churches and different government agencies that constantly invite the group.
Somewhere along the way, another major transition happened. Centro Filipino Coro Infantil changed its name to Coro Kudyapi to symbolize the duality of the members’ cultural identities (Filipino and Spanish) and the roots of their togetherness through the art forms of music and dance. (The kudyapi itself is defined on Wikipedia as a “two-stringed fretted boat-lute,” played primarily by the Palawan people and other ethnic groups like the Maranao and Manobo.) Indeed, they have become so much more than just another big group of singers. What was then a motley crew of thirty-four kids is now a seasoned chorale of thirty-three kids with ages ranging from eight to eighteen. The age adjustment had to come because none of the members really wanted to “graduate” out of the choir that had become more like an extended family to them.
In this new chapter of its life as a choir, the Coro Kudyapi has become an annual fixture at the Raval Stolstada Fiesta de Carnaval in Barcelona, a cultural concert that brings together different choirs of Raval, proudly representing the local Filipino community. It is also a constant guest at interreligious gatherings besides its regular commitment to sing during Catholic masses in the area. The Coro rendered special numbers alongside the Philippine Madrigal Singers during the latter’s concert in 2017. One of its most memorable appearances was at the opening of Master Yun Long Zi´s art exhibition at La Pedrera, where it had the opportunity to serenade His Royal Highness Prince Sisowath Tesso of Cambodia, the guest of honor.
Considering its very humble beginnings and how no one in particular in its ranks was musically gifted or inclined, the Coro Kudyapi now consistently racks up awards in the contests it joins. In September 2017, it won a silver diploma at the Cançó Mediterrànea Choir Competition in Lloret de Mar, Catalonia. The very next month of the same year, it garnered a bronze diploma at the Cantar al Mar in Calella, Catalonia. Fast forward to almost a year later; it won another silver diploma, this time at the Sing Berlin Choir Competition.
None of the choir’s achievements come easy. For every production it graces, every competition it participates in, from director to the youngest member, it works very hard to raise funds for uniforms, props, and travels, having no official, deep-pocketed foundation to support it. It does concerts, visits private homes in December to sing Christmas carols, sells flowers and Filipino dishes—it tries anything just to keep going. The monthly contributions from parents of three euros per month per child are just enough to cover the rent of its rehearsal venue.
In spite of the financial challenges, the Coro Kudyapi shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. If anything, it is simply moving from strength to strength as it evolves into a musical family, where each young choir member looks out for the others in the group. Coming back from its Berlin stint, every child was required to write a short essay about their experience, to document the moment for posterity and to reinforce their academic skills. All of the choir members were candid in their responses, but this declaration sums up everything: “I learned that Kudyapi is part of me. What unites us is music and we become a family.”
Mabuhay, Coro Kudyapi!
Agatha Verdadero is back to her passions of writing, teaching, publishing, and the outdoors, after a long hiatus. She has returned home to Kenya with her beloved poodle mix, Sam.