Making Music, Making Food: A quick chat with musician and the mind behind food pop-up Calasag, Dylan Ubaldo

Dylan Ubaldo at Calasag’s event at the Compound / Photo by Diamond Dixon

Music and politics have a particularly strong relationship in Baltimore, and food and politics are equally intertwined, or often one in the same. It has something to do with the city’s ability to mix joy and pain, I think. But given the way food is tends to be covered locally—as some kind of aesthetic activity allegedly separate or worse, “above” race, class, and all the rest—those who understand the profound ties between what’s on your plate and what’s in your politics deserve special attention. Musician and cook Dylan Ubaldo (who, full disclosure, works at and underwrote the construction of Ida B’s Table, of which he is majority shareholder and which makes its home at The Real News Network, a Beat affiliate) is one of those people. He employs the same activist-oriented, DIY spirit to his music and his cooking, all the while building community, formerly as part of the Llamadon Collective, and with Calasag, a Filipino food pop-up that has made an appearance at the Compound and, this Saturday, at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Baltimore Beat: So what exactly are you doing at the BMA this week?

Dylan Ubaldo: I’m going to be giving an artist talk at BMA regarding my work as a musician, organizer, and culinary artist. The talk will be a part of their Open Hours series and the theme is “Imagining Home.” What better reference point to imagining home for me than the traditional Filipino game of “Bahay-Bahayan.” In this game, children use things like cardboard boxes and grates to “play house” and create a family. A lot of the work I’ve done musically and culinarily is rooted in DIY ethics and making the best product you can with the least resources. I will be discussing the intersections of these practices and how we can create communities by joining food and music. It has been an up and down adventure developing as a creative person and I’m honored to be able to share my experiences at BMA.

BB: Can you talk about your food project Calasag?

DU: Calasag is the name of the barangay (village) that my family is from on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. It’s a few hours north of Manila. It is one letter away from “Kalasag,” the name for the wooden shields Datu-Lapu and indigenous tribes used to protect themselves from colonizers. Calasag is a way for me to express my heritage and share my culture with Baltimore. I’m trying to fill a gap for people are interested in Filipino food and culture. I don’t want people to receive a whitewashed, inaccurate idea of what that is. I want productive discourse surrounding the Filipino-American experience and white supremacy. Baltimore has done so much for me and it felt like a good way to celebrate my culture the way Baltimoreans have shared theirs with me and my family. At this point we’re a collective interested in culinary art, Filipino culture, and food politics. Pop-ups and events are our way of showcasing what we’re about. But, I see that as something that will grow and expand into different media platforms.

BB: How does making music and making food intersect for you?

DU: The way that I approach music production and the creation of a recipe is very similar. Usually I know there is an end goal. For me, it’s probably making a beat for someone to sing on or making a Filipino food dish. A lot of us have similar ideas surrounding what it should end up like, but what makes an artist unique is their relationship to the process. I start with the ingredients, these are my samples—with these I control sound and flavor. I am able to combine influences from the past and techniques of the present. There is an emotional and political history behind each dish you eat and each song you listen to.

BB: I know you’ve been travelling lately, in part to explore and research food. Can you talk about that?

DU: My travels to South Africa, Swaziland, Philippines, and China were partially to visit family and partially to research food culture. I was intrigued by the diversity of food in different regions of the world. Being able to to see the similarities between so many different regional cuisines brought things full circle for me. In Africa, I was eating so much pap and oxtail stew. In China, I was binging on convenience store sushi. It’s really wild to be halfway across the world eating chicken intestines off a street cart and asking yourself, “Would this work in Baltimore?” I didn’t really have a focus, just have fun and experience new tastes. As culture and cuisine is traveling at a faster rate I think it’s important to get the full on experience if you’re capable. And for me, when I haven’t been able to find my culture around, I create it. That trip changed the way I perceive food, music, and resources.

BB: What else do you have going on?

DU: I make music and food almost everyday, that’s literally been my life for longer than I’ve been an adult. As far as music I’ve got “Unholy Infringements” Vol 4., it’s a remix tape dropping Dec. 24. My ever elusive band Everything has a finished record, we’re deciding how it will be released. Still working a lot with Sneaks—she’s finishing up a new record and we’re hoping to venture on another tour in Spring 2018. I recently joined Ida B’s Table as a line cook and that place is just amazing; I feel so grateful to be part of such a great team working to change the restaurant industry in Baltimore. We will be having a Calasag x Ida B’s Table pop-up happening in January. Expect a few private Calasag pop-ups in the winter leading up to our first public pop-up in Baltimore Spring 2018. I’ve also been sending beats to JPEGMAFIA, Nomad The Native, Ub3rgrl, Sir E.U., and Nappy Nappy. I’m excited to see what pops up on the internet as a result of that.

Dylan Ubaldo speaks at the Baltimore Museum Of Art on Dec. 16 at 2 p.m.

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