Songs From Home: Art Songs and Folk Songs from the Philippines
Philippine vocal music is as varied as the numerous islands that comprise its archipelago. Though traditional folk songs are a rich confluence of the country’s colonial and indigenous past, it remains distinct from its various influences. Those featured in this album cover several provinces across the country’s major regions (Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao), each detailing rural experiences that capture not only pastoral imagery but the Filipino traits of love, community, the penchant for humor and play.
After several periods of powerful colonization, a movement against western musical traditions began to grow in the early 20th century. Composers pursued the restoration or re-creation of a musical identity that was truly Filipino, much of which was greatly based on themes and rhythms established by traditional folk music. The Philippine Art Song around such a time was born. Slow and sentimental, these art songs not only aimed to glorify the talents of local composers and lyricists, it actually celebrated the achievement of a unique Filipino musical identity. Such musical nationalism eventually carried on decades later with popular songs that catered to a wider audience, infiltrating various media like TV, film, and radio.
With much pride, I present to you this collection of Philippine musical gems, each piece holding some significance close to my heart. It is my hope that what I hear and feel each time I sing these works will transport you similarly through a journey of my homeland, the Philippines.
Based on a childhood playground rhyme, nonsensical text and rhythmic onomatopoeia characterize this playful song. It humorously puts together charmingly peculiar scenes and images that include gold and green beetles, women parading around like roosters, babies being bartered for fish paste (bagoong) or a doll, rice flour cookies (puto seko), and even the Child Jesus (Sto. Niño) finds its way into the song.
Lagi Kitang Naaalala
An earnest love song that deals with nostalgia and unrequited love, the persona in this piece continues to pine for the affections of his beloved. Written by Leopoldo Silos, Sr., one of the well-known purveyors of Original contemporary Filipino Music, this song exemplifies his abilities as a composer of ballads and romantic tunes. Solis was also known as a master arranger and singer; and was awarded for his musical direction of the television musical “Aawitan Kita” (I’ll Sing For You).
This song originates from the Ilocos region, northern Philippines. Many often mistake this as a traditional folksong when it had actually been written during the turn of the century. This is perhaps due to the fact that it utilizes the customary pattern of likening an amour to the idyllic surroundings and its rather simple depiction of unreciprocated love. In this case, the woman is likened to that of a stone, stoic to the wooing of a man’s affections.
A traditional Ilokano folksong, this piece refers to a woman named “Biday” (the title “Manang” used as a sign of respect in the Ilocos region and in several parts of the country). The man is asking Biday to look outside her window and listen to his plea. The piece is interestingly cast in two contrasting eight-measure periods (parts A and B); the entire text composed of eight nine-syllable lines. The first four lines (part A) refer to the lover’s plea for attention, while the next four (part B) contain Manang Biday’s rejection of him.
No Dua Dua-em Pay
A traditional folksong from the Ilocos Region, north of the Philippines, this popular piece tells of a lover's fervent plea for reciprocation from his beloved who is doubtful of his feelings for her. A unique character of the piece is its use of the Cuban habanera rhythm. One of the outcomes of 300 years of Spanish colonization, this musical style is more locally known as a "danza", evident in many of the folksongs during the era.
This contemplative piece is one of the Bicol region’s most popular songs. Written in 1912, it has been performed constantly across the archipelago, adapted into various mediums by numerous composers: piano (R. Santos), choral (L. D. San Pedro), solo voice with piano accompaniment (F. De Leon, C. de Guzman, E. Pajaro), rondalla ensemble (A. Buenaventura), and symphonic theme (F. Buencamino). Aside from its elegant melody, the lyricism of its words evokes certain sophistication as the persona beholds the presence of his amour.
Si Nanay, Si Tatay Di Co Babayaan
Akin to most kundimans, this piece is written in a minor key and is in slow ¾ time. These aspects reinforce the significance of the subject matter, which tackles the relationship between parent and child, admonishing the latter’s gratitude and service in return for having been cared for since birth. This Bicolano song is composed of four phrases, each beginning with similar rhythmic patterns that are sung on the same note.
A sentimental and melancholic theme pervades throughout this traditional Visayan folksong. Originating from middle region of the Philippine archipelago (Kulasi, Antique), the piece is set in a minor key and written in slow triple time similar to many kundimans. The song’s persona bids a sad farewell to his lover, urging her to look toward the direction of his departure should she begin to miss him. Several versions shift to a major key in the middle section, intensifying the piece’s emotion by casting hope in the persona’s possible change of heart.
Like many folksongs passed on orally through generations, it is possible that the piece would veer away from the original, its lyrics the result of varying translations and interpretations. Though it finds its origins in the Visayan region (Aklan), another version of this gem was heard in the Mindanao region (Cotobato). This particular version is based on a transcription of the song collected and recorded in 1956 in Aklan by Priscilla Magdamo, one of the pioneers in the field of Philippine ethnomusicology. The piece poignantly conveys the emotions felt during farewells, of having to yield personal happiness to more pressing matters.
Damgo Man Lang
Written in 1982, this song from the Bohol region deals with social realities that include injustice and deprivation, and the dream of eventually finding truth and rising above all that muddle it. Though it was primarily created as a love song, several revisions had resulted into a powerful commentary on Philippine society, its themes remaining relevant to this day. The piece had won the grand prize during the 1983 Cebu Pop Music Festival, the original version sung by Arthur Ungab, one of Bohol region’s celebrated voices in contemporary music.
With its unforgettable and dreamy melody, this popular love song was recorded with the composer as "unknown.” Popular recording artists Susan Fuentes, Dulce and Pilita Corrales were among those who recorded this Visayan melody. It has been recently discovered that the real composer was Col. Gregorio Labja, a largely unacknowledged but venerable and prolific composer from Tagum, Davao del Norte, of the Visayan region. This is the first time in this song's history that Labja is acknowledged publicly as the song’s genuine composer. Originally composed for the male voice, as it was dedicated to a lady whom the composer courted, the first recording by Susan Fuentes omitted a stanza that would attribute to the male voice.
Sukta ang Kabulakan
A folksong from the Visayas region, found in central Philippines, this piece likens a fair maiden and her affections to blossoms in a garden, the metaphor characteristic of songs during the Spanish colonial era. This piece may very well be an example of the "balitaw" musical form prevalent then, an exchange of love poetry between two singers. Usually sung in a quatrain or ballad stanza, the "balitaw" can go on for some length either resulting in a successful courtship between the characters or a rejection for the male. The rather melancholic arrangement aims to magnify the text's earnestness in asking the love of his beloved.
A popular tune from Zamboanga province found in the Mindanao region south of the archipelago, the piece praises the beauty of the women in those parts. Spanish influences continue to permeate through Zamboanga’s culture; its main language (“Chavacano”, literally translated as ‘vulgar’) is a mix of Filipino veering heavily on the Spanish; and remains to be the only Spanish-based Creole language in Asia. Written during the pre-war era, this Chavacano song had gained popularity by late 1930s and remains fondly remembered by many in Zamboanga to this day.
The Tausug are a people indigenous to the Sulu archipelago, a group of islands found in the southernmost tip of Mindanao. Their name is a derivative of tao (“people”) and sug (or suluk, meaning “current,” which basically refers to their milieu and how the tidal currents from the Sulu, China, and Celebes Seas flow throughout the archipelago. This piece, which finds its origins among such people, is about a man’s sad farewell to his beloved, promising to return to her again someday. The title is actually an amalgam of two words: “leleng” which means ‘darling’, and the prefix “ba” which usually denotes a question.
Bakya Mo, Neneng
This popular 50s song had inspired two comedy films (1957 and 1971) that revolved around the lyric’s humorous premise of love and a wooden slipper (bakya). The man in this song asks why his sweetheart (Neneng, a term of endearment for a young girl) no longer wears the wooden slipper he had given her at the height of their affections for one other. He continues to hope that she keeps the slipper and wishes she would never discard his love for her.
This frolicsome song from the Manila region very much reflects the jolly and carefree spirit evident during the 50s era. The upbeat tempo belies the fact that the persona actually sings of his unrequited affections for "Neneng", a term of endearment addressed to a young lass. The composer was quite the prodigy, being able to play several instruments and had written his first piano piece by the age of 7. In the coming years, he had composed, arranged, and orchestrated for various high school and college groups. He later taught at the Department of Music of the University of the Philippines.