These past weeks and months I’ve been watching stage productions, documentaries and films, attending events and gatherings that dealt mostly with our human rights and the tyrants, despots and plunderers that oppressed us in times past, on how to be vigilant so that we will not be in shackles ever again.
So it was quite a change to receive an invitation to a “harana songfest” honoring and serenading one of the country’s celebrated cooks, Teresita Reyes, better known as Mama Sita, who is celebrating her 100th birth anniversary in culinary heaven. The invite came via Virginia R. Moreno, poet, playwright and many things else, whom one does not refuse especially if the event is at the Cine Adarna of the University of the Philippines Film Center which she midwifed into being — and no one is to dispute that.
“Harana Para Kay Mama Sita” is “Pasasalamat at Paggunita sa Isang Ina, Kababayan at Kusinera” presented by the Mama Sita Foundation and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. It was an evening of thanksgiving and remembrance for this mother (of more than a dozen children), Filipino and cook. No euphemisms for this denizen of the national kitchen. (“Kusinera” means cook.)
It was also a celebration of a life spent promoting the Philippines’ culinary heritage. Mama Sita created and perfected Filipino dishes not only for her large family but also for homesick Filipinos in the diaspora who craved the flavors of the native land.
Long before the title “chef” became de rigueur and much coveted, Mama Sita was already kitchen bound, interested only in feeding people through her joyous cooking. She “lived, loved and cooked,” and she loved God, her family and her country. And so the musical tribute had to be just as flavorful, a banquet of folk songs, love songs and patriotic songs that brought back the yesteryears.
The music makers were The Andres Bonifacio Concert Choir with composer Maestro Jerry Dadap conducting (even while at the piano), and the RTU Tunog Rizalia Rondalla conducted by Prof. Lino Mangandi. In all, there were almost 100 of them on stage. (I spotted Inquirer contributor Amadis Ma. Guerrero in the choir, clad like a katipunero.) The soloists held their own with their solo numbers.
Before the show, while savoring the merienda (santol sherbet with a sprinkling of salt, anyone?) and while going over the exhibit/sale of Mama Sita food products and recipe books (I bought a copy of “Mama Sita Homestyle Recipes”), I bumped into Dadap who told me he would spring a surprise toward the end of the show.
The show (all in Filipino), directed by Victor Sevilla, was brisk and crisp, with inserted biographical vignettes lyrically recited with images projected on screen. The Filipino folk songs were followed by “harana” love songs then capped by rousing patriotic songs. National Artist Lucio San Pedro’s “Kayumangging Malaya” (lyrics by Rodolfo de Leon) shook my soul, as it always did in the past when it was sung in Masses celebrated by the late Fr. Ruben Villote. But with a 40-member choir and a 40-member rondalla bringing the music to a crescendo, my patriotic juices leapt and rushed to the sea.
To fete Mama Sita, Dadap composed a serenade: “Sita, Iniibig Kita,” and nationalistic songs “Awit ng Pagkakaisa” and “Alay sa Inang Bayan,” plus religious songs sung before and toward the end. Then a postre of a march, “Awit ng Pagkain, Mama Sita March.”
Oh, the surprise: While the choir was singing “Bayan Ko” (Constancio de Guzman), in came a soloist, three-year-old Eumie Maurin, in Filipino costume and all, who sang with gusto and hit the notes right like it was nobody’s business. I did take a photo of her singing but I kick myself for not turning on my camera’s recorder. (Anyway, famous cinematographer Romy Vitug and his team were recording).
Congratulations to you, Eumie, and to your parents Junnel and Edelyn (both members of the choir). Yes, Eumie is three years old! Backstage, her father was carrying her like a baby. I asked her parents’ permission to post her photos (with this article) on Facebook and they said yes.
So you see, patriotic fervor burns well with the kitchen fire. Food and freedom!
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