Songs of protest, songs of love
I am wondering why no concert has been organized to showcase the fiery and heart-rending protest music of the dreadful martial law era whose imposition 40 years ago in 1972 we are remembering with pain, horror and triumph this month. There have been art exhibits, book launchings, forums, ceremonies, fund raising and religious rites in many venues as well as memorializing in the media.
But what? No concerts? Should I just play the music in isolation, reminisce and hum by my lonesome while the memories crash in in 3D and with sensurround reverberation?
Two years ago I donated to the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Archives and Museum close to 100 protest posters and other anti-Marcos memorabilia of the martial law era. Most of them were used for a Bantayog exhibit which I did write about (“ML posters from the edge,” Inquirer, 9/23/10). I felt good that finally they were in good hands. I have also donated documentaries in Betamax and VHS which, I hope, can still be converted into a digital format.
I still have a lot of archival materials—protest statements, pamphlets, etc.—in my steel cabinet. And photos aplenty of my forays into the wilderness and battle areas—as a journalist. Of course, like some noncombatants I know, I also have souvenir photos of myself holding an Armalite and with a bristling bandolier slung across my chest. My proofs of having been there, done that. For the record: I was never a communist card holder.
What I cannot yet donate to Bantayog are cassettes of protest songs, prison songs and freedom songs composed, sang and recorded clandestinely or underground during that repressive era (1972-1986). I will do so when I am sure that these can be digitalized. Somehow many of these songs made it aboveground even during those terrible times and became the anthem of our generation of activists, freedom fighters and free spirits with a cause.
Right before me now are cassettes of “Ibong Malaya” Volumes 1 and 2 with the subtitle: “Songs of freedom and struggle from Philippine Prisons.” This was produced by the Resource Center for Philippine Concerns and recorded in Singapore in 1982. I have “Philippinen Lieder der Freiheit” which contains Filipino freedom songs composed and sung by Jess Santiago, Paul Galang and the late Susan Fernandez.
I have “Prison Songs” Volumes 1 and 2. A slip of paper inside the case has a list of the songs (I must have typed this myself) and the footnote: “Recorded in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan in 1979 (?). Copied for Task Force Detainees (TFD) by [me], April 1999.” TFD volunteers, religious sisters and priests, and I were frequent visitors at detention camps during those horrible years. These songs were recorded upon my request. They were taped in the prison bathroom. Good quality!
On visiting days the prison camp came alive with food, camaraderie, music and art. Prominent detainee and intellectual Edicio de la Torre was behind many creative pursuits (music, cards, pendants, paintings) behind bars.
I also have a cassette simply labeled “Militant Songs.” I don’t remember where this came from, but the songs must have been sung by Patatag, a militant singing group at that time. With flute, guitar, cello and, sometimes, drums. And, of course, I have “Inang Laya” (Dyna, 1986) with Karina Constantino-David and Becky Demetillo-Abraham performing.
It is the songs recorded during the darkest days in the most unlikely places that tug at my heart. We will never know who composed many of them, where in the wilderness they were first sung, perhaps with the accompaniment of a creaky guitar and on the eve of a bloody battle. Not all the songs were songs of defiance and protest. Many were songs of love and longing for the beloved (fiancee, spouse, child), and, always, the motherland.
One is playing now and hurriedly I try to catch the refrain “Di magtatagal ang iyong paghihintay, di lahat ng araw tayo ay hiwalay, wag kang lumuha, ako’y nasa iyong tabi, tayo magkasabay sa madilim na landas, tungo sa maningnging na bukas…”
“Meme na, aking bunso, ang tatay mo ay lalayo” are lines from a lullaby a father sings to his child before he goes off to the battlefield. “Paalam na, o mutya ng aking pagmamahal, ako’y babalik at hintayin mo sana ang aking paguwi.”
Perhaps one of the saddest is “Wala nang tao sa Santa Filomena,” which is about a deserted village that has been “hamletted” and militarized. Ah, it will bring tears to your eyes. “Tumindig Ka” is sometimes used in place of the “Our Father” in underground liturgies.
Sung during funeral masses for fallen comrades: “Unang alay, unang tuwa, unang ngiti, unang alay, ay buhay, sa kinabukasan… Bawat bayan may dapithapon na may korona sa magdamag… ’Wag palupig sa lumbay, wag paapi sa hapis, harapin natin ang bukas ng may pananalalig.” I first heard this at the funeral of slain rebel priest Fr. Zacarias Agatep.
“Masdan ang daloy ng tubig sa batis ng gubat, ’di ito matutuyo bukal nito ay lilikas, konting agos sa ilog magtitipong lakas at mararating ang inang dagat. Kung ang daloy ng tubig, tubig na naipon, higit na lalakas, tibayan man ang harang sa huli ay sasambulat. Wawasakin ang lahat ng balakakid upang laya’y makamtan.” Sasambulat, wawasakin. How onomatopoeic.
All melodious (minor key often shifting to major, like the kundiman), the music has matching lyrics written by warrior-poets. I now imagine a medley of these songs arranged for a symphony orchestra and sung by a hundred voices on a shimmering stage under the stars.
These songs kept the fires burning before the breaking of dawn.
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