Yesterday, today and tommorow: Centennial albums pay homage to past, present and future efforts to achieve freedom

TODAY’s Weekender December 20,1996


Yesterday, today and tommorow: Centennial albums pay homage to past, present and future efforts to achieve freedom

by Manuel L. Quezon III


WHEN WE revolted against Spain, our revolutionary efforts were accompanied by music. From pangkat kawayan to brass bands, playing marches to bolster the courage of troops and celebrate victories, to the ringing of church bells to signal liberation and signify mourning (not to mention as a prelude to attacks, such as what happened in Balangiga during the Filipino-American War). From Te Deums  sung in liberated Churches by Filipino priests, to haunting kundimans  sung at camps in the dark days of defeat -our struggle against Spain and then the United States was set to music.

And when the forces of the Katipunan, subsumed into the army of the Republic, with it’s own anthem to replace that of the Katipunan hymn commissoned by Bonifacio, were finally vanquished, the music continued: a thread of song snaking through generations and events,from those sung on stage at subversive Zarzuelas to the supreme song of liberation, Bayan Ko: composed in the 1920’s, banned in the 1970’s, and ressurrected in the 1980’s, and which burst forth royally from the multitude at Edsa.

If we are, as everyone says we are, a profoundly musical people, then our greatest heritage is the music that inspired generations of Filipinos to fight for liberty, fraternity -and most of all (and most often forgotten), equality.

The musical heritage exists. But the problem is that while we are a musical people, we are also a people who suffer from congenital amnesia. Who among the Yellow Crusaders singing Bayan Ko did so with the knowledge that they were singing a song dating back to the days of American imperialism? And of the songs dating back to the days of the Revolution itself -how many people have actually heard them? Of what use, then, would our musical heritage be, knowing that most Filipinos are simply unaware of its existence?

This question was confronted head-on by two groups which decided to tackle the question as if it were a challenge issued by their ancestors. A third group also confronted this question, but decided to turn the tables on history and instead, formulate a new question which they set about to answer in a magnificent manner.

The first two albums contain the music of the past, in an attempt to link it with the present; the third album uses the music of the present to provide a link to the past -and pose a challenge for the future.

Come, then. Let us tackle them one by one.

The first album is Mga Awit ng Himagsikan: Songs of the Philippine Revolution1896-1898, Volume 1 . This is album is the culmination of the research efforts of noted pianist Raul M. Sunico, who managed to track down and record songs of the Revolution. Sunico conscienciously made an effort to “strictly follow the melodic sequence of the original songs, while elaborating on the simple harmonies and rhythm.” Great attention has obviously been paid to historical accuracy -even the lyrics of the songs, reproduced in the liner notes, retain their archaic spelling; for example, here are part of the lyrics of the number one hit of the revolution, the haunting kundiman Jocelynang Baliwag:

Icaw na nga ang lunas sa aking dalita

Tanging magliligtas sa niluha-luha

Bunying Binibining sinucuang cusa

Niring catawohang nangangayupapa

The album is divided into two parts: songs sung by the Philippine Madrigal Singers and arraingements for one and two pianos (in the case of four marches) performed by Sunico himself.

Sunico writes in the liner notes that “the choral versions utilize contrapuntal patterns, while the piano versions  employ a great deal of spontaneity and freedom, especially in the slower pieces.”

This is a slow, languid album, periodically jolted to attention by the martial songs of the Revolution. Many of the songs in it are wistful, romantic; they express yearning and the sort of unabashedly sentimental love older generations of Filipinos were able to get away with. These are songs from perhaps simpler times, but also times of passionate devotion which should shame us today -because we aren’t capable of such intense patriotism.

Sunico’s ouvre is a monument to the past, and perfect for lovers of classical and traditional Filipino music. The album in itself represents a tremendous achievment: rescuing the songs -the soul, so to speak- of a vanished generation from obscurity, briniging them to life for the appreciation of the people. It is, perhaps, not suitable for the younger generation unless they happen to have discrimination and taste; but it is ideal for more mature audiences.

There is one march, called Alerta Katipunan, which provides an example of a trait which must be ingrained, for you will see shades of this song in the next album I will discuss. This trait might be best described as musical subversion. Alerta Katipunan was originally a Spanish march; the Katipuneros adopted it as their own, adding their own lyrics:

Alerta Katipunan, sa bundok ang tahanan

Doon mararanasan ang hirap ng katawan

Walang unan, walang kumot

Walang banig sa pagtulog

 Inuunan pa ay gulok

Abansing katakot-takot

This song is performed in Suncico’s album by the Madrigal Singers. It also makes an appearance in Alab 1896-1996: alay sa Laya ng Bayan, a double-album work by Inang Laya, composed of Rebecca Demetillo-Abraham (vocals) and Karina Constantino-David (guitar), who happnes to be the daughter of stern nationalist Renato Constantino and wife of stern nationalist-social scientist Randy David. As you can see, a group of impeccable nationalist credentials.

Abraham and David also perform Alerta Katipunan -in a less ornate and highly satisfying manner. In fact, it is the first song in the album, which encompasses an entire century, musically: the goal of the two women was to demonstrate the continuing struggle for freedom and pay homage to the patriots of 1896 -as well as those who continued to fight for freedom throughout the dark 20th century.

And so the act of musical subversion represented by Alerta Katipunan is shown to have been attempted by each generation: there is a Huk march with a tune lifted entirely from an American march (the juicy irony, for the unenlightened, is the adoption of an American imperialist tune by the struggling socialist Huks). What the Huks were clever enough to do, the street parliamentarians of thirty years later were able to accomplish as well: the liveliest and most humorous songs in the entire album form part of the Boykot/Lakbayan Medley.

Witness these lyrics sung to the tune of As the Caissons Go Rolling Along as protesters marched to the Luneto as part of a boycott campaign against the (what else!) US-Marcos Dictatorship:

Kami ay lalakad para sa aming bayan

demokrasya at kalayaan

Ang gutom, ang pagod at ang sunod sa likod

ay pagsubok sa tibay ng loob

Hindi aatras kung harangin man

karapata’y ipaglalaban

lakbayin namin ay may adhikain

ang halalan ay dapat boykotin…

Which leads to a parody of a folk song (I’m not sure if it’s a satire on Ako ay Pilipino  or what), concluding with these lyrics sung to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic  (perfect for the moment when you passed by the US Embassy):

Ang mga asungot mga crony’t militar (3x)

mga berdugong pusakal


boykotin itong halalan (3x)

nag lumaya ang bayan

Delicious stuff. The album also contains a truly exquisite rendition of Maria Clara’s song (Canto Patriotico de Maria Clara ) which gives homage to the intelligentsia of a century ago.

The album contains original compositions, too, acerbic social commentary by way of music. This is an album for all First Quarter Stormers and their latter-day comrades-in-ideology; it is also an album for those who consider themselves progressive, who feel that art should go beyond the mere “true, good, and beautiful” and enter the realm of the angry, anguished and progressive. Not an album for the Great Perfumed, the Forbes Park-Polo Club-Ayala Alabang clique: that is, unless you feel they can still be redeemed.

One song in Inang Laya’s album appears not only in Sunico’s album but in the next one to be discussed, too: no less than our first revolutionary anthem, the official hymn of the Katipunan, Marangal na Dalit ng Katipunan.

This song, commissioned by no less than the Supremo himself, composed by Julio Nakpil (who would later on marry the slain Supremo’s widow), was the song of the Filipino struggle for freedom until it was superseded by the Marcha Nacional  commissioned by Emilio Aguinaldo.

The dignified arraingement by Sunico, and the rousing rendition by Inang Laya give way to massed voices who sing it in the recording of Peta’s musical,  1896 . Which I have saved for last because, save for the Katipunan hymn, it is an entirely original work: not just that. To my mind it represents the greatest contribution to the Centennial celebrations so far (and, sad to say, unless other groups get their act together, it will represent the only enduring contribution to our nations hundredth birthday).

Certainly the Peta musical, featuring a brilliant libretto by the late Carlos de la Paz, Jr. (who passed away on December 15, 1995, soon after the first performance of the musical), music by Lucien Letaba and arraingements by Chino Toledo, which portrays the Revolution’s early phase through the eyes of Emilio Jacinto, was the supreme act of homage to the centennial of the start of our Revolution in 1896. An anniversary made memorable by the absolute lack of any significant commemoration on the part of the government.

The musical is a fearless one, with vision and a message to all of us. It makes no attempt to gloss over the contradictions and sordid aspects of our struggle for freedom -even as it makes an effort to portray the people concerned with honesty and compassion. The Revolution -born of the frustration of the people with the tyrrany of Spain, and its prominent personalities -Rizal, torn, Hamlet-like, between his desire for freedom and repugnance at violence; Bonifacio -passionate, proud, doomed; Aguinaldo -who assumes control of the revolution in the belief he alone can save it; Jacinto -idealistic, anguished by the intrusion of ambition into the struggle for freedom; the principalia -enraged over the prominence of the upstart Supremo from Tondo; and the people: they are all here.

Anyone who has seen the musical will remember that it was a exhilerating experience -and I do not use these superlatives lightly. the more colonial-minded of my readers might reflect on their feelings after hearing Les Miserables, the Phantom of the Opera or Miss Saigon: imagine the emotional impact of all these musicals rolled into one, and you have 1896.  The reason for this is that the musical speaks to us, in our own language, of things that we still see around us: genuine idealism on the part of the great and obscure, marred by petty jealousies. The Filipinos who sing of freedom and betrayal in 1896   aren’t just the Filipinos of a century ago. They are the Filipinos of today and tommorow. This album is for everyone, everywhere, including friends abroad (I’ve even attempted a translation of the libretto into English because i feel this is the best Centennial gift for anyone ).

ALL of these are facets of the same thing: the power, the significance of music. To buy these albums is to contribute to the preservation of memories both inspiring and sad. To buy these albums is to infuse your soul with the spirit of those who made the freedom we enjoy today possible.

Prove that the hopes embodied in the words of a song from 1896  will live on:

At tayo’y lilikha

Ng isang bayang dakila

May pag-ibig sa kapwa

At paggalang sa dukha

May tahanang puspos

Ng tunay na kalinga

At sa bawat mukha

Ay may sinag ng tuwa


Ang sulo ng kapatiran

Ang tanglaw ng bayan


Mga Awit ng Himagsikan: Songs of the Philippine Revolution1896-1898, Volume 1 is produced by Tawid Audio; available in cassette (Php. 108) and CD (Php. 360) from the Filipinas Heritage Library (at the old Nielsen Tower), Ugarte Field, Makati City. Tel. 892-1801.


Alab 1896-1996: Alay sa Laya ng Bayan by Inang Laya is produced by Hasik (a pro-urban poor NGO); available in double cassette (Php 200) and CD (Php 360) from Hasik, 9 Don Rafael St., Don Enrique Heights, Commonwealth Ave. Q.C. Tel. 931-4335


1896: The Musicale is produced by PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association) and available in double cassette (Php 200) from Peta, 61 Lantana St., Cubao, Q.C. Tel. 410-0819 or 410-0821. Note that if the album sells well, a CD version, with the original cast, including Ariel Rivera, will be made possible. So Please support Peta.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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