The Long View: Haunted by a song



 / 04:05 AM February 17, 2021

Sadly, the historic Admiral Apartments along Roxas Boulevard fell victim to an ill-fated development scheme, but a memory of that place may provide a tantalizing clue to the musical authorship of a song.

It began with the viewing of a musical performance on YouTube, something you and I and countless others have been prone to doing during these lockdown months. After seeing a YouTube video, “Spain with Philippines song,” (posted online on April 1, 2014), down the YouTube rabbit hole one reader, Lina Araneta Santiago, went, because she recognized the song, which is “Ili-Ili Tulog Anay.” Try it yourself, she told me, and see for yourself how much people love the song—and sure enough, they do.

The famous The Swingle Singers, an a capella group, has a version of it; the Philippine Madrigal Singers recorded it (and performed it in the Inquirer building three years ago!), as has Lea Salonga and Asin; Aya Barcenilla sang it during the blind auditions for The Voice Kids Philippines back in August 2019. It’s been performed by choral groups galore, ranging from the , to the Mitchell Intermediate School Chorale in Texas, The Gleniffer Singers in Scotland, to orchestral versions by schools such as Republic Polytechnic in Singapore; and even featured in a #StopTheKillings video by the Movement Against Tyranny. It’s been performed on violin, guitar, flute, harp, kalimba, ukulele, piano; a version arranged by Victor Johnson is widely available as sheet music.

In nearly every instance, the song is identified as a folk song, or a traditional one, from Panay or the Ilonggos, and so forth. Some folks in a hurry might even get the impression some people posting the song on YouTube are attributing its authorship to a specific person, which, as the reader remarked, “would be ridiculous unless that person is eighty years old at least.” Why the very specific age range? Here enters the memory — clear and sharp, yet fleeting, as only memories from one’s youth can be — and the potential solution to a mystery.

In the halcyon days of her childhood (she was about eight, in the immediate prewar years), the reader said her nanny was singing it, and that it was featured in Lopez family reunions; and, she added, there is the distinct possibility it was performed because the composer was no less than her uncle, Gil Lopez. Gil Lopez (1870-1946) was a revolutionary general, photographer, created the Hacienda Faraon, and a musician (confusingly, there was a Gil Lopez much later who was Tito Puente’s pianist). While his name is honored in his home region, for most Filipinos his name lives on in Gilopez Kabayao, who, it turns out, was named after his grandfather, who was also a violinist.

What the reader found so moving about the song was how widely it was loved, and yet she got the distinct impression it was much more popular among foreigners than Filipinos. A romp through the comments section of various postings of the song reveals that sadly, many contemporary listeners seem to identify the song with the movie “White Lady” from 2006. So there is an entire generation of musically-traumatized Filipino youths for whom the song conveys the spooky; it may be many more years yet before this cinematic typecasting will be exorcised.

Still, at a time when things at home seem pointless, with the Neda chief saying we might as well liberalize health restrictions to stimulate the economy (stimulating, in turn, the irrepressible Joey Salceda reminded the Neda chief that it’s about the wide availability of vaccines, stupid), it’s heartening to see how our music continues to captivate people in other climes, including those of a classical persuasion.

Older readers will remember how Filipinos gasped and cheered when Nat King Cole sang “Dahil Sa Iyo” at the Araneta Coliseum; or when The Lettermen recorded the same song, or Eartha Kitt belted out her campy version of “Waray, Waray.” A few years back, Filipinos gleefully lapped up videos of foreigners singing OPM; there is a similar phenomenon in chorale and classical ensembles, which makes for a gratifying listen (and viewing).

If there’s anything that’s gotten us through the pandemic, it’s music. From the collaborations of individually-quarantined musicians performing together on Zoom, to individual professional and amateur musicians performing online, we somehow managed to maintain a musical sense of community.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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