PINILI, Ilocos Norte—Some Filipino culture buffs, among them musicians of small town bands, are raising notes for more open or covered auditoriums and stages for the country’s slowly fading out regional folk songs.
They believe these songs can well keep up to the beat and melody as well as message of English songs that have made inroads in the industry.
They say, on the sidelines of some weekend musical rehearsals, that these Filipino folk songs can have the same lilting tune and mighty message as, for instance, the American singer-song writer Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” or “If I Had a Hammer” written in 1949 by Pete Seeger and Lee Hayes.
Guthrie’s chorus has the lines: “The sun comes shining as I was strolling/ The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling/ The fog was lifting a voice come chanting/ This land was made for you and me.”
The song “If I Had a Hammer,” a Civil Rights anthem of the American Civil Rights movement, has the words: “It’s a hammer of justice/ It’s a bell of freedom/ It’s a song about love between my brothers and my sisters/ All over this land.”
Some sources say the Philippines, which has several regions with major regional languages and musical brands, is literally a treasure trove for folk songs that give sheen to the country’s overall culture as a Southeast Asian nation.
Sources say people in the regions, particularly the younger generations, should be exposed to this wealth of Filipino folk songs “since it is an essential way to pass down tradition that has been the signature of their ancestors.”
There are also those who say singing these folk songs and helping the young ones appreciate the message helps preserve and protect these folk songs which cover a variety of musical styles although the song is commonly used to refer to a narrative song that uses traditional melodies to speak on a topic.
Folk songs—the music of a nation, a sub-culture or a community of people—address social and political issues like work, war, and popular opinion and communicates a message and has a strong meaning about them.
In the Philippines, these folk songs are abundant—from as far north as Ilocos Norte and Cagayan to the warrior-type Tausugs in Jolo in the far south—but are hardly known and heard, if at all, by young Filipinos.
Ilocanos take pride in their folk song Pamulinawen, among others they have in their chests, a song addressed to, a euphemism, a stone-hearted lady.
Part of the lyrics: Pamulinawen/ Pusok indengam man/ Toy umas-asug/ Agrayo d’ta sadiam/Panunotem man/ Ti inka pagintutulngan/ ‘toy agayat/ agrayo d’ta sadiam. /
The loose translation in English by an Ilocano musician: pamulinawen/ please hearken to my heart/the one appealing/ has been under your spell/ please think of me/ the one you keep ignoring/the one beseeching/ enamored with your charm. //
Bicolanos take pride as well, apart from “Katurog na Nonoy” and “Sarung Banggi,” the song “Babaeng Taga Bikol: Maogmahon sa Kabicolan (2x)/ Madia kamo sa Kabicolan/ Dae nindo malilingawan/ Babaeng taga-Bicol.
Which means—again loose translation—it’s nice to be in Bicolandia (2x)/ Come on over to the region/ and don’t you ever forget/ a lady from Bicol. //
In the Cordilleras, the Bontocs have a funeral song on Inan Talangey. This is about the life of a dead person and is sung by two or three groups of people during the evening wake, a practice common in northern Philippines.
The Kalingas also have their folk songs, like Banao, a lullaby song which relates the story of a baby sitter—perhaps a sibling or a close relative—while the child’s parents are out there in the farm.
The song says the baby-sitter lulls the baby to sleep by rocking it in a forward-backward movement of the torso and bending the knee a little, while singing: O-wah, o-wah, o-wah-wi-iyi-i/Nasigab man-tagibi-iyi-i/ Maid suyop no labvi/ Anosan ta’n bvobva-i-i-i/ Siya’t kopyan dji bvo-bva-i/ O-way adjo’t ligatmi-i-iyi/ Man-i-goygoy no labvi/ O-wah, o-wah, o-wah-wi–iyi-i.//
The loose English translation by someone who has gone to the area: O-wah, o-wah, o-wah-wi-iyi-i/ Baby-sitting is rather difficult/ No sleep at all at night/ We women can only bear/ That’s what women are born for/ Although there is much to suffer from. //
The Kalingas also have their “Dang-dang-ay,” another traditional song which became popular during the second world war.
Kalingas say the guerrillas sang this song while they bade good-bye to their sweethearts, the women not wanting their lovers to go away while the men were promising they would return.
Part of the lyrics: Ading di ka agsangit/ Agsubliyak mabiit/ Ading di ka agdanag/ Mabiit a mabayag/ Urray innak mabitay/ No diak gasat a matay/ Kastoy gayam ta ayat/ Pangkitaan ti rigat…//
The English loose translation: My young one, don’t weep/ I’ll be back before long/ Don’t worry / It’s not that long/ I might be hanged/ If it’s not my fate to die/ This is love after all/ Mirror of difficulties. //
One is reminded of the “Ballad of the Green Berets, “ a patriotic song in the ballad style about the Green Berets, an elite special force in the US Army.
It is one of the very few songs of the 1960s to cast the military in a positive light, yet it became a major hit, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard charts for five weeks in 1966. It was also a crossover smash, reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart and No. 2 on Billboard’s Country survey.
In the lahar-devastated province of Pampanga are several folk songs, but one, according to patriotic minds, particularly stand out.
This is the song titled “Capampangan Cu” whose lyrics include Ing balen cung Capampangan/ Sale ning leguan at dangalan/ Paraiso ne ning cabanalan/ Luclucan ning catuliran/ Mibait la qng candungan na/ Ding bayani ampong biasa/ Balen co uliran ca/ Lalam ning bandera. //
Sources from the province say this is a patriotic song which elevates Pampanga, described as the place of the righteous, religious and law-abiding citizens.
Those in the Queen City of the South have their “Usahay” whose lyrics, partly, say: Usahay magadamgo ako/ Nga ikaw ug ako nagka higugmaay/ Nganong damgohon ko ikaw/ Damgohon sa kanunay…//
A loose English translation puts some graphic image: Sometimes I am dreaming/ That you and I love each other/ Why are you the one I dream of/ And always dream of my loneliness…//
The Tausugs of Sulo have their “Unu In Hi Langan” whose lyrics include: Unu in hi langan/ Sin hidlaw kan jungjungan/ Ayir bajanggang/ Sukkal banding di kapasangan/ Hi ula katumbangan/ Bang maisa kulangan/ Dayang in pagngnnan. //
The loose English translation: What can I sing/ (To ease my) yearning for my beloved/ (Her) incomparable presence/ cannot be matched/ (My) dear idol and lover/ When lying in the chamber/ I utter the name of my beloved. //
Culture aficionados say there are other regions rich in folk songs which need wider dissemination and appreciation by the younger generations—if only for the message of patriotism, love for kin and what the songs say of the community, the aspirations of the people, their laughter, their grief, and their dreams.
Many ordinary Filipinos agree.