From Bladed Poems to Heroism

Review of the CD album Songs of Struggle and Liberation
Produced by the Euro-Philippine Inter-Cultural Solidarity (EPICS)
Manufactured and distributed in the Philippines by IBON Foundation

The artists behind Songs of Love and Struggle are at it again. But this time, a few more are joining them. This time we are offered Songs of Struggle and Liberation.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO

The artists behind Songs of Love and Struggle – soprano Rica Nepomuceno, conductor Josefino Chino Toledo, pianist Ariel Caces, and songwriters Danny Fabella and Levy Abad Jr. – are at it again. But this time, a few more are joining them: Tony Palis, Jos Linnebak, Empiel Palima, Aldeem Yanez, and Chikoy Pura.

Released earlier this year, Songs of Love and Struggle is a 52-minute collection of patriotic songs from Andres Bonifacio to Jose Maria Sison – as well as a few classic Filipino love songs. The songs in the said album are rendered as classical music.

This time we are offered Songs of Struggle and Liberation, featuring 15 Sison poems set to music.

It includes all the Sison poems in Songs of Love and Struggle: “The Guerrilla is Like a Poet,” “The Giant Oak,” “What Makes a Hero,” “In Praise of Martyrs,” “Sometimes, the Heart Yearns for Mangoes,” and “The Bladed Poem.” In addition, we are given classical-music renditions of “The Coming of the Rain,” “A Cool Breeze,” “The Forest is Still Enchanted,” “A Furnace,” “Gold,” “In the Dark Depths,” “The North Star is Always There,” “Poems and Rest,” and “Rose for a Waking Woman.”

Of prison and beyond

A good number of the poems in this collection speak of life in prison, and are taken from Sison’s own experience as a revolutionary leader imprisoned during the martial law years.

“A Cool Breeze” is a poem telling of how a jailed revolutionary finds solace in his cell with the coming of a breeze: “A cool breeze blows into prison/It refreshes the body and warms the soul/It caresses, kisses and whispers/In prison, there is worthy struggle//The breeze carries the scent of the red flowers/It is part of the great irresistible wind/of struggle sweeping all the islands/Everywhere the message is to fight and win…” The breeze is compared to the people’s struggle ongoing outside the cell, both comforting the imprisoned revolutionary.

Fabella is able to capture in this song the combination of soothing and determination suggested by Sison’s words.

In “A Furnace,” Fabella composed a rather light tune which is quite unexpected considering the heavy mood of the lyrics: “When it was December/I compared my cell/By midnight to a freezer/And by midday to an oven//Now that it is summer/I compare it to hell/But because of its smallness/I also call it a furnace//‘Tis a seething furnace/For tempering steel/‘Tis a seething furnace/For purifying gold//‘Tis a comforting metaphor…”

“Gold” deals with the same theme as that of “A Furnace”: In the dark bowels of the earth/Under the mountain of pressure/That gathers the heat of the sun/Gold is trapped and imprisoned/But gleams with collected fervor…” Yanez does justice to the poem’s text as he creates a tune that is reflective at the onset but gains tension through the end.

In “In the Dark Depths,” Fabella is again in his element as he crafts a tune that expresses resoluteness amid adversity, befitting the song’s lyrics: “The enemy wants to bury us/In the dark depths of prison/But shining gold is mined/From the dark depths of the earth/And the radiant peal is dived/From the dark depths of the sea…”

In “Poems and Rest,” Sison himself tries his hand at setting a poem to music, working with Fabella. The result is a song that is fast but comforting.

Like the prison poems, the other songs in this collection mostly make for good listening.

As in Songs of Love and Struggle, the combination of Nepomuceno, Toledo and Caces as vocalist, arranger and pianist proves to be powerful. Nepomuceno and Caces know just when to be loud and when to be mild. Their renditions of the Sison poems hit the listeners in the heart.

The artists behind

Sison, who took a degree in English Literature from the University of the Philippines (UP) with honors in 1959, has been noted as a writer since his university days. Considered the Philippines’ leading revolutionary, he has authored several books, including two poetry anthologies: Brothers and Other Poems and Prison and Beyond. He won the Southeast Asia WRITE Award in 1986 in Thailand.

Fabella, Abad, and Palima are members of Musikangbayan, a protest folk group that has released three albums: Rosas ng Digma (Rose of the War), Anak ng Bayan (Child of the People), and Songs for Peace. Fabella is also with Sining Bulosan, the cultural arm of Migrante International.

Pura is the frontman of the progressive-oriented band The Jerks, and has portrayed slain activist leader Leandro “Lean” Alejandro in a musical play. The band is well-loved by activists and non-activists alike for its protest rock classics like “Rage” and “Sayaw sa Bubog” among others written and composed by Pura.

Pacis is an English teacher based in Laguna, and is also an organic agriculturist.

Yanez is a member of the church-based activist chorale Haranang Bayan. He was national president of the Youth of the Iglesia Filipina Independeinte (IFI or Philippine Independent Church) and vice chairperson of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).

Toledo, who teaches at the UP College of Music, is the founding director of the Metro Manila Community Orchestra and the UP Festival Orchestra, among other music groups. Nepomuceno took a degree in Music at UP under the tutelage of Fides Cuyugan-Asencio, and pursued further vocal studies in Vienna and Italy. Caces, besides being an accomplished classical pianist, is also a conductor. (Bulatlat.com)

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