Mga Awit ng Pag-Ibig at Digmaan (Songs of Love and War) (2011) by Talahib People’s Music would have been the next logical step for Filipino world music had Talahib picked up the gauntlet that groups like Makiling Ensemble and Pinikpikan threw down 10 years ago.
With the two bands bringing indigenous instruments and music to the mainstream, Talahib could have stepped in to inject Filipino world music with social consciousness, bringing it down from dreamy abstracts like diwatas, butandings*, and manong manong pawikans** to the grass roots where world music existed before it was re-discovered by University-educated musicians.
“Babaylan,” which likens modern women to the pre-Hispanic spiritual leader-healers of the Visayas, speaks of more mundane things, of fields and factories, and of the people’s struggle. There is none of the playfulness of Makiling Ensemble, who have been known to segue into world music versions of the Super Mario Bros. theme now and then.
These are war drums, and the lines:
Libong ulit ng lakas ng tinig
Nagpupumiglas ang itinaling bisig
At sa bawat babaeng nais lumaya
Nagbabangong ang mga babaylan
Their two strongest songs, “On Potok” and “Bumangon Ka Igorotan,” dealing with issues of land and the loss of local culture in the Sierra Madre mountain range and the Cordilleras, could have formed a separate stream from Pinikpikan’s nostalgic back-to-nature vibe. Not superior, certainly, just different: another world music.
That they did not, or have yet to, is a matter of timing more than anything else. Talahib was formed in 2001 and actually did accept the challenge posed by the popularity of world music in the early 2000s. They were busy with playing at cultural nights and rallies, though, and only got around to recording last year.
Their album launch in December was attended mostly by activists from UP, IP rights groups, and from Amnesty International, the same people Talahib has been playing to for years. That steady, though underground and underpaid, base means songs like “Bagyo,” which has the reggae influence that informs the musical tastes of most in the broad Left, will always have an audience. That also means appealing to the mainstream will be an uphill climb.
A friend passed on Talahib saying, “this musical fruit falls too close to the Pinikpikan tree.” Which, again, is not a bad thing, but sounding like Pinikpikan is already the province of Pinikpikan. The music sounds dated now because it has been at least a decade since electrical guitars and indigenous instruments playing together was a new thing.
That does not mean Talahib should not have released an album at all. The issues raised in “On Potok”, a Dumagat protest song (more traditional versions here, here, and here), are just as valid today. The same goes for “Bumangon Ka Igorotan”. The Cordillera People’s Liberation Army signed a closure agreement with the government last year, 25 years after the Mt. Data ceasefire was signed, but human rights and environmental issues remain.*** Climate change and recent calamities have made the issues of logging and mining, which both affect IPs the most, more pressing than ever.
Talahib may have missed the world music wave of the 2000s, but maybe Awit ng Pag-Ibig at Digmaan came out just in time for the next one.
*Sure, whale sharks exist, and it is good that Pinikpikan is singing about them. A Butanding, however, is a rare and rarified thing.
***Under the agreement, the CPLA, a splinter group from the New People’s Army, will become a non-governmental organization in the Cordillera Administrative Region. It has run into into a hitch, though, because the CPLA is also split into factions.