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October 16, 2012
Twelve year-old songs of love and war: A review of Talahib People’s Music’s first album

By TERENCE KRISHNA V. LOPEZ
Bulatlat.com

It was in 2010, in front of an afternoon crowd at the “Concert at the Park presents Talahib People’s Music” in Luneta. Racquel de Loyola was belting out the Igorot chant “dong-dong ay, saliddumay/ saliddumay, dong-dong ay” a capella for about 30 seconds. Everyone in the audience just held their breath, including myself certainly. For who wouldn’t have? De Loyola’s voice was just divine, ethereal. And then, smoothly, the instruments sounded and we were moved into someplace else, in another world. The crowd applauded. No screaming. There was just plain, pure, unadulterated clapping of hands, overwhelmed by the energy the song evoked. It was quite magical.

For me, that was the moment when I realized the immensity of the band’s capabilities. The song played on, joined by more vocals. Halfway through, almost everyone was on their feet, dancing along with the band. The song was Bumangon ka Kaigorotan written by Noel Taylo, one of the band’s founding members. It tells about the development aggression perpetrated against the indigenous peoples of the Cordilleras and all over the country and at the same time, pushes all of us to fight against it.

Since then, I always thought, that song expresses in different levels the band’s identity- distinct musicality, substance and versatility.

Speaking of musicality and substance, Talahib proves it has plenty of those in their first album – “mga awit ng pag-ibig at digmaan,” (Songs of love and war) launched in December last year after 12 long years. And there is so much to celebrate in this 11- track compilation of mostly original songs about love and life- in the midst of a nation bludgeoned with everyday struggles. And why shouldn’t that be the case? After all, Talahib Peoples’s Music started 13 years ago to answer the call of the times — for artists to go beyond art for art’s sake. The motivation is to create and perform music for and about the people.

The long overdue album showcases the band’s range and maturity as performers. Not one single song in the album leaves anyone unmoved. Or say, not standing on his feet. Even the relatively quiet numbers unsettle the listeners – either because of the instruments, the vocals or the lyrics.

Most of the songs in the album are already popular among their avid followers, including their rendition of the ancestral-domain themed On Potok written by an anonymous Dumagat tribesman and Tony Palis’ Babaylan, a song about women’s liberation.

Talahib’s own

The album boasts of the songs that the band has actually owned through the years. For instance, both On Potok and Babaylan grew with the listeners through the band’s interpretation. In fact, these are two of their most requested numbers whether in concerts, bar gigs or in activist gatherings. Arguably, the band’s strongest point is that they own any song they play, whether original or cover.

On the other hand, it can be said that Talahib came together in their total element here in the album, on their original numbers.

In Kabukiran, the quietness, almost solemn play of instruments throughout the song is definitely captivating, not to mention Ms. de Loyola’s flawless, pitch-perfect vocals. The song is also another demonstration of the band’s clear political stance, it tells about a farmer’s life and love for the land in the midst of feudal bondage and oppression that come with this love. Kabukiran is written by musician Lito Guarin who was also part of the band in its early years. He also wrote the infectious Bagyo that tells about a journey in the middle of the storm, metaphorically of course.

Another song that highlights the band’s distinct and versatile musicality is their anthem, Talahib. In their signature piece, the band sums up all that they are in a mesmerizing instrumentation, subtle but captivating enough to give off a recall. Here, they describe what they are: lovers of music, awakened individuals coming together with their instruments and voices to mirror the society’s realities and use music to advocate for social change.

Furthermore, in the already air-waves popular Pag-ibig ang pag-asa, written by bass guitarist Mark Estandarte, the band shows how versatile they could be, and risky at the same time. A little bit removed from the band’s usual themes, this song is an ultimate love story of one being to another; it has all the flavors of a romantic love in three minutes or so. And yet, it is undeniably Talahib – the beat, the melody, the harmony. It is arguably the most radio-friendly and, true enough, it does enjoy more FM radio time than the rest of the eleven tracks. It is also in this song that Janis Dante, the band’s lead vocalist shines the most and in fact owning the song more than she does in any of the band’s signature songs.

Worth the wait

The truth is, Mga awit ng pag-ibig at digmaan exceeds all expectations for a first album. But of course, one may say, it was 12 long years in the making. However, for those who know how hardworking the band is, for those who have witnessed them grow as musicians and individuals, it is just fair to say that it is worth the wait. In fact, the album could not have come out at a better time. And like wine that tastes better as it gets older, the same can be said about this band’s music.

On the other hand, it is not also flawless. Case in point, in the third track, the vocals were drowned by the instruments. Sadly, this track, Hiyaw is sung by Ador Villano and Ariel Sumilang who has an incredibly amazing voice. I also think that the band should have given more time in choosing or deciding whose vocals should be used in what song but that is just me.

However, I choose to look at the reasons to celebrate this first album: they obviously outnumber its flaws overwhelmingly. In fact, these flaws are almost negligible as the band has, through the years, definitely worked hard to be where they are now and become a class all of their own.

Someone told me few years ago that the world music is not easy. It is a genre that very few may understand, appreciate or follow. It’s just completely wrong. Talahib People’s Music proves that world music may well be the most accessible genre there is. Furthermore, the band does not try at all because like their genre, they are individuals from different ethnicity and/or regions fused together. Somehow, the band members personify world music.

The question now is, are we ready for another twelve years? Hopefully, it does not take that long again for the band’s next album. (http://bulatlat.com)

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