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The Other View

A revolutionaryís poems as art songs
By Elmer A. Ordonez

Filipino musical artists have rendered the poems of Jose Maria Sison as art songs which, by definition, are "serious musical compositions generally performed by a classical singer and a pianist."

The lyrics come mainly from Sisonís "Prison and Beyond" (1984) which won for the author, just released from a Marcos jail in 1986, the Southeast Asia Write Award from the royal family of Thailand and national writers unions of Southeast Asia. Two of the poems are more recent.

Sison started writing poetry as an English major student in UP Diliman where he developed as a nationalist and revolutionary. His first book of poems, "Brothers," was published (1961) by Signatures founded by Andres Cristobal Cruz. Six of Sisonís poems (like "The Guerrilla is Like a Poet," a favorite among activists in cultural performances) are included in Gemino H. Abadís anthology of "Filipino poets in English, A Native Clearing" (1993). Earlier Canadian Robert Mazjels used the "The Guerrilla is Like a Poet" as the title of his anthology of Filipino poetry in English.

Rica Nepomuceno (soprano) sang "Songs of Love and Struggle: From Andres Bonifacio to Jose Maria Sison," the first CD album release of the Euro-Philippine Inter-Cultural Solidarity, as well as Sisonís "Songs of Struggle and Liberation" -- made available by IBON Foundation. A UP Music graduate and former faculty member, Nepomuceno was active in musical and dramatic circles in the country before leaving for study abroad (Italy and Austria) where she has promoted both western classical and Filipino music.

Master pianist Aries Caces provides the accompaniment for the albums. Now based in Vienna, Caces is an accomplished chamber musician and repetiteur as well as conductor, giving solo recitals and concerts in Europe and North America.

The music and arrangements in both CD albums and another CD version ("Of Bladed Poems") were written by Danny Fabella, Tony Palis, Pete Velasquez, Ryan Andres, Aldeen A. Yanez, Levy Abad Jr. Noel Espina, Chino Toledo and Chicoy Pura. Sison himself worked with Fabella in two of the songs.

Dutch composer Jos Linnebak provided the original music of "Sometimes, My Heart Yearns for Mangoes," written in prison by the poet.

A host of other progressive artists/cultural workers worked on the other aspects of the CD album project, like Edgar Fernandez and Boy Dominguez, (art work), Elisa Tita Lubi, Bedette Libre and Ron Papag (production), Patrick Tirano, Aries Guinto, Louie Talan, Dodjie Fernandez and Slyvia Vermeulan (recording and mixing).

I can imagine what Raul R. Ingles went through in producing his own CD album of "love poems" as read by personalities like Loren Legarda and Cheche Lazaro -- launched this year.

Listening to Sisonís poems as art songs is a singular experience akin to hearing the poems of Andres Bonifacioís "Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa" and Amado Hernandezís "Kung Tuyo na ang Luha Mo, Bayan" rendered earlier into moving songs by young activists in prison.

Sison is "delighted" that his poems of struggle are "set to music in several musical styles by young brilliant composers and performed by wonderful singers and musicians." He is confident that the albums will be enjoyed by the young and activists of all age brackets.

Magsaysay Awardee for Literature Bienvendo Lumbera notes that the albums "present another face of the author of "Brothers and Prison and Beyond" (where) the readers met the literary man as ideologue. Now that his words have been given wings, we recognize the ideologue as a lyric artist singing of freedom and democracy." Lumbera himself has written many librettos for operas and lyrics for commemorative purposes -- like the haunting and inspiring words of "Mendiola" set to a traditional Bikol song. The peopleís movement has indeed produced innumerable songs that has moved the masses from the time of Andres Bonifacio and the 1896 Revolution through the periods of struggle (including the Sakdal and Huk uprisings) against colonial hegemony to the present struggle for national democracy and socialism that Sison himself with other young activists started in the sixties. The Filipino version of the song "Internationale" dating back to the Paris Commune (1871) became popular during the First-Quarter Storm and Diliman Commune and was even heard over the Carillion on campus. "Bayan Ko" (Jose Corazon de Jesus/Constancio de Guzman) has been the preferred song of the middle forces and "nonideologues" uniting with the masses against corrupt regimes.

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