These are days

Your correspondent spent the last day and a half on activities connected with the Bambanti Festival in the provincial seat of Ilagan, Isabela. There were contests to witness, and so at the opening night of the festival, we spent six hours watching youths from twenty of Isabela’s towns and cities perform dances showcasing what was unique about their places of origin and its place in the province’s largely agrarian economy. It was surprising, though, to observe the way drum and lyre bands in this part of the country played. Perhaps because of the timing–yes, it is almost that time of year in Rio I believe–the beats were variations on samba beats made familiar to me by the likes of the Brigada ensemble in Manila. One ensemble stood out with the use of PVC pipes (!) of varying lengths as additional percussion instruments. And they got it quite right, prompting me to express the feeling that, while here, I missed the music.

Sadly, we didn’t go anywhere of note on our last full day here. It was mostly a shuttle between our small hotel (the Hotel Sophia, whom I must congratulate for getting a lot right as we were their “trial” guests) and the Governor’s house on the capitol grounds. The final night was a song and dance competition between dance crews from a smaller number of towns and twelve singers of varying quality. (But not awful, mind you. The competition screened well.) Before a number of jurors behind whom we sat, we witnessed demonstrations of talent–but one stand-out was a young kid who was a dead ringer for a cousin on my dad’s side. (The latter also sings well.) He must have been ten, but he got down “Listen” by Beyonce to the point that the crowd really went behind him after.

The highlight though was the visiting talent the organizers brought in. I had never seen Vina Morales or Jed Maddela live before, but I was more familiar with Maddela’s material as his repertoire can be heard on “senti” stations back in Manila. (In other words, stations that love to play the dominant pop theme of silly love songs.) Maddela was, I must say, quite impressive. And I am still moved by a cover of a song that will be turning twenty in its recorded form (if I am right). “Ligaya” by the Eraserheads was a remarkable song when I first heard it as a high school freshman. After two decades, it turns out I still knew the lyrics.

A lot has changed in those two decades. The band that performed that tune has gone their separate ways, or graduated, as their erstwhile lead put it. (Two of them were asked to re-record “Minsan,” which sounds more moving with the passing of time.) They have had other bands since, and they have become mentors and friends to musicians in a scene which has changed since the days Mayric’s was one of the places to go if one wanted to play original stuff, even to a very small crowd. Mayric’s closed shop last year.

Perhaps, twenty years from now, I might be moved to tears when someone digs up Ang Bandang Shirley’s “Nakauwi Na” and sings it in concert. Some people are still writing that kind of stuff. Perhaps it’s time we paid attention.

Incidentally, two weeks ago, I saw Ebe Dancel sing live (and express his excitement over the Sugarfree jukebox musical). It brought a huge smile of recognition to hear excerpts of his collaboration with Gloc-9, “Sirena,” being used last night by a dance troupe.

So today, we’re making the long journey back to Manila. All that remains is for me to thank the government and people of Isabela for hosting me and my colleagues, and I am looking forward to a much less dramatic visit to Isabela. (Cues another song by Shirley, “Tama Na Ang Drama.”)

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