The Music of Kapampangans-A A +A
Monday, January 14, 2013
LIKE the characters in Les Miserables, Kapampangans break into song at the drop of a hat.
Every season in Pampanga has its own soundtrack: our Halloween has gosu, our Christmas has pastorela, our Lent has pasyun, and our river festivals in May and June have kuraldal and batalla.
Long before West End and Broadway, our ancestors were already watching musicals on stage in the form of zarzuelas. The first zarzuela in any Philippine vernacular was Ing Managpe, written by a Kapampangan, Mariano Proceso Pabalan Byron of Bacolor. It was staged in 1901, ahead of the first Tagalog zarzuela Walang Sugat.
Imagine a town where you walked down a street and every house you passed by had a theatre group or a choir busily rehearsing for an evening performance. Everyone in the neighborhood was either a poet, a playwright, a performer or a patron. That was Bacolor in the late 1800s.
It was the golden age of Kapampangan arts and letters.
Our ancestors must have danced a lot because Fray Diego Bergaño’s 1732 Kapampangan dictionary distinguished between the dance done by men (terac) and the dance done by women (indac). When a man danced around a woman, that was called libad (which today means fluvial procession).
Kapampangans’ propensity for dancing is on full display during religious processions, when they not only dance but also sway the andas and carrozas (vessels where the holy images are mounted) to make their patron saint dance along with them!
The musicality of Kapampangans can also be seen in the persistence of basulto and polosa, which still fill the airwaves and continue to be updated and reinvented by younger singers.
These traditional Kapampangan songs, sung with some measure of bawdy irreverence, are still the preferred form of entertainment among the urban poor and the rural folks in Pampanga, which is why in the coming elections, expect local politicians to again recruit polosadores to compose their campaign jingles and to keep the crowds entertained during late-night political rallies.
In the 1920s and the 1930s, Kapampangan peasants and workers learned their first lessons in Socialism through music. A Kapampangan, Lino Dizon, wrote a Socialist version of the Lenten pasyon called Pasyon ding Talapagobra, which described Christ as history’s first Socialist. It was chanted in Kapampangan households from Ash Wednesday all the way to Good Friday as a way of indoctrinating family members.
During World War II, the Huks had their own traveling minstrels to lift their comrades’ morale in their resistance against the Japanese.
According to Luis Taruc, the Huk musicians sang during bivouac, while marching, and before and after encounters. There were even times when the singers performed during actual fighting!
In a village in Candaba called Mapanique, a group of about 50 Kapampangan women who claimed to have been raped by the Japanese in 1944 put their experiences into words and music which they still sing today as their way of coping with the tragedy.
When the province was inundated by a terrible flood in 1972, Kapampangans came up with a song called Apat-Apulung Aldo (40 Days) which has become the most requested song of top polosador Totoy Bato.
And last year, when the beloved archbishop of the province turned 75, Kapampangans celebrated the milestone in the only way they knew how: by writing and staging an original zarzuela about the prelate’s life and legacy entitled Ciniong.
ArtiSta. Rita and ImaArti, the group behind Ciniong, also became the country’s first regional singing group to tour the United States to perform for their cabalen in their own language.
Aside from updated zarzuelas, Kapampangans today continue to revive other musical genres to keep the music playing: Ara Muna and RocKapampangan reinventing polosas and kantang ukbu, Mon David and O.K. Musica jazzing up love songs, and Cris Cadiang and Irwin Nucum producing contemporary church hymns.
According to Cadiang, Kapampangans have the most complete repertoire of songs for all the liturgical seasons of the Church calendar, from Advent to Christmas to Lent to Easter including the Ordinary Time and the feasts of saints and the Virgin Mary.
Actually, every town in Pampanga has a pair of official theme songs: a religious hymn in honor of the town’s patron saint and a civilian hymn marking the anniversary of the town’s foundation.
While most towns and cities elsewhere hold male and female beauty pageants as the fiesta highlight, in Pampanga the fiesta always climaxes with the serenata, which is a musical duel where brass bands alternately perform until they run out of music pieces.
The serenata even has a Lenten version where two sets of pasyon chanters, accompanied by their respective brass bands, alternately sing pages from the pasyon to the tune of Italian operas. Late in the night when they run out of classical pieces with many more pages left in the book, the bands turn to more worldly tunes. Thus, if you’re still awake by then, you’ll hear the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ chanted to the tune of Sousa’s military marches, kundiman and even OPM and American Top 40!
Lastly, Kapampangans have built a solid record in various music genres: opera diva Fides Cuyugan Asencio, piano prodigy Cecile Licad, Broadway star Lea Salonga, rapper apl.de.ap, kundiman great Cenon Lagman, jazz artist Mon David, yodeler Fred Panopio, folk artist Ysagani Ybarra, pop singers Rico J. Puno and Sharon Cuneta, and many more.
Once upon a time, the only Kapampangan song we knew was Atin Ku Pung Singsing. Now, there are at least two other Kapampangan songs that have become as popular and iconic: one is the anthem Himno ning Kapampangan, composed by Msgr. Greg Canlas with lyrics by Jose Gallardo, Vedasto Ocampo and Serafin Lacson, and the other is Kapampangan Ku composed by Andy Alviz.
To me, these two Kapampangan songs are in the same league as Ang Bayan Ko and Pilipinas Kong Mahal as the most stirring patriotic songs ever written. In fact, I think that the cultural renaissance that has been sweeping the province is fueled in part by the energy generated by these two songs.
Kapampangans, like the fans of Les Miserables and other Broadway musicals, always want to have a soundtrack running in their minds while they go through the various seasons of their lives.
Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on January 15, 2013.