Ysagani Ybarra (Siegfried Ranada in real life), did not gain the national stature that other singers gained from covering his songs, nor received the kind of recognition he deserved from his compatriots and cabalen when he was still alive. But now that he’s dead, he will surely become a legend and a larger-than-life figure whose musical legacy will live on after all of us mere mortals are long gone.
Ysagani was already mythical when I first met him in the 1960s. I remember seeing a procession of carabaos in my hometown where Ysagani, wearing a buri hat and playing a guitar, rode the largest beast at the head of the procession. He was the local Pied Piper that enthralled and enticed the populace to follow the procession to the concert site, a place called Bana where his family (the Tiglaos of Mabalacat) had put up the town’s first hydroelectric plant in a spot called Maskup, where the Sacobia River narrowed between two rock formations.
There he composed and sang songs like “Bilog Na Naman Ang Buwan,” about a kapre in Mabalacat that appears during full moon (the first time my hometown’s name was used in a song or poem or any work of art and literature), “Biyaheng Langit,” “Batayani,” which is about the boy who died saving drowning victims in the Bocaue pagoda tragedy, and “Pili-Pino,” his anthem on the Filipino race.
Ysagani was a dreamer—he dreamed about turning Bana into an amphitheater surrounded by an orchard of caimito trees where he would give free and endless concerts. When Pinatubo erupted and buried the place with lahar, Ysagani dreamed of turning the spot into a sanctuary for love, peace and music, a place he called Ing Bayung Mardika.
Ysagani was an achiever—he starred in a musical staged in Germany and in a movie about football in the slums. Whoever asked him to sing, he gamely sang, and wherever they wanted him to sing, he readily went. He sang at events organized by local artists groups as well as schools like Holy Angel University, especially when the event was organized by the University’s Center for Kapampangan Studies. He played a cameo role in our film “Aria,” and this year alone, shortly before his death, he offered to perform for our CKS 20th anniversary music video, for our tribute to World War II soldiers and guerrillas at the Capas Shrine, and for our special film screening at the Metropolitan Theatre.
Like all great artists he was much misunderstood, maligned, and sometimes even mocked. He made as many friends as enemies, and as many admirers as detractors. And yes, he died alone. But on October 11, the 40th day of his death, his friends led by Cecile Yumul and Tess Romero and his fellow artists led by Lolita Carbon will come together to say thank you to Ysagani Ybarra for his life and his music. The free concert will be held at the Old Municipio of his hometown Mabalacat, just a stone’s throw away from the house he grew up in.
September 27, 2022
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