What and how is Pangasinan music?

March 22, 2009 at 8:37 am 2 comments


By Erwin S. Fernandez

If music is the soul of a nation, then what is Pangasinan music?

Last November 2007, when I attended the first conference on revitalizing Pangasinan language and cultural heritage where I presented a paper on Pangasinan studies, a guy in his late teens with uneven teeth chatted me up while I was browsing magazines and books on a table he was watching over. In the course of conversing with him, he told me that he was a member of a band at his school.

It flashed in my mind that recently a progressive group of Kapampangan youth had successfully launched a music feast known as RocKapampangan featuring different renditions of “Atin cu pung sing sing” in rock by different bands. So, I broached to him this idea: “Why not do the same in your school?” I remember telling him that by doing so his band would be pioneering in promoting Pangasinan Rock at the same time reacquainting Pangasinan youth with their native language.

Months later, the following year, I was told that a festival of that sort was being planned in San Carlos City only to be aborted. Why I felt a little sad about it is that music is in the family’s business.

My beloved grandfather can play the trumpet; I think, well, well enough to be invited whenever an important occasion happens in our barrio like fiesta or a funeral wake. I imagine him playing the trumpet to the tune of “Malinak lay labi.” It’s the only song I can sing since I was a grade-schooler ignorant of what the lyrics meant. It’s the only Pangasinan music that I can think of immediately without actually thinking. Anyway, I regret that my grandfather did not teach me the trumpet but more than this I regret what happened to Pangasinan music all these years. It has got to do with a national policy implemented when I was not yet born but when I entered school, the whole of my generation and the next were made to suffer so that the meaning of that beautiful song became buried deep in our memory.

That language policy has been around since 1974 when bilingual instruction in schools was approved to the detriment of the other languages including Pangasinan because the use of local languages in schools as medium of instruction was indefinitely suspended. Do you still wonder why Pangasinan music is not heard in most radio airwaves or why Pangasinan bands continue to ape music foreign to their ears but no stranger to an indifferent audience accustomed to Western and popular Tagalog songs? Most Pangasinenses are not trained to listen to their own music that embodies their being as a people, as a nation. Because they were made illiterate in their own language, how can they compose great songs that would express their aspirations and longings as a people? How is Pangasinan music? I could shout on top of my lungs to bewail and protest the deafening silence.

But I’m happy to note that this is not the whole picture.

Sometime in 1984 a professor at a local university who did her dissertation on Pangasinan folk literature at UP organized a performing arts group to showcase Pangasinan music.

First called Tambayo Cultural Group, in 1988 they got invitations from civic organizations, government offices and cultural associations to perform at seminars, conferences and workshops.

Under the stewardship of five former presidents: Gilmer Bautista, Genaro Manolid, Larry Milanes, Jess Estabillo and Nathaniel Valerio, this student organization came to be known today as the Tambayo Singers.

It was last year, at the book-launching of the founder’s daughter, when I finally met the group. At the dinner I talked to Shirley L. Milanes, one of the six singers and married to the musical director of the group, asking some timid questions and betraying my joy of having known that they exist, that all are not lost for Pangasinan music.

True to their name, they offered solace to the audience, mostly Pangasinenses who are, for the first time, listening in unison to the cadence and tempo of the national anthem in Pangasinan.

It had a cathartic effect on me – something in me had reawakened – but I also feel the revulsion of having to endure listening to music all these years in languages not entirely alien to me yet they caused almost irreparable damage to the indigenous musicality of my people.
Nevertheless, a veteran broadcaster keeps this musicality alive.
Raul “Insiong” Tamayo, who is himself a singer, livens up the mood with his amusing, light-hearted songs in Pangasinan. Listening to him, I could not help myself grinning. His compositions depart from the folk songs like “Managsigay” or “Dumaralos”, which evoke the unhurried life in the sea and in the farm.

Or the communal chants, verses in themselves, performed around a bonfire and during harvests before the colonizer Juan de Salcedo set foot on the coasts of Pangasinan.

Biting but funny, Tamayo satirizes the excesses of individuals known and dear to every Pangasinense. In “Malabir Ka” he lampoons a wife addicted to gambling who was also a nagger.

In “Ponciano” he takes issue on some (here a family he hilariously named Ponciano from the word poncia in Pangasinan meaning party or gathering) who makes a living out of attending parties and other gatherings where food is served.

In 2004 Tamayo was named one among the most outstanding Pangasinenses in the field of music. Last year he was commissioned to write a Pangasinan hymn to be translated into Tagalog! I argue, however, that there is no need for that because we already had.

“Malinak lay labi,” in English “calm is the night,” is not only a love serenade of a man to his beloved. It is more than that. Mita Q. Sison-Duque says it’s “a love song to Pangasinan.”

And I tend to agree. Taken metaphorically, that woman, Urduja if you will, personifies Pangasinan, our homeland that we love and care because we owe her our life and freedom.

It is a patriotic song that appeals to Pangasinenses wherever they are, either scattered throughout the country or abroad. Whenever they remember Pangasinan in their loneliness or go home to visit, their sufferings are made bearable and their anxieties seem to fade away.

Pangasinan appears as a spring of hope and dreams to the masses, a fountain of wisdom to its thinkers and a source of wealth to a selfish few. For more than a century, this country song had touched the hearts of millions of Pangasinenses. Nobody knew who wrote it but the genius of its author tells us that behind the literal meaning lies the message – love of country.

Let us love Pangasinan by promoting our culture and loving our language. Sing new songs to her, mistress of our heroes, who rekindled in them the fire that forged an ancient civilization on the banks of Agno. Let these new songs, yes in Pangasinan, express love, patriotism, loyalty, anger, hate, humor, injustice – everything in the realm of human emotions – in every musical genre.

Prepare for a musical revolution and get ready to rock.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. arniel  |  March 24, 2009 at 8:01 am

    mataraken erwin,
    it was nice to note that you gave a good space regarding pangasinan music…i have two cds of pangasinan greats! malinak lay labi and abiten are included…i really love to listen to these cds (which i eventually converted to mp3s and uploaded it into my walkman) whenever i have time or going uphill/downhill with my mountain bike in mindanao and here in batangas where i am now based.

    Reply
  • 2. nayarisirin  |  March 30, 2009 at 12:58 am

    say antak labat ya pangasinan music et iraramay kakansiyunen na matatakken, ag ko antay title da ingen. anto ni kasi su marakep ya kansiyon? 😀

    Reply

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