Monday, November 24, 2008

Isang gabi ng Patatag

The truth is I used to know next to nothing about Patatag, though I've heard about them when I was still studying in UP, and from UP friends whose student numbers betray their age (hi Nikki and Russel). I thought Patatag was a band, like Banyuhay or Asin.

Patatag (stress on the last syllable, y'all) is actually a vocal ensemble formed in 1984 in UP in the thick of anti-Marcos demonstrations made bolder by Ninoy Aquino's assassination, culminating in the 1986 EDSA revolt. Their repertoire consisted of protest songs--either originals, or poems set to music, or Filipino translations of South American protest songs such as those by Chilean martyr Victor Jara--which made the group a constant fixture in rallies. I've heard some of their songs before, my favorite being the chilling "Wala Nang Tao Sa Sta. Filomena," written and originally recorded by Joey Ayala, which recalls Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" in imagery and in intensity. The version by Patatag truly made me want to see them live, along with other protest singers such as Susan Fernandez-Magno and Jess Santiago, or at least listen to their albums that have long been out of print.

Wish fulfilled. After something like 18 years, Patatag held a reunion gig at 70s Bistro last Saturday, a benefit show for one of their members. They were joined by none other than Susan Fernandez, Jess Santiago, and the members' sons and daughters, the second generation of Patatag. Once again, 70s Bistro was packed, the crowd composed mainly of (middle-aged, he he) activists, NGO workers (many familiar faces but none I know personally), including former UP student council president Sen. Kiko Pangilinan. Definitely a different crowd; for once there were no annoying emo kids around in their kaffiyehs.

The group sang some of their well-known songs like Julian Makabayan and Manggagawa. A taste:

Wala Nang Tao Sa Sta. Filomena

Medley (Sorry if this is truncated by about a minute. I ran out of space in my camera.)

It's amazing how the songs have held up over the years, but that's saying less about the songs themselves than, sadly, how little has changed in Philippine society since these songs were written, that tales of injustices written decades ago sound like today's news clippings.

I was also struck by how normal everybody in the group looked. I could have bumped into any of them at the supermarket or in Greenhills and wouldn't have known that they had this past life singing these protest songs and making a dent in people's beliefs and perceptions. No tattoos in sight, no effort to "look like" artists or activists, to look "ethnic" or "tibak," concrete examples of how if you want to be somebody, there's no need to look like it, but just be. Younger people should take their cue.

Rejoice. All of Patatag's albums -- Nagbabagang Lupa, Batang Clark, and Masdan, O Yahweh -- have just been painstakingly digitized and reissued as a box set (tickets to the show came with the package). If you want copies of the albums, just e-mail A new album is in the works, and so is a 25th anniversary concert in a bigger venue slated for May next year.

(Click any image to see more pictures).


Ella Kintanar said...

Hi Paolo. In behalf of Patatag, thank you so much for your nice review! It is heartwarming to know that even after a generation, the music that we used to sing in the streets still live among the youth (at least, those that care about our country) of today. We hope that our music continues to be your music, and may it inspire you and your generation to never stop seeking for justice and equality in this seemingly hopeless country of ours.

"Ago validus quod solvo" - Live strong and free!

Ella Ola-Kintanar
Patatag 1984

Paolo Maligaya said...

Thank you for your comment. Your reunion serves as a reminder that this country used to have musical artists like your group who truly mattered because you were not afraid to sing songs that told the truth and might have been very challenging for mainstream listeners. We look forward to more things from Patatag and hopefully from younger artists that you continue to, or will, inspire.

augustus464 said...

sir, i would like to know the title of the song from the Patatag medley starting at 1:38. This song was also featured in the movie "Sister Stella L." which goes (".... panahon na mga kasama...") I have been looking for this song for a long time.