Apr 21
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Philippine kundiman

Author: John Iremil E. Teodoro, Contributor
Column: Life

The persona of a folk Pinoy love song, a kundiman, would readily offer to die for the sake of his or her love. Call this insanity if you cannot accept it as hyperbole, the commonly used stylistic poetic device in this ultimate Pinoy victim song form. The theme of the kundiman is generally about a lover who knows nothing but sacrifice in behalf of his or her beloved.

The Cultural Center of the Philippines Encyclopedia outlines three theories regarding the origin of the term kundiman. First, it is believed to be a contraction of the phrase “Kung hindi man.” (If it is not so). Second, it might have been from the folk verse, “Hele, hele ng kandungan/Hele, hele ng kundiman” (Hush, hush, the cradling lap Hush, hush the kundiman). Third, the kundiman refers to the red cloth worn by male dancers or men in the countryside. The theory is supported by the folk song popular in Cavite in 1873, “Mula nang Mauso, Damit ng Kundiman” (Ever since the cloth kundiman became a fad).

Musically and textually, the kundiman represents some of the more significant facts of the Filipino psyche shaped by history and culture — sentimentality, sense of submissiveness, self-pity, yearning for freedom from want and deprivation, and the aspiration for a better future. Let us take, for example, this song titled “Ibong Sawi,” in which the persona compares himself to a bird that cannot fly because his heart is wounded and no one is taking care of him. He is looking for his nest in the dark and can only find redemption in his or her beloved’s eyes and heart.

Ako’y isang ibong sawi

Na hindi na makalipad

At sa puso’y may sugat

Wala pang lumingap.

Inabot ng hatinggabi

Sa madilim na paglipad.

Saan kaya ngayon

Ang aking pugad?

Sa mata mo’y may isang langit ng pangarap

Sa puso mo mayro’n kang pugad ng paglingap

Kung ako[y mamamatay sa kapighatian

Sa puso mo lamang muli akong mabubuhay.

(I am an ill-fated bird

That can no longer fly

And my heart is wounded

No one is taking care of me.

It is already midnight

I am flying in the dark.

Now tell me

Where is my nest?

In your eyes is the heaven of my dream

In your heart is the nurturing nest

If I die because of sorrow

I will only resurrect in your heart.)

Contemporary composer and cultural studies scholar, Felipe Padilla de Leon, speculates that “the Spanish practice of forbidding the Filipinos from uttering anything pertaining to nationalism is the reason for the passionate and ardent emotional feelings contained in the kundiman, which served as the most subtle medium for expressing the Filipinos’ love for country, symbolized by romantic love.” Hence, the kundiman not only expresses lofty sentiment of love, but also of heroism. Thus, the “ill-fated bird” might also represent the Filipinos chained by the colonizers and that is why they could not fly. They are not free. The “beloved” is the country where one will be nurtured, where one will be free to live again.

In the islands of Samar and Leyte, they have a lullaby that the persona is looking for Inday who went away. According to Waray poet Merlie Alunan, this song was composed after the Balangiga massacre, when the American forces attacked and plundered this little town in the Visayas. The women and children were sent away to hide and so this sad song was made as families and lovers were separated.

Inday, Inday nakain ka?

Han kasunog han monyika

Pito ka tuig an paglaga

An aso waray kitaa.

(Inday, Inday where are you?

When the doll burned

For seven years it was burning

But the smoke could not be seen.)

In the early decades of the 20th century, Francisco Santiago stylized the kundiman, making it an appealing art song. In 1917, he composed “Anak-dalita” (Child of woe) with lyrics by Tagalog writer Deogracias Rosario. His other popular songs are “Pakiusap” (Plea) and “Madaling-araw” (Dawn).

In 1926, Nicanor Abelardo, who was influenced by the works of Santiago, composed the popular kundiman “Bituing Marikit” (Beautiful star). This song is featured in the sarsuwela Dakilang Punglo (Magnificent bullet) by Servando de los Angeles. Atang de la Rama popularized “Bituing Marikit” and other Abelardo songs. This was the theme song of the first movie of the same title of Sampaguita Pictures in 1937.

Bituing marikit

Sa gabi ng buhay

Ang bawat kislap mo’y

Ligaya ang taglay.

Yaring aking palad

Iyong patnubayan

At kahit na sinag

Iyong bahaginan.

Natanim sa puso ko

Yaong isang pag-ibig

Na pinakasasamba

Sa loob ng dibdib.

Sa iyong Luningning

Laging nasasabik

Ikaw ang pangarap

Bituing Marikit.

(Beautiful Star

In this dark life

Your shine

Brings joy.

Guide and control

My fate

Give me a ray

Of your light.

Planted in my heart

A love

That I adore the most

Inside me.

I always long

For your shining light

You are my dream

Oh, Beautiful Star!)

International diva from Panay, Jovita Fuentes, sang in 1919 at a concert sponsored by the Asociation Musical de Filipinas, a Hiligaynon love song “Ay, Kalisud” (Ah, misery). Fuentes recorded this song for Odeon Records in Germany in 1928. The somber minor key and brooding lyrics make this traditional song an intensely romantic, sighing piece. The persona is lamenting, in despair, because his or her beloved abandoned him/her. This song is an ultimate victim song.

Ay, ay kalisud

Kalisud sang binayaan

Adlaw, gab-i

Firme kita ginatangisan

Ahay, Inday

Nga wala sing kapalaran

Walay gid, walay gid

Sarang kalipayan.

(Ah, misery

How sad to be abandoned

Day and night

I weep for you

Ah, unlucky Girl

The unfortunate one

You have nothing, nothing

To give you joy.)

Asia’s Queen of Song, the Cebuana Pilita Corales, popularized a Cebuano love song, “Matud Nila’ (So they say), in the 1970s. This song was composed by Ben Zubiri. The lyrics celebrate of exquisite pain of spurned love. Despite the rejection, the lover promises to cherish the memory of the beloved forever.

Matud nila ako dili angay

Nga magmanggad sa imong gugma.

Matud nila ikaw dili malipay

Kay wa ako’y bahandi

Nga kanimo igasa.

Gugmang putli mao day pasalig

Maoy bahanding labaw sa bulawan.

Matud nila kaanugon lamang

Sa imong gugma

Ug parayig.

(They say I am not worthy

To possess your love.

They say you will not be happy

For I have no wealth

To offer you.

I promise you pure love

A wealth more valuable than gold.

They say you will only waste

Your love

And affection.)

For those who are hopelessly romantic and have a strong desire to belt out a kundiman as a way of catharsis, check out Kuh Ledesma’s new album titled K for kundiman. It features Abelardo’s “Mutya ng Pasig” (Pearl of Pasig) and “Nasaan Ka, Irog?” (Where are you, my love?). The album also carries songs by George Canseco and Lucio San Pedro. All the songs were arranged, with post-colonial ethnic touches, by Bob Aves. Albums of digitally remastered kundimans performed by Ric Manrique Jr. and Sylvia La Torre were recently released by Synergy Music Corporation under their Heritage Series. Alpha Records also carry albums of traditional and old Visayan love songs. These albums are available in leading record bars. Buy an album or two and experience Pinoy love in hyperbolic terms and be a willing romantic victim.

Source: The Daily Tribune