by Levy Abad
That Sunday night proved to be a great evening at Canton Food Gallery, where the legendary Filipino troubadour/singer-songwriter, painter, and professor of Filipino Literature at De La Salle University Heber Bartolome performed his socially relevant songs to an attentive crowd of more or less three hundred. It was indeed a smooth and profound presentation of social issues through songs. There were also a lot of folks who gave generous tips for Heber to sing his hit songs. Heber performed with his son Kris Bartolome, who was a former highschool-arts teacher at Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
As early as the late ’60s until now, Heber Bartolome, as a folksinger, consistently sings socially critical songs that ordinary folks and conscious listeners can connect. His songs like “Tayo’y mga Pinoy” [‘We Are Filipinos’] remains relevant, as it calls for independence from empire. Another song, “Nena,” reflects on the impact of impoverishment and how it compels people to embrace miserable choices such as prostitution among other things. Other songs like “Karaniwang Tao” [‘Ordinary Man’] depicts the struggles of the ordinary working man against a rotten and moribund system; “Lerry” tells about the radical options that people embrace in times of oppression and the persecution that comes with it; and “Tagulaylay” [‘Lamentation’] centers on the poor peasant’s lament about the yoke of feudalism. These, including the song “Almusal” [‘Breakfast’], are songs that people both in the homeland and in the diaspora can relate to. Heber’s songs transcend time as it never focuses on personality cult but on real or concrete issues of the day as well as on progressive ideology.
During the dark days of the dictatorship in the ’70s, Heber Bartolome and Banyuhay articulated songs about the people’s experiences, while some other artists served as purveyors of foreign decadent culture. Heber, for his part, raised questions that subverted people’s consciousness. The album Kalamansi sa Sugat [‘Lime on a Wound’] contains radical pieces that roused and moved people to yearn and march for freedom leading to the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in the 1986 people’s uprising.
This is why FAJ Productions’ invitation to Heber to perform in Winnipeg was of great significance. Heber’s songs are like seeds of compassion and a call to people not to forget the motherland. In the midst of the experience of affluence in the North and also the blinding effect of the neon lights that can make one abandon the suffering of our people, Heber’s songs conscientize and call for a radical critique and transformation.
Thanks to Jhayzon Parades, Mar Mance, Zaldy Ordonez of C&K Music for initiating this great event that gave tribute to the lives of martyrs for social change in the motherland. They keep the beacon light of struggle in the field of culture ever burning when only embers of patriotism is left due to bourgeoisification in the first-world diaspora.
Aside from yours truly, Humus Band also opened for the event. Several artists sessioned for Heber: Mar Mance (backup vocals), Jhayzon Paredes (bass), Kris Bartolome (lead guitar), Zaldy Ordoñez (lead guitar), Andy Atanacio (drums), and Rod Dizon (drums/cajon). Some members of the 204Live Music jammed also with Heber; among whom included Paul Menor (guitar), Alex Canlapan, Henry Balanial, and Trixer Bautista.
The event was also an opportunity for some activist friends to come together: Susan Rodriguez of Migrante-Manitoba, Johsa Manzanilla of Aksyon ng Ating Kabataan (Anak), Robin Allan Banaag (songwriter), Daniel Tabooy and Juliet Flores, the chairperson of Association of Cordillerans of Manitoba (ACM), Arnold Tongol (SMD of WFG-Winnipeg), Adelle Lumanta, Kuya Felino de Jesus of the Knights of Rizal, Ernesto Ofiaza of MAFTI, and Ingemar Moncada. Also worthy to mention is the fraternity of Heber, The “Kapatirang Plebeians” of the University of the Philippines, as represented by Zaldy Laririt, Antonio and Fleda Blanco, Demy Santos, and Doy Valenciano.
The event would have not been possible without the support of the following sponsors: JJ Cabinet, C&K Music, Canton Food Gallery, Mance Financial Services, Vangie’s Hair Effects, HB Digiphoto, Funshots Winnipeg, Ardie Gervacio, Frank Rano, and many more.
I am proud to say that I have performed with Banyuhay ni Heber Bartolome and brothers Jes and Levi Bartolome as a front act in one of his concerts in Mississauga and Scarborough, in Ontario, back in 2010. It was a full venue, and folks really loved listening to original and socially reflective music, with lines like “Gising ka man, kung ‘di ka kikilos, parang patay ka rin” [‘Even when you are awake, if you will not join the struggle for change, then you are as good as dead’] from the song “Inutil na Gising” [‘Awaken Inutile’]. Heber Bartolome’s songs are products of his experience of poverty. His compassion for the oppressed continues to challenge our consciousness. As revolutionary songwriters, we write songs that give hope to others; but in times of our weakness, these same songs come back to haunt us to never give up serving the people in whatever field we are in. Thanks a lot, Kuya Heber, for your contribution to our motherland’s culture. May the God of Peace and Change bless you in your journey while spreading the message of compassion and solidarity. (Pictures by Henry Balanial of HB Digiphoto)
(This column is reserved for the readers of Filipino Journal who have something to say about particular issues concerning, but not limited to, the Filipino culture especially politics and current events. So, if you have something to say, write it down and then submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org. If we find your article befitting our standards, we will publish it here.—Ed.)
For this issue, our readers’ column features one of our occasional contributors—the local musician and cultural activist Levy Abad, reviewing the recent Winnipeg concert of the Philippines-based Filipino cultural activist / singer-songwriter Heber Bartolome, held at Canton Food Gallery, on September 10.