Cheers for Filipino music from Gerodias

SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil (The Philippine Star) - February 3, 2014 - 12:00am

Coming across a new album featuring old Filipino music is always a heartening experience for me. This is Philippine Art Songs by Rachelle Gerodias with Raul Sunico. We should all be shame-faced to admit it, but most of our singers, particularly the young ones who populate TV shows, would much rather cover Justin Bieber than sing old Filipino songs. Their distaste for it is such that they would rather die than be caught liking or ever just listening to a kundiman or balitaw.

Given this situation, it is not at all a surprise that very few producers and artists do not find it practical to invest money and effort on Filipino music, while those who do appreciate these beautiful songs would just save it for special events or their personal pleasure. This is really sad. Songs die when these are not performed or heard and a good many of these works by our composers from long ago have now lapsed into oblivion.

This is why I think Philippine Art Songs is cause for rejoicing. I am so glad that Rachelle, who is one of today’s best-known and prettiest Filipino sopranos decided to do this project. She is in great demand for concerts and has starred in lead roles in operas like La Traviata, Turandot, Cosi Fan Tutte and many others, both here and in other countries.

And she made sure that she recorded her first solo album with no less than the also-famous Raul on the piano. It is also with a sense of pride that I say that while Rachelle and Raul both had further training and continue to perform abroad, they are both homegrown talents. They learned their first ropes here and just improved on what they already had elsewhere.

Rachelle’s singing and Raul’s piano sound divine together. The decision to record these compositions with a single instrument resulted in a sweet, quiet collection that brought out the subtleties of the melodies. And Rachelle certainly knows how and when to target these qualities. Her singing is sure and she has just the right combination of power and lightness. The result in every song is remarkably affecting.

Truth to tell, I never thought I could still react with so much admiration for Mike Velarde and Dominador Santiago’s Dahil Sa ‘Yo. I must have heard it in the most varied of versions thousands of times before. Rachelle made me listen to the song with new ears and I found it extraordinarily beautiful.

Dahil Sa ‘Yo from the ’50s strikes the middle ground in the album. It is also one of the first Filipino compositions to show a distinct Western pop influence. Behind it are the kundiman songs of the pre-World War II era that were true in every sense to the established traditions of Filipino classical music. On the other side are the later works like Saan Ka Man Naroroon by Resti Umali with lyrics written by Levi Celerio expressly for Gloria Coronel’s US and Canada tour titled Gintong Awit Pilipino. Gloria was Rachelle’s voice professor at the University of Santo Tomas.

Philippine Art Songs has a well-chosen line-up of Filipino classics. These are the songs that instantly come to mind when thoughts turn to the best works by Filipino composers.

Sa Kabukiran by Manuel Velez and Johnny Benasa; Bituing Marikit by Nicanor Abelardo and Cervando Angeles; Kundiman Ng Langit by Augusto Espino; Mutya Ng Pasig by Nicanor Abelardo and Deogracias del Rosario; Ako’y Kampupot also by Velez and Dominador Santiago; Nasaan Ka Irog again by Abelardo and Jose Corazon de Jesus; Tag-Araw by Santiago Suarez and Davao Santiago; Pamaypay Ng Maynila by de Guzman; Hindi Kita Malimot by Josefino Cenizal; and Ano Kaya Ang Kapalaran? by Francisco Santiago and J. Hernandez Gavira.

The only new song in the album is Ang Bilis Naman Dumaan Ng Panahon, which is part of a song cycle that the famous Ryan Cayabyab composed and dedicated to Rachelle. Maybe there will come a time in the near future when Rachelle would be able to record that complete song cycle with Ryan arranging and leading the orchestra. For now though, let us all enjoy her Philippine Art Songs. This is a rare treat.

Now, because last Monday morning was Grammy evening at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, I received some queries about artists who have never won a Grammy. Led Zeppelin went off the list after nearly 50 years when the band was honored with a Best Rock Album trophy for Celebration. But Katy Perry, in spite of several big hits is still there.

As you will now find out, not everybody who is popular or talented or sells a lot of records has won a Grammy. There must be plenty of varied reasons why. But let us save that discussion for another day and just concentrate instead on this surprising list from the Digital Music News and other sources.

Here goes: ABBA, Justin Bieber, One Direction, Brian McKnight, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Notorious B.I.G., Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, The Beach Boys, NAS, Diana Ross, Chuck Berry, the Grateful Dead, Bjork, Snoop Dogg, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Queen, The Doors, Martina McBride, Public Enemy, Depeche Mode, Oasis, Journey, KISS, Spice Girls, The Ramones, the Everly Brothers, Patti Smyth, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Deep Purple, Jackson Brown, The Pretenders, the Strokes, Talking Heads and Velvet Underground. Queens of the Stone Age is a nominee this year but unluckily, is still in the list.


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