The true story behind Ang Pasko ay Sumapit, other Filipino songs

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star

The Cebuanos and other friends from the Visayas have been asking me “to set the record straight,” something which I already did years ago when the “issue” came up. Actually, I have forgotten that I did, until a reader sent me a copy of my story titled “Where credit is due” which was about the true story behind Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit and other Visayan songs told in a letter to Funfare in May 2002 from Ivar Tulfo Gica, founder-trustee of the Kultura Bisaya Foundation, Inc. and president of the Rotary Club of Manila East (1991-92). He also clarified certain misconceptions about some classical Filipino songs and, yes, helped me “set the record straight.”???

Here’s Gica’s letter in full (as it appeared in this corner back then) which should clear the matter once and for all: ???

I don’t fault people disseminating wrong information because even the book, National Artists of the Philippines, has lapses in recording the works of the late lamented National Artist Levi Celerio. The book lists down Asia’s top Christmas carol, Ang Pasko ay Sumapit, as one of Celerio’s major works. Also, Rosas Pandan as a folk song and its original lyrics as a major work of Celerio. It was, in fact, composed by Pio “Piux” Cabahar. Tinikling, a Waray folk song, was also credited as another major work of Celerio. It could have been from the pen of Justice Norberto Romualdez or poet-composer Iluminado Lucente.

It’s not fair to Mang Levi as well as to the original composers and lyricists of the songs the way credits were endowed by the book.?

The original Ang Pasko ay Sumapit is Kasadya Ning Taknaa, which is still the most popular Cebuano Christmas carol in the Visayas and Mindanao and being sung in its original Bisayan lyrics. The music was composed in 1933 by buddies Vicente Rubi with lyrics by Mariano Vestil, both of Mambaling, Cebu City. With the help of Manuel Velez of Sa Kabukiran fame, it was copyrighted also in 1933.

In the early 1950s, Villar Records bought its rights, recorded and credited the entire work to the two Cebuano chums.?The song was used as background music in the film that starred Darmo von Frazier Acosta that wrongly credited Josefino Cenizal as the composer. Cenizal claimed he composed it, inspired by the strains from carolers on the Bantayan shorelines while he was passing through in a banca in Cebu where he evacuated during the war (1942), about a decade after it was copyrighted by Rubi and Vestil.

But even if this was just claimed to be their Tagalog translation, its lyrics suffer in comparison to the spirit and ardor of the jagged musical lines characteristic of Bisayan compositions. Observe the real McCoy: Kasadya ning taknaa dapit sa Kahimayaan/Maoy among nakita ang tagbalay nga masanagon/Bulahan ug bulahan ang tagbalay nga giawitan (in English: ‘Tis a moment of bliss, next door to Paradise/We behold a beaming family by this song blessed/…), incorporating the translation by Napoleon G. Rama, chairman of the prestigious Kulturang Bisaya Foundation, Inc. whose founding members include Chief Justice Davide, Ombudsman Aniano Desierto, retired Court of Appeals presiding justice Jesus Elbinias, former Sen. Rene Espina, UP President Francisco Nemenzo, ex-UP Pres. Jose Abueva, Concert pianist Ingrid Sala-Santamaria, Dr. Teresita Maceda, Dr. Erlinda Alburo, and others.???

Compare the pseudo lyrics: Ang Pasko ay sumapit/tayo ay mangagsiawit/ng magagandang himig (in English: Christmas is here/let us altogether/sing beautiful songs). Such a drab, dispirited translation, a poor parody of Santa Claus is Coming to Town.???

Rosas Pandan was composed by Pio “Piux” Cabahar. Certainly, the book wrongly credited the late Levi Celerio, a Tagalog, to have authored these beautiful original Cebuano music and lyrics:?Ani-a si Rosas Pandan/gikan pa intawon sa kabukiran/kaninyo nakig-uban-uban/ninggi saulog sa inyong kalinganwan/balitaw day akong puhunan/maoy kabilin sa akong ginikanan/awit nga labing karaan pa/ug halandumon sa kabukiran (in English: Here’s Rumbling Rose/fresh from the wild woods/joining you in your rejoicing/Only blessed by a Balitaw/a priceless heirloom/of ancient songs/in the wilderness remembered). Could a non-Cebuano-speaking literary talent have penned that????

The original lyrics for Tinikling is in Waray. Tinikling is about the tikling’s or the heron’s long-legged agility treading the paddy fields and is the rhythmic melodic choreograph of the dance. It has nothing to do with the Tagalog tinik or thorn although the choreography appears to be that of a person whose foot was pricked by thorn and walked in pained gait, but sans the tikling’s agility and grace. Could any non-Waray-speaking talent have written or understood these:?An ini nga sayaw an ngaran Tinikling/na sinasabayan hin barubakingking/Kingking man han tuo, kingking man han wala/lukso hin duruyog nga waray sumikil/Ang duha nga kahoy nga guin-iru-igtok/nga dinuruyogan hin pagbarubando (in English: This dance is called Tinikling/characterized by agile footing/right foot hops/left foot hops/altogether traipsing but tripping not… Two poles are together bumped (against each other)/and rhythmically stomped aground…)???

Andres Cristobal Cruz, in the Isyu daily newsmagazine of June 6, 1998, wrote that Ang Pasko ay Sumapit was purloined original Kasadya Ning Taknaa. “...Mang Levi acknowledged that the real author of Matud Nila was composer Vicente Rubi. ‘Kaya lang,’ Mang Levi teased, ‘nauna nang nagparinig si Vicente kay San Pedro. Tinanggap naman siya dahil sa Matud Nila’.” There’s a merry mix-up here. Either Celerio or Cruz was mixed up because Matud Nila, another popular Cebuano song composed by Ben Zubiri, that has infiltrated Manila’s melodious ai, was not the subject of the interview but about Ang Pasko ay Sumapit. Has Matud Nila been purloined, too????

Perhaps, we might examine the archives. Many of the beautiful compositions of the late Justice Norberto Romualdez, Luminado Lucente of Leyte and those of the famous composers in the south, the north and the Bicol region might have strayed into some composers’ one thousand and one works.?Nothing here diminishes my high esteem for Mang Levi. I only react contemplating Rotary’s “Four-Way Test” of things we think, say or do: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it create goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”???

May the souls of Noy Inteng Rubi’s, Noy Marianing Vestil’s (whom I met during my Cebu newspapering days) and Mang Levi’s rest in peace.

(E-mail reactions at [email protected]. You may also send your questions to [email protected]. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

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