One generation ago, Joey Ayala’s songs—folksy, poetic, reflective—brought new followers to the brink of worship. Now thirtysomething fans sing along to his music, and his message is more urgent than ever.
By EMMIE G. VELARDE
ON PAYDAY weekends, the road to Greenhills in San Juan is fraught with untold horrors.
But Joey Ayala was playing last Saturday, Sept. 16, at the Music Museum in a “homecoming” gig after 25 years (he launched three albums there). No way were we, three fan girls over 50, missing that. Media rumblings earlier in the week about a nationwide Martial Law Part 2 had merely stoked our resolve. One generation ago, Ayala’s songs—folksy, poetic and insightful— brought astonished converts to the brink of worship. Were those songs as seductive and relevant now?
The least we could do to survive the drive was elevate the conversation. What did the concert title, “Mandiriwa,” mean? Turns out, Ayala had explained this in a press conference that announced the event two months back. We didn’t know what he said at the time, but we came close.
We figured it had to be mandirigma (warrior) + diwa (idea, mind, thought) = one who fought the battle at hand with the power of ideas, thoughts. In the press con, Ayala reportedly said it was a word he had coined to collectively refer to “artists.” Really close.
At last, the GPS announced our arrival at the destination. Where was Uni-Mart? The complex is bound to look like a different planet to anyone who has not visited for a year or two. But once inside the Music Museum, it was as if we had stepped back into the 1990s. Except, it might be said, for the waves of full heads of grey hair shuffling toward the entrances.
The 29-year-old theater still seats 720; it was packed that night, SRO.
Ayala wore what looked like running shoes (memorably, he performed barefoot at the Cultural Center of the Philippines early in his career), as though to indicate that, 25 years later, the battleground was a little more hazardous— best to secure one’s footing.
Or not. In the very least, it added to a whiff of youthfulness in the hall. The producers, Vandals Entertainment and Gabi Na Naman Productions, were young people, Ayala pointed out at the top of the program. And the set list was curiously familiar to the thirtysomethings, who could name most of the songs on three notes and sang along— a lot, with fervor.
For over two hours, familiar lines and melodies drifted from the stage— brighter than the lights and as vibrant as the set— and settled on the audience as revisited sentiments. No sweat there; it was a tacit agreement that little had changed.
“Ikaw na may baril… ikaw ba’y tagapagligtas o isa lamang mandarahas?
“Bundok ng basura…”
“Inutang na kanin at malamig na ginamos, busog na…”
“Ang hirap ng marami ay sagana ng iilan…”
The pleadings and prayers were still the same:
“Ang kagubatan ay unti-unting nawawala… Haring Ibon, nais kong tumulong (at) nang kaharian mo’y muling mabuhay…”
“Ang pag-ibig natin ay walang hanggang paalam… at kahit magkalayo, papalapit pa rin ang puso…”
“Bathala, ang bawat bagay na nagmula sa inyong palad ay may tungkulin sa mundong kinagisnan… sa pagtupad nito ang lahat ay tinitimbang…”
Well, they were the very same songs we remembered, and no one minded— if anything, they sounded more urgent.
Shaman/ drinking buddy
Onstage, Ayala was gifted musician, enthusiastic host, master storyteller, irreverent comic, shaman and drinking buddy— roles he deftly wove in and out of, by way of shifting gears from solemn to stirring to playful. The persistent subtexts to his lyrics and his famous support for the sitting Chief Executive notwithstanding, he steered clear of politics in his spiels, though he did say at one point that the thought of being a presidential speech translator had crossed his mind. “But,” he cracked, “only for the deaf.”
If he meant to make the audience focus on the message more than the messenger, it worked— even if this messenger had a long list of citations, including a TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men), tucked into the waist of his virtual malong.
He left the overt opinionating to younger guests, a gesture that the audience members apparently approved. Awarded rapper Gloc-9 was welcomed and sent off with wild cheering. The theater fell into a hush throughout fiery spoken word artist Juan Miguel Severo’s turn at the mic. Frequent collaborator Dong Abay was the only one who got to sing his own song— “Banal na Aso”— an option that should have been offered as well to the first guest artist, Bullet Dumas, if only for his distinctive, every-Pinoy style. Abay was applauded as much for his singing as for his spontaneous rhythmic dance.
Speaking of which, it was comforting to see that Ayala and Bagong Lumad original Bayang Barrios have remained graceful Maranao terpsichoreans. Another original Lumad, Onie Badiong, the two ladies at the kulintang and chimes, and the other support instrumentalists were vital components of the production, having recreated the unique Lumad sound. All their names should have appeared in the press notices.
On the ride home, mellowed by perilous physical exertion throughout the show and audacious selfies with the star right after, us three older fan girls could find only one more aspect of the evening left to ponder: how tantalizing the Filipino language can be in the right hands, for example, the hands of a mandiriwa—whether rendered in Tagalog, Bisaya, Cebuano, Binukid or Ilonggo.
“Narito po ako, bunga ng pag-ibig sa palad ng mundo…”
“Ako’y milyonaryo sa buhangin, ingat-yaman sa aplaya…”
“Iisang pinagmulan… iisang hantungan… kamag-anak at katribo ang lahat ng narito… sa lupa, sa laot at sa langit…”
It would be great at this moment in our history, we imagined, to savor the full text of “Mindanao,” written in one of the region’s several dialects that are regretfully incomprehensible to us.
Meanwhile, it is difficult not to note that— were certain tables turned— one of Ayala’s most poignant songs, “Wala Nang Tao sa Santa Filomena,” would make a compelling theme for current anti-government protest actions.
“Nag-iisang lumilipad ang langay-langayan
Anino niya’y tumatawid sa nanunuyong palayan
Tanging sagot sa sigaw niya ay katahimikan
At kaluskos ng hangin sa dahon
‘Sang ikot pa, huling sulyap mula sa ibabaw ng bayan
Mga kubong pinatatag ng lupa at kawayan
Paalam na, paalam na ang awit ng langay-langayan
Nguni’t walang nakasaksi sa palayo niyang lutang
Pagka’t wala nang tao sa Sta. Filomena…
Nasaan ka at bakit ka nagtatago taumbayan
Panahon na, panahon nang balikan ang iniwan
Dinggin natin ang tangis ng abang langay-langayan.”
That said, we have always found optimism in Ayala’s songs being not just about conflict and issues, but also about resolution and man’s spiritual core.