Bayang Barrios: From a Song of Hatred to a Song of Love
(I just like to share this, my interview-turned-article with Ms. Bayang Barrios. Truly, things are more than what we see.)
Discrimination has always been a cancer of society. It’s a feeling when you are ignored, condemn with faults that doesn’t make sense at all. It is what oftentimes describes the relationship between blacks and whites, Christians and Muslims, women and men. Unfortunately, the fast-growing times were not able to eliminate it and no high-tecnological device can eradicate it. Anyone can feel it. Anyone can be a part of it. Some may think that it only happens to those who were not glared by the lights—the poor, ordinary people—but it isn’t. Truth is, even famed singer and peace-lover Bayang had felt it.
Maliit pa ako’y ikinahihiya ko
Na ako’y tawaging kalahi n’yo
Ayokong amining kadugo ko kayo
Dahil kayo’y marurumi’t walang pinag-aralan
“Hindi nila ako sinasali sa mga laro. Sinasabihan nila ako ng aswang. Kasi nga, kumakain ang mga Manobo ng buhay na manok. Ikinahiya ko tuloy ang maging Manobo. Nag-aral ako ng Bisaya para iyon na lang ang salita ko,” said Bayang in a tone that wasn’t regretful anymore. Five years ago, she begin to long for her tribe and their culture.
“Nang na-meet ko si Joey Ayala, tinanong niya ako, ‘Taga-saan ka ba?’. Sinabi ko, Manobo ako. Kaya ‘pag tumutugtog kami, ipakikilala niya ako, ‘Si Bayang Barrios po, isang Manobo’. Tapos naririnig ko ang mga tao nagpapalakpakan. Hindi sila natatakot sa akin.”
Through the years since she and Joey met up to now, Bayang started to go back to her roots and fill her heart with pride.
The woman who got her name from the first word of the Philippine National Anthem (as it was the custom of the Manobos to name their child from the first word heard or seen) started her career on 1988 alongside Joey and Bagong Lumad. Joey discovered her when he was directing the play “Ang Misyonaryo” where Bayang is a part of. During breaks, Bayang would sing some of the Asin’s songs and it was when Joey asked her to be a member of their group.
Since then, she was performing with them not only here in the country but also in foreign lands. “Iniimbitahan kami sa States ng mga Pilipino rin dun.” But because she wanted to do more and be more, Bayang decided to separate ways from them. “Nung kasama ko kasi si Joey, kumakanta lang ako. Hindi na ako nagsumikap gumawa ng kanta kasi nandyan naman si Joey eh. Magaling naman siya.”
And so, Bayang Barrios started her career in 1994, solo. “Dun ko talaga naranasan ang hirap ng buhay-musikera. Walang-wala ako. Ang alam ko lang nung kantahin ay ‘yung mga kanta ng Asin. Pero s’yempre, bakit ako pakikinggan ng mga tao kung nandyan naman ‘yung original. Kaya nagsimula na akong magsulat ng mga kanta.”
Her first composition, Ka Tribo, was dedicated to her ka tribo—the Manobos—it took her long to acknowledge and recognize. She sang it to them when she joined the Great Jubilee Pilgrimage against Hunger in Mindanao. “Lahat nung mga matatanda umiyak. Natuwa naman ako kasi kahit papano, napasaya ko sila.”
World-renowned Filipino songstress and entertainer, Bayang Barrios represents the “Filipino’s living voice”. The free-rising spirituality of her songs made her a veteran of music festivals. She became a Himig Handog para sa Bayaning Pilipino finalist in 2000, a Katha nominee for world music song “Ngansi Ba” in 2002, and a Metropop Grand Prize winner last year for her song “Malayo Man, Malapit Din”.
“Sinulat ko iyong kantang iyon isang linggo lang bago ‘yung final submission ng entries sa Metropop. Pero ‘yung melody nu’n, matanda na, 3 years ago pa. Dalawa nga lang iyong chords nu’n eh, A and B#. Plano ko kasi nu’n, a collaboration with Mike, pero ayaw naman niya kasi may nagawa na daw siyang kanta. Sabi nga niya, ang tamad ko daw. Inspirasyon ko iyong matagal ko ng kaibigan.”
Her husband, Mike Villegas, former member of Rizal Underground, won second place in the same musical event for his composition, “Pretend that I Don’t Love You”, sung by Cookie Chua of Color it Red. “Linoko ko nga siya nu’n. Sabi ko, natalo ko siya.”
Winning P500,000 has been a great help to Bayang. After the singing competition, her lifestyle changed. “S’yempre, economic. Napapag-aral ko iyong mga pamangkin ko sa may amin.” But money was not the only prize Bayang had received. It also brought her fame. “Nakilala ako sa mainstream. Marami nang nag-iinvite sa aking kumanta.”
But despite of it all, Bayang’s kind of music is still not widely accepted today. Major labels had turned her down fearing that listeners aren’t yet ready for a change. “May nakapagsabi nga sa akin, yung debut album ko na Bayang Makulay sa Universal, ibinebenta na lang ng P50 sa SM.” But still, Bayang goes on. She said she will not stop playing her rhythms till she grows old.
“Simple lang naman ang gusto ko—ang mapakinggan sa radyo ang kanta ko. Kasi sayang eh. Atin ‘eto.” She insisted though to ‘face the reality’. “Hindi pa talaga accepted ang folk music. Pero anong gagawin ko? Kung iisipin ko lang, mafru-frustrate lang ako. Wala lang akong magagawa. Don’t let your frustrations drown you. Life is beautiful. Life is good. Kahit mahirap ang buhay, i-enjoy mo pa rin ang kalungkutan.”
Bayang is recently promoting her new, independent album, Ayon, co-produced by her and Mike Villegas that would be released this December 11. It is a follow-up to Harinawa, her second album which title means ‘if only’ or ‘I wish’ produced by also an independent record label, Tao Music, last 2001.
Bayang’s songs are characterized as catchy, danceable, fresh and thought-provoking. Maybe that’s why she was chosen to sing the theme song of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Asya Festival—an annual gathering of the finest plays, dances and songs of the Orient. It was written by Ryan Cayabyab and CCP’s Fernando Josef. She also graced the WOW Philippines jingle with her ‘wow’ chants.
But her music doesn’t just end there. Bayang had also inspired theatres, playing the lead role in Hudhud, an ancient Ifugao romance written and produced for the stage. She also performed Rosario, a domestic helper who, like her mother, had experienced violence in the hands of his abusive husband. This all-female cast play “Panaw” (which means “Journey”) was a Mebuyan Peace Project that sought the awareness on women’s rights issues such as domestic violence.
Bayang admitted that she herself was a product of a broken family, making her portrayal a little easy and natural. “Panaw” was staged several times in India and had also been played in Davao City and in Fort Santiago, Manila.
All of her experiences, no matter how sad and unfair, is still turned beautiful by Bayang. As a Filipina, she does her share of contributing peace to this physical world by playing her music. “Iniisip ko na lang, sa music ko, kahit papano, nakakapagbigay ako ng positive energy.” Bayang also believes that we are all ought to be responsible and shouldn’t be always relying on the government. “Ayusin mo iyong environment. Magsimula ka sa bahay.”
She also had an advice to her fellow women. “Alamin mo iyong rights mo. Huwag kang magpapaapak. Malaki ang responsibilidad natin. Huwag nating ipagwalang-bahala iyon.” Strong words from the mouth of a once-discriminated woman but is singing her way out to make her nation proud.
Ngunit nag-iba ang takbo ng panahon
Tribong ayaw angkinin, nagbigay karangyaan
Tribong ayaw angkinin, nakilala na ng tanan
Tribong ayaw angkinin, nagiging gabay ko
Tribong malapit ng maglaho’y hinahanap ko
Kahit itinakwil ko kayo noon
Kasa-kasama ko pa rin kayo ngayon..