Album review: Tayo ang mga bosses (2015)

Got myself a copy of Tayo Ang Bosses (We are the Bosses/We are the Voice)*, a compilation CD of grassroots protest music from a lively mix of Filipino performers and songwriters. Artists include Gary Granada, Coffee Break Island, Pinkcow, and Sining Lila’s future videoke classic Noy-Abad Romance, using the tune of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance to create a hell of a singable chorus (“Whooo-oh-oooh… Noynoy Abad Romance”).

There are some clunkers, like any compilation album, but I’m mostly delighted by the variety of voices and styles here; at 20 tracks, this is a well worth the PhP 130 I paid for it. Interestingly enough I don’t see it described anywhere as an “OPM” album; and I instinctively wouldn’t call it OPM either. Maybe OPM isn’t just a stylistic, cultural, or economic demarcation, but a political one too. Rather ironic, given that protest music has always been the most unruly and vital scene of Filipino popular music. 

That said, I wonder if the inapplicability of the OPM label isn’t also due to the fact that there are many amateur-level contributions here, something that is deliberately announced on the modest, inkjet-printed album cover: Pakinggan ang tunay na boses ng mga mamamayan. Listen to the true voices of the citizens. (“Citizens” is the literal translation but mga mamamayan also carries the deep-felt sense of collective unity implied by “the people” as in we the people).

Of course, with such a commitment to unvarnished fidelity to political emotion, the usual hierarchy of professionals over amateurs takes a back seat. I think that’s another side to OPM that gets seldom considered: the fact that it identifies a line of professional trade or craft work.

Back to the album. The most fleshed out tracks, arrangement and production-wise, came from the reggae and hiphop contributions (of which there were 3 and 2, respectively). There were a few plaintive ballads, a couple of tinny, singsong-like, but strangely compelling numbers you’d imagine creating a big unifying impact in a chaotic event like a rally.

And then you have the two that sparkle and burn. Gary Granada’s SONA Ni Noy? deftly retraces the melodic itinerary of Bisaya folk song Bakya Mo Neneng over the ukelele, dancing along Granada’s cajoling yet searing critique, disguised as a wistful lover’s lament.

The album closes with The Wuds, as it should. There’s just something about the way Bobby Balingit sings that makes me catch my breath, one of those voices you imagine lives out in the wilderness. Here he is singing “Ayokong Daanan” (Not Going Through It)** at a protest rally in Mendiola last month.

Album produced and released by Koalisyon ng Progresibong Manggagawa at Mamamayan & Pinoy Media Center, (c) 2015.

 

* The album title has a double layer of meaning. The phrase “we are the bosses” references the tagline kayo ang boss ko (“you are my bosses”), used during the 2010 presidential campaign of current Philippine president Benigno “Noynoy/PNoy” S. Aquino III, who is of course the album’s object of (dis)affection. Current political context aside, though, the compilation continues the long tradition of Pinoy protest music, beginning with the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s, which has found its greatest creative impetus in the critique of presidential rule. Craig Lockard’s 1996 article on Southeast Asian protest musics has a good (if dated and a little uncritical) overview.

** “Ayokong Daanan” also references another PNoy tagline, tuwid na daan (“the straight path”), which encapsulated the Aquino administration’s platform of moral ascendancy in direct opposition to the widely perceived corruption and crookedness of the previous presidential administration. Bobby Balingit voices the growing disillusionment of the Filipino public with President Aquino with just two lines: tuwid na makitid, maiksi ang daan / ayokong daanan: “straight and narrow, short path / I don’t want to go through it.”

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