UP Diliman College of Music Professor and UP Artist II Jonas Baes had a famous kuya. Aloysius “Ochie” Baes, a Bantayog ng mga Bayani martyr, was a student leader who founded the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK) chapter in UP Los Baños.
Arrested upon the declaration of martial law, Ochie endured prison through music, sometimes written on the child Jonas’ music sheets, which the latter always carried with him on family visits to the stockade. One song that he managed to smuggle out of prison was a kundiman adapted from an original by Bonifacio Abdon, a musician of the Philippine Revolution and one of the early music teachers at the UP Conservatory of Music. It was one of the first underground protest songs against martial law, “Mutya.”
Not long after, in the second half of the ‘70s, musically-inclined campus activists in UP Los Baños formed Tulisanes, a group that collected, created, and performed protest music from those who, like Ochie, had committed their lives to the service of the masses. It was through them that college student Jonas lived his own youthful activism.
Art and conscience
Prof. Jonas recalls being active in Tulisanes in the late 1970s while he was taking up music in UP Diliman. He regularly commuted between Diliman and Los Baños where he composed and played music for his collective and the so-called parliament of the streets.
But in the College of Music in Diliman, he immersed himself in the state-sponsored project of ethnomusicology, which was being led by future National Artists Jose Maceda and Ramon Santos. Instead of co-opting the student to pursue the state narrative, ethnomusicology would be responsible for bringing maturity to Jonas’ activism, as it entailed deeper immersion among indigenous peoples and creating music for and with the communities. It was in the college where Jonas’ art and his social conscience seamlessly merged.
Now a professor of composition, Jonas is vocal in his support for the cultural collective, for music’s need to be true to its source. For him, protest music by Filipinos should not just vocalize poetry while assuming borrowed forms. Jonas aspires for music whose form is also a protest statement by being more originally Filipino.
His musical projects, like his most widely-performed composition “Patangis Buwaya” based on the narratives of the Iraya Mangyans of Mindoro, echo the cries of indigenous peoples as they suffer from displacement and the exploitation of their living spaces by aggressive development.
Jonas’ musical history is a reflection of the history of modern Philippine protest music itself, covering its rise from the kundiman toward more indigenously-grounded forms.
A turning point
According to Prof. Teresita Maceda’s research on Philippine protest music, the Marcos regime was a turning point in Philippine protest music, when artists with activist inclinations had to veer away from the Philippine Revolution’s kundiman “Bayan Ko,” the marching beat of Maoist songs, and others that immediately tagged them as “red” to authorities.
This was the era after Woodstock, of folk songs and rock music as unabashed expressions of counter-culture. The Western-oriented Filipino music industry rode on the trend, experimenting with the vernacular and finding much to protest about the Philippine situation. Popular music could not help but manifest the repression of the times, but were muted at best. On the other hand, the militant subculture, taking the cue, found a new medium with which to reach the masses, disseminate their ideals, describe social realities, and sow the seeds of resistance; and at the same time blend in with the crowd and escape state assault.
The University, fighting for its academic freedom, became a nesting ground for activist artists.
Thus came the era of “poet-musicians”, who included UP’s Jess Santiago, Paul Galang, Inang Laya’s Susan Fernandez, and Becky Demetillo, and others who offered their poetry set in music to the cause of the resistance.
Like Jonas’ Tulisanes in Los Baños, their work was duplicated and distributed far and wide. Bootleg cassette tapes or mimeographs of their songs reached the farthest ends of the country, often without any acknowledgment of the authors, singers, and musicians.
However, another musical trove was making its presence felt. Ethnomusicology—promoted by UP’s Jose Maceda and pursued by the younger professor Ramon Santos and then-student Jonas—was revealing its potential to benefit the very musical sources themselves that were indigenous and more powerfully connected to the Filipino psyche. It was soon evident in the alternative music introduced by Joey Ayala and the Bagong Lumad in the early 1980s. The ethnic feel of Ayala’s music gave it an edge in both the protest music and popular music subcultures.
At the same time in UP, the Patatag ensemble was formed and gravitated toward Philippine folk songs and ethnic music. It harnessed various musical talents—college students and young professionals—in UP toward activist aspirations. Jonas found this cultural collective characteristic of Patatag, resulting in his production of its third and last album, “Masdan, O Yahweh,” as the 1980s ended.
Patatag attracted quite a number of young musical artists. One of them was Dong Abay, who would form the band Yano and who would continue rocking the boat in musical conventions and making his presence felt in protest actions.
The protest tradition in UP thus continues to enrich Philippine music and politics.