There’s something about our language that adds romanticism to the songs written in it. From serenading the object of one’s affection to growling one’s sentiments about the state of our nation, nothing speaks more ardently and clearly than our native tongue. Even in obscure, taboo, and marginal topics, our genuine and unique phrases can transform a deviant subject to a captivating classic.
It would be hypocritical to easily dismiss Tagalog songs (or any other song written in another dialect) as a novelty or second-rate to anything written in English, especially now. Ironically, writing a song in Tagalog can be tricky. There is this notion that it can come off as tacky, forced, or dull when done in an ill fashion. But when done right, even a simple, common phrase can be poetic.
We are celebrating Buwan ng Wika this month, and accordingly have this playlist to serve as our soundtrack. This is not just an excuse to be patriotic; we have a treasure trove of songs—from the old Manila sound to today’s roster of independent musicians, plus some of pop artists that deserve critical recognition beyond their record sales—that would make any music lover proud.
So, from Amplify.ph’s music library, here’s a playlist that celebrates our language in every mood and every sound, for everyone.
“Kung Ibig Mo Akong Makilala” – Susan Fernandez
A piano and a voice; no one should underestimate the profound effect of these two combined. The late Susan Fernandez lovingly sang this song, as if nurturing each word as they slipped from her mouth. “Kung ibig mo akong makilala, lampasan mo ang guhit ng mahugis na balat. Ang titig kong dagat yapos kang mahigpit, sa bawat, bawat saglit.” It goes without saying that this is remarkable poetry. It reminds me that a woman deserves nothing less—that our notion of love, proverbial or not, should not be defined by what devalues and does not ask for anything in exchange.
“Walang May Alam” – Dav Dionisio
Sometimes, life poses questions that provoke even what we thought were certain and secure. Life is baffling; everybody dies, but not everybody lives, as one song goes. Dav Dionisio offers sage rhetoric in his words. He sings: “Ang buhay ko ba ay magkakaroon ng saysay?” and: “Sino ba ang nakakaalam sa katwiran ng kinabukasan?” and even: “Sino kayang makikinig sa mga kanta ko?” It is impossible not to reflect and ask the same questions. But when the answers present themselves, how do we deal with them? Do we accept?
“Kapalaran” – Grey Area
Admittedly, I was rather queasy from rock acts due to the way they’ve been treated in the major label industry over the last decade—focusing on formulaic and commercialized branding, and usually fronted with a good-looking guy. I mentioned it because as we move forward, we hear from new bands that work hard to challenge that concept. Grey Area’s “Kapalaran” is bolstered by raw and guitar-heavy production, no signs of foppery whatsoever. “Ngayon, walang kasiguruhan, walang kamalayan. Hindi na marinig, mga malayong himig.” It makes me feel as though the singer wants to prove something even with what little he has. He is stripped of earthly riches, but has hopes and dreams bigger than life. It’s humbling and relatable. We never run out of stories like this, especially in our country—and that is why one’s story is also everyone’s story.
“Sssikreto” – Flying Ipis
I’m all about female-fronted bands—more so, all-female bands. Flying Ipis was an act I was mildly curious about, and it’s not just because of their name. The first time I heard them was also the first time I watched them play live. If you’re familiar with their manic sets, you’d understand why I became a fan right off the bat. “Sssikreto” has an infectious bass line and a catchy riff that both allude to the title in every single way. Forget hokey pleads! “Sikreto ko na lang pag-ibig ko, sikreto mo na lang ang oo mo” is a line I cannot wait to say in real life.
“Kamakailan Lang” – The Out of Body Special
“Sa aking pagmulat, wala ka bigla. Dagliang hinanap, hindi makita. Kaya nanghihinayang na ako, bakit muling nasayang?” This song best displays what I was talking about earlier: professing one’s innermost feelings in Tagalog comes off twice as passionate, and twice as endearing. The Out of Body Special is known for their brand of groovy, hip hop fusion music; but at best, their soulful approach breathes unmistakable artistry in their work. With only minimal, yet inarguably beautiful accompaniment, this song delves into the best and perpetually mysterious subject of the human condition: love.
“Lutang” – A Problem Like Maria feat. B-Roc
When I was listening to BONSAI for the first time, I thought this song was out of the box with its catchy loop and snappy lyrics. “Umayos ka, pinili mo na yan. Hindi ko na kaya… Kaya sawa na, sawa na ako sa kakaasa. Wala na, wala na talaga,” Maria sings. Whereas the message of the song laments the finality and the surrender of a wronged lover, the melody seems to suggest a different internal monologue. In my head, what goes on in her head is: “I am tired of being a doormat, of taking up all the slack. But I refuse to be pitied.” This track commemorates the end of a sordid relationship in the most honest and empowering manner possible.
“Diwata ng Dilim” – Makopa
This is the marriage of the sensualities of jazz and the potency of lyricism. The entire track is a rhapsodical feast, all 7 minutes and 14 seconds of it. “Bihag ko ang puso mo, tuwing bumabagsak ang takipsilim. Ang isip mo’y palasyo ko, at sa akin ay wala ka nang lihim.” The song is lumped with personifications and clever wordplay. It has an overall notable jive that livens up the mood. Not that I’ve been to one, but it’s how I imagine a Broadway performance would sound like: a big band, a spotlight, vocalist Nika Espinosa with her coiffed hair, wearing rogue lipstick and a red velvet dress, poised and strutting on stage. It appeals to the senses so much that it’s like it comes with visuals, too.
“So Pinoy” – Aero
Hip-hop has always been a breeding ground for the culture of music in the streets. In my opinion, if you want to know a country in 90 seconds, listen to a local hip-hop song. It paints a picture of a culture at its best and worst. Forget informative brochures and travel ads; just play Francis Magalona, Eraserheads, or anything Manila sound and start from there. In So Pinoy, Aero basically just welcomed you to the Philippines. The message goes beyond the language.
“Par Que” – Dong Abay and The Tanods
As the title suggests (Parque is Spanish for “park”), the park—which could be Luneta—seems to embody the qualities that make us who we are and what makes that bearable and worth living for.“May mga araw naman pala ako. Katunayan, akin ang araw na ito. Sabay sa paglubog ng araw, nagiging tao rin.” A day in the life; add to that the weightless arrangement. You cannot help but feel liberated, and—as we Filipinos are known for—smile, even when things seem to be hopeless.
“The Light 2009” – FrancisM feat. Loonie
A prayer in, and for, paradise. Amen.
As cross-published in Amplify.ph