Last year marked the 150th birth anniversary of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, and in commemoration of this milestone, Rock Ed Philippines gathered an impressive lineup of local acts, including Peryodiko, Ely Buendia, Sandwich, Ebe Dancel, Hijo, Gloc-9. Jett Pangan, Radioactive Sago Project, Aiza Seguerra, and more to contribute and record original songs inspired by the different aspects of Rizal's life. These songs were then compiled and released online via free download as Rock Rizal, to be used as an educational tool of sorts, or at least give kids a newer – if not hipper – appreciation of our national hero. "The goal is for Rizal to be talked about again – under other lights," said Rock Ed's Gang Badoy a year ago. "It is also for us to re-examine our heroes, in general. For us not to just swallow whatever is given us, but for us to filter for ourselves who we deem heroic or not."
A year later, the songs on Rock Rizal still stand the test of time, while some of the tracks, especially Buendia's "Bungo Sa Bangin," are among the best songs these artists have ever put to tape. DIGRadio.ph had the opportunity to interview some of the artists involved around the time of Rock Rizal's release, and here's what they had to say about their participation in the project, as well as the songs they wrote.
ELY BUENDIA - "Bungo Sa Bangin"
DIGRadio: How did you feel when you were asked to contribute a song for this project? Did you agree to do it right away, or was there some reluctance at first?
Ely: Actually, I wasn't asked. I kinda forced Rock Ed to include me in the roster after I heard about the project.
DIGRadio: Did the idea that Rock Rizal was meant to be an educational tool affect the way you wrote "Bungo Sa Bangin"?
Ely: Definitely. It's always great to do something constructive for a change, in contrast to the usual wallowing in self-pity artists find themselves in. I tried to cram as much history in there, going beyond Rizal's time. But it's hard to do that without sounding trite.
DIGRadio: Why choose Sisa, or Noli Me Tangere as a whole, as the aspect of Rizal's life to make a song about? How did you approach the subject?
Ely: I just think Sisa is one of Rizal's most powerful symbols, a veritable goldmine for interpretation. I tried not to get too passionate and judgmental about it, assuming the role of commentator instead.
DIGRadio: How did you put together the "superband" that recorded the song in the studio? Did you choose your personnel with the song's Rolling Stones-y vibe in mind, or did the song end up sounding like that because of the musicians you recruited? Are you happy with the end result?
Ely: There was a certain sound I was after, and all of the players were chosen with that sound in mind. Some, like Nitoy (Adriano) and Pepe (Smith), I was itching to have on record for a very long time now. Some I wanted to work with, some I already worked with, and some I just literally bumped into at the grocery. On a more abstract level I was going for an old meets new tension, which I think also sprang from the whole idea of the project. I'm still giddy about the result.
DIGRadio: What are your hopes for the Rock Rizal project as a whole?
Ely: Hopefully it will inspire thinking in young people get them in touch with their heritage.
EBE DANCEL - "Ikaw Ang Aking Tahanan"
DIGRadio: How did you react upon being asked to be part of the Rock Rizal project? Did you say yes right away, or not? Why?
Ebe: I immediately said yes, but I was really nervous. The idea of being a part of it was very intimidating. At that time, I didnt have a band so I had no idea what to do. (Laughs)
DIGRadio: "Ikaw Ang Aking Tahanan" is also part of your solo debut, Dalawang Mukha Ng Pag-Ibig. For which project was it originally written for first? Was the song written with Rizal in mind? If not, how did you think it fits in with the rest of Rock Rizal?
Ebe: The song is for and about Rizal talaga. When I was listening to the rough mix, though, I realized that I've fallen in love with the song and I convinced Warner to include it in my album.
DIGRadio: What is it about the subject of Rizal as a young exile that you chose to put it into song?
Ebe: I tried to imagine him as a guy who was away from his family. I spent four years away from my family when I was in high school, so meron akong idea kung gaano kahirap 'yon. Kaya ko siguro gustong gusto 'yung kanta.
DIGRadio: What are your hopes for Rock Rizal? Do you think it succeeds as a tribute and/or an educational tool?
Ebe: While we honor Rizal every day, i think it's also important to remind people na tao rin siya. In doing that, sana ako, mas maintindihan ko siya. I have yet to see how people react to the songs, but I'm really proud of all the musicians involved. Pinag-isipan nila ang mga kanta, ang bawat letra, ang musika. Linalapit namin si Dr. Rizal sa mga gustong makinig.
RADIOACTIVE SAGO PROJECT - "Sino Si Pepe?"
DIGRadio: How did the band get involved with Rock Rizal? Most people are aware that Radioactive Sago Project is one of Rock Ed's more "suki" bands, but how exceptional was the experience of coming up with a song about our national hero and being part of a tribute record of sorts to him?
Lourd De Veyra (vocals): About the same time the band was brainstorming on the song, I was busy with a documentary on Rizal's 150th for TV5 called "Bayani." There was just so much material. And if Gang didn't call me, I would have whimpered like a little girl in front of her house.
DIGRadio: Did knowing that Rock Rizal was also intended to be an educational tool alter your approach to writing the song, as well as arranging it as a band? Or did you just do what came naturally?
Lourd: The idea was to keep it short and simple and intentionally didactic. So many ideas that had to be compressed in a span of three minutes.
DIGRadio: Why choose to write a piece about Rizal's alleged last wishes? What kind of message are you trying to convey? Are you pleased with the end result?
Lourd: The intent really was to ask more questions. Rizal's life and legacy still has vast gray tracts. But in the end, the message seems to be: Let's just shut our pie-holes and be proud. At least. In the final say, who else in our benighted history beams with such unending magnificence?
DIGRadio: What are your hopes for Rock Rizal?
Lourd: For the audience to still ask more questions that would hopefully lead to renewed interest in history, shut their pie-holes, and just rock and roll.
PERYODIKO - "Kumagat Man Ang Dilim"
DIGRadio: While Peryodiko's involvement with Rock Rizal (or any Rock Ed project, for that matter) is almost a no-brainer, how did you accept the task? Were there any apprehensions or reluctance caused by any personal beliefs about Rizal, or the gravity of the project itself?
Vin Dancel (vocals/guitar): Medyo mabigat 'yung project kasi una, it's no ordinary tribute. It's for the 150th (birth) anniversary of our national hero. And yeah, second, I'm more of a Bonifacista. (Laughs) But we did learn a lot about Rizal during the one afternoon workshop that Rock Ed conducted with us and a Rizal expert (Professor Michael Chua of the National Historical Association). But i'm not gonna say no to a project like this. Not everyone gets offered this privilege. So yeah, the band was really excited when we were told about it. And we had fun during the workshop.
DIGRadio: Did knowing that Rock Rizal was going to be used as an educational tool make you adjust your songwriting or the band's arrangement in any way?
Vin: Yes. Technically, gusto namin maintindihan ng mga bata ang mga letra – audible at malinaw – so they can form their own opinions about Rizal, at kung paano rin nila maire-relate sa kanilang buhay ngayon. We also wanted to encourage critical thinking.
DIGRadio: What aspect of Rizal's life did you choose to capture in song, and what were your goals for it? Do you think you've achieved it?
Vin: We chose "standing up for your rights/beliefs" as a topic. The goals were pretty much straightforward; I wanted it to rock... Rizal. (Laughs)
Ang ganda lang ng kwentuhan n'ung workshop. I started writing lyrics right there and showed it to the band and sina Gang, at naaalala niya ang isang librong nabasa niya about Rizal. Ang nakalagay daw d'un ay parang, hindi lahat ng ninuno ay natulog pagsapit ng gabi. May mga tumindig sa gitna ng kadiliman. I took it from there.
I hope we pulled it off. Ang mga makikinig naman ang maghuhusga diyan eh.
DIGRadio: What are your hopes for Rock Rizal as a whole?
Vin: Sana magkaroon ng panibagong interes ang mga kabataan sa buhay ni Rizal at kung bakit siya makabuluhan sa mga buhay nila ngayon. Hindi lang siya isang topic sa isang subject na kailangan nilang aralin.
You can still listen to (and download) Rock Rizal here: http://soundcloud.com/rockedphilippines