ARTIST: DONG ABAY
Dong Abay and his contemporaries—a handful of survivors of a bygone musical era who have managed to stay relevant and, thankfully for us, creatively restless—are always dealt a slippery hand. They are revered by most on the strength of their best-known work, but also shrugged off by trend-hounding cynics for (the not always real) fear that they may resort to tried-and-tested sleights of hand. An attempt at a modern meditation on Jose Rizal is no small task, but Abay’s Rebulto succeeds through its maker’s vision. Abay is clearly a poet, and not just in his linguistic swagger or his unfaltering grasp of Filipino, but also because of his willingness to speculate. Mainly, how would Rizal take this all in: his ubiquitous presence in popular culture throughout the ages; his legacy as etched in similarly upright (pun intended) people; the co-opting of his symbolism? Also admirable is the brave paradox of form and content, the taking on of historical subject matter amid a synth-pop backdrop (care of Raymund Marasigan and Buddy Zabala, who serve as sound producers, musical directors, and electronic instrumentalists). David Byrne’s Imelda Marcos-inspired musical Here Lies Love somehow comes to mind because of its use of “clubby dance music” (his phrase), a musical form informed by levity, in approaching an otherwise “serious” narrative.
Abay’s seven-track EP is not a collection of potential hit singles, and it’s not for everyone, especially those who are wont to count the number of “good tunes” on a record instead of taking it as a narrative whole. It is, also, not crafted in the same manner as a standard rock opera (The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia, most obviously), because it is without modern-rock pomp. Rebulto, consistent with the allusions it makes, is more a walk-in-the-park musing on the national hero rather than a sprawling, catch-all epic. This smallness, however, is sheer mirage, for Abay manages to pull off a thematic feat without the attendant monotony, instead employing factual summary (“Kilometro Zero”), ventriloquism (“Kikilos,” “Par Que”), and anachronistic soliloquy (“Anonymous,” “Rizal Day”), among other storytelling devices. It is, however, the glowing appraisal of present-day Philippines (and Filipino) in “Bagumbayan” that is the most heartening, and dreamy closing track “Titigas” the most introspection-inviting. All throughout Rebulto, a metaphorical tug of war—between action and inaction, reality and artifice, warm flesh and cold concrete—permeates, of cement being a symbol for both stillness and resolve (“Kelan ba ako uli magmamatigas?”), of how monuments are imbued with humanity (“Nagiging tao rin, nagiging tao rin ako”), and many other nuggets of wisdom.
Rebulto is, ultimately, done in the spirit of revolt: revolt against “standard” Dong Abay fare, revolt against hero worship and the holier-than-thou forms it usually comes in. You know what to do. (TeamManila)