BEFORE art can mean something, the artist must find that same meaning in himself first. The band Banyuhay, with its lead Heber Bartolome, has withstood the test of time by staying true to their ideals, despite how much of time has changed.
Early in life, Bartolome said, in an exclusive interview with SoundStrip, that he was molded by “places, people and circumstances.”
Along with his brothers Levi and Jesse who formed the band with him, Bartolome grew up in a household of six children. Their parents did not have a steady stream of income.
“Walang trabaho parents ko. Lumaki kami sa church, yung ministry ng tatay ko. Dinadalaw niya yung kanyang congregation sa mga bahay-bahay. Wala kaming sweldo, kaya kung bibigyan kami isang kabang bigas, isang buwan kami kakain. Bahala na kami sa ulam…”
More than the love of music he inherited from his parents who would play hymns for their ministry, the Banyuhay band leader spent a lot of his childhood years moving from one city to the next because of his father’s duties to the said congregation.
He relayed he was born in Nueva Ecija, then moved to Bataan, to Quezon City, then to Bulacan—all before he reached high school.
It reached a point where he had enough of the kind of life he was living; nonetheless, he endured, persevered and understood his circumstances.
“Dati, nung bata ako, kinakausap ko yung Diyos kung bakit niya ako pinapahirapan. Eh yun pala, mapapakinabangan ko [para sa] mga sinulat ko… Na kung ‘di ko naranasan yung hirap, di ako makakasulat [ng ganun].”
From choir set-ups, Bartolome and his (band of) brothers followed the call of music. They eventually displayed their homegrown talents to the crowds of the University of the Philippines (UP) campus in Diliman.
It was around 1969, in a diner called the Butterfly Restaurant inside the former UP golf course, that Bartolome first clasped a microphone as a folk singer.
During the Martial Law years, they published a magazine called “Banyuhay,” the copies of which they concealed, in fear that it would be considered as subversive material.
The title lingered and stayed with them when they banded together, literally. Bartolome claimed that its meaning conjures the concept of “a new form of life.”
WE tried to dig dipper as to why he chose the kind of music that he and Banyuhay concentrated in.
“Influence ko, mga karanasan ko. Lumaki ako sa bokya… sa tabing tubig. Kung sino mga kalaro ko, yun ang buhay ko. Lahat ng mga sinulat ko, karanasan ko.”
Putting focus on the artists he found similarity in themes, he mentioned those who were advocates for peace: Victor Jara and and John Lennon.
“Pero kung ikukumpara ko yung kay Lennon sa mga karanasan ko, siguro mas matindi yung akin—kasi hindi naman siya namundok…”
SEVERAL years into his craft, Bartolome seems to have mastered all forms of expressions: from his songs, literature, to paintings. And his love for music has made him know the art through and through.
“Ako lang sa amin yung nag-visual arts. Sila puro College of Music. Pero ako, kahit nag-fine arts, naging composer and arranger. Ako lang yung folk singer na ako rin nag-arrange ng violin parts at flute.”
“I’ve got nothing compared to veteran arrangers,” he admitted. “But [my songs] are original; that was one way of saving money.”
Creating a legacy
“PINOY” music could be heard everywhere, regularly.
But more than carrying catchy tunes, what makes OPM special, are the elements captured in the “O.”
Back in the day, Bartolome narrated: “Basta ‘original’ ka, mapapansin ka. ‘Di naman kami mga gwapo, pero dahil ‘orig’ mga kanta namin at tumutungkol sa lipunan, diyan kami napansin.”
He dished out specimens: “Kami nila Florante, ni Mike Hanopol, Pepe Smith. Kung wala kami, walang OPM.”
BEING there when the scene started, Bartolome shared his insights on what he sees in OPM artists today.
“Nasa limelight [nga sila], pero artists sila na hawak ng isang management company. ‘Pag binitawan sila, wala na sila…”
“Kasi ang nagdadala lang sa kanila eh yung management. Di gaya namin: wala kaming manager.”
It’s not just important that a musician has songs with value, but that s/he him/herself practices what s/he preaches in the material. Bartolome sees this as a flaw that a lot of artists bare.
“‘Di ko nakikita yung sinseridad sa mga kanta nila,” was his blunt observation. “Mas totoo pa yung mga kanta nila kesa sa kanilang pagkatao. Maganda yung mga kantang nasulat nila, pero hindi sila yun.”
His two-cents for aspiring artists: “Dun ka sa kung anumang prinsipyong meron ka. ‘Di yung kung sino ang [nasa] kapangyarihan, o [saan] andun ang pera, o andun ang maraming gigs. Siyempre tatanda ka rin, mawawala yung pulitikong kinampihan mo. ‘Pag wala na yung pulitikong kinampihan mo, wala ka na rin. Sira ka pa sa prinsipyo mo.”
Shift in perspective
BARTOLOME’S idealistic side did not waiver in his art, though there were occasions when he learned something new, and led to a shift in perspective.
Case in point: His 1987 hit “Payag ka ba?,” which represented the Philippines in Germany’s Festival Des Politischen Liedes. The song was against the use of nuclear energy, but as he gained more knowledge on the subject, he had since come to terms with the topic—though he said he won’t make a song that will contradict whatever he had written before.
As a musician, composer, writer, painter, teacher, and the creator of classics like “Pasahero,” “Inutil na Gising” and the famous patriotic ditty “Tayo’y Mga Pinoy,” one would wonder which one of these he would prefer to be associated with.
“Maaalala nila ako base sa mga nagawa ko,” he declared. “Puwede nila akong husgahan sa mga yun.”
(To stay updated with the band, follow them and like their Facebook page: Banyuhay ni Heber.)