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Songs for my mother
[April 08, 2006]

Songs for my mother

(Philippine Daily Inquirer Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)THAT SATURDAY THAT I SAT BY the Porac river watching the ArtiSta. Rita mini-concert, I had never missed my mother more. Song after Kapampangan song, I thought of how much she would have enjoyed herself had she joined us. But that morning she woke up feeling a lot out of sorts, so I didnt protest when she decided to stay home. I should have insisted she come along, I kept thinking to myself, for how to wrap up this wonderful experience and bring it home to her? How do I translate the feelings of exhilaration and renewal all around and within me into mere words? How do I thank her for giving me a Kapampangan soul and for raising me around a language that is both rhythmical and consoling?

I had wondered if my mother had heard the songs before. Atin ku pung Singsing everybody knows, but what about the others? I got the answer when the next morning I played the two ArtiSta. Rita CDs I bought for her. She made comments like This is a balse or This is like a zarzuela. She sang along, swayed her head, tapped her foot and, I suppose, journeyed back to a sunny place in her heart that she deemed not worth sharing with any of her nine children until now.

Oh that song, she said in Kapampangan, amused as the opening strains of Aro! played. My mothers friends in the market would start singing it whenever they saw us coming. They would tease me about being flat-nosed and dark-skinned. It would make your grandma so mad shed grab and toss the stuff they were selling. (For the record, my mother outgrew the flat nose, retained her gorgeous tan and turned out to be a very attractive woman. All her friends say not one of her six daughters could hold a candle to her beautybut what do they know?)

My grandmother, Catalina Gozum, was a tall, big-boned woman. In my mind I pictured a market scene where a woman with my built and my temper was overturning tables, causing fruits and veggies and other wares to fly all over the place. We called my moms mother Apo, which is Kapampangan for grandparent and quite the opposite of the Tagalog word apo (accent on the second syllable) for grandchild. I was my grandmas pet until my brother Joel was born and upstaged me. Apo died when I was on my senior year in college, but I remember her face vividly. It is not true that time washes out the color and details of your memories, at least not with me.

And yet I honestly had not thought about my Apo in years until I heard the ArtiSta. Rita songs. It was on trips with my grandmother that I got to be familiar with a few Pampango folk songs included in the Kapampangan Ku CD. I spent my childhood summers vacationing with my Apo in Betis and San Luis, Pampanga and in Tarlac, Tarlac. Betis because that was her hometown (her mother is a Serrano, her father, a Gozum); San Luis because that was where her eldest son Facundo lived after marrying Filomena of the Carlos family; and Tarlac because that was where she settled down upon marriage to my grandfather Atilano Rojas (of the Guarin and Rojas families of Arayat).

Dramatic settings

While the ArtiSta. Rita have yet to perform in the market where my grandmother toppled tables, they have held concerts in equally dramatic settings. Most of their concerts are held with a landmark as background. One year they performed by an old villa owned by the Guanzons. Another year it was at the two-century-old San Guillermo Church in Bacolor. For us, it was by a river.

Muritan mu, said my cousin Belle Aleta, a balikbayan from Vienna and daughter of the aforementioned Facundo and Filomena, when she invited me to the impromptu show. Murit is Kapampangan for crazy so no one expected a serious performance with live orchestra, lights and the works. It was understood that it was all going to be just for fun, a dress rehearsal kinda but with a river running through it.

Ambiance is very important to Andy Alviz, the groups creative director. You save on the cost of the set. The ambiance is there right away, and at the same time you show the audience the beauty of Pampanga, he says.

Andy owes his theatrical wisdom to his stints as choreographer of the Manila, Hong Kong and Singapore stagings of the Broadway hit Miss Saigon. (Next month, he will be choreographing the Korean version.)

The young take to the old

According to Andy, children in Sta. Rita are not given to playing in the streets or goofing off in the fields. Instead, they form groups and sing. So in 2001, the Ritenos thought of putting on a Christmas show where they would gather all the choirs. We got together about 12 groups, he says. Young and old, male and female, they were all drafted for the show.

That was when I realized there were very talented musical directors right in my home town, he adds, referring to Resy Pineda, Gie Lansang and Randy del Rosario.

The ArtiSta. Rita Foundation, which has united the disparate singing groups of the town into one choir, is an offshoot of the 2001 concert. The concerts and the two CDs produced by ArtiSta. Rita (a third one is in progress) have caused the renaissance of Kapampangan art and culture. They have also erased the usual notion that folk songs are only for old people.

Young people in Pampanga are singing our songs now, says Andy with pride. Not just in Pampanga though. Since I brought home the ArtiSta. Rita CDs, my children and their cousins have taken to listening to Kapampangan music when the family gets together for Sunday lunch with my mother. They particularly love Oya Na and the other folk songs that have been given a rap twist.

Supporting ArtiSta. Rita are 150 volunteers, of which 70 are performers, ranging in age from 5 to 70. The bulk are in their 20s. Grants for the recordings and the upkeep of the choir have come from Miss Saigon producer Cameron McIntosh and his foundation, Pampanga Gov. Mark Lapid, the Holy Angel University and the Oasis Hotel, as well as donations from appreciative Kapampangans.

Through their performances and recordings, the Sta. Rita artists have inspired hordes of their cabalen to rediscover their roots. Alice Castro, who owns popular restaurant Holidayland in San Fernando, has seen two shows and doesnt mind going to another. But its the balikbayans who are most affected emotionally by the ArtiSta. Rita show.

We were not sure people would like the show, says Andy, but we thought it might be like Field of Dreams, you know, if you build it they will come. And its been like that so far. People have come up to me and said, We came home from Australia or Hawaii or Canada to watch the show.

Last December, all the grand matriarchs of Pampangas leading families supposedly came to Sta. Rita for the Duman Festival, which was made doubly attractive by an ArtiSta. Rita concert.

The ArtiSta. Ritas music will be coming round the mountain on Easter Sunday, April 16, when they put on a sunset show at the Solman Ayala Farmhaus, which is nestled at the foot of Mt. Arayat.

I have promised my mother I will take her, and I will, come rain or high lahar.

To get to Mt. Arayat from the North Expressway, take the Angeles exit, go toward Magalang all the way to Pampanga Agricultural College. Then follow the road that leads to Ayala and Sto. Nino. Venue is five minutes away from PAC.

Tickets will be sold at the gate but its best to reserve. Call 0917-8012687 or 0920-9024433.


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