Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Love and Beauty in the time of Decay
“Urbane”. I was searching for a word to describe the poetry and music of Bobby Balingit in Juan Isip. I encountered that term in a Billy Bragg CD called Back to Basics. Bragg’s music was called “urbane folk music”, whatever that means. So I looked it up. Urbane is an adjective for sophisticated, classy, refined. Whoever came up with that word must have lived at a time when urban still equated to sophistication and class; to confidence and certainty. The word must have been coined at a time when cities and the “metropolis” were the exclusive enclaves of the chic and off-limits to primitives. But was there ever such a time?
There have always been rats in the rat hole called Metro Manila , I thought. There has always been Cubao and its shiny black, slimy streets after the rain; with its young warriors throwing fluorescent bulbs like modern day spears; with all the sights and smells of decay. There has always been Quiapo with its pick pockets, fortune tellers and its fatalism. And movies like City after Dark and Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag. For me, the urban has always been about crowded, dirty and mean streets and the constant struggle for survival.
bobby balingit with the idiots. 10 July 2004. welcome rotonda. photo by sep
And that’s exactly the urban landscape that Bobby Balingit and his gang paint in Juan Isip. The album is a storybook filled with musings of street kids and dreams of prostitutes-the princes and princesses of the streets. Juan Isip is like an ice-pick through the heart- a visual, verbal, aural assault on the senses. When Bobby sings "Makitid na silid/ at ilaw na bombilya/ kamang kutson na nangangamoy" in Saranggola sa Gabi it's as if you're actually there in that dilapidated, god forsaken room. You're a voyuer close enough to smell the sheets. The songs of Juan Isip are more than an introduction to the characters of urban Manila, they invite us to look at the world and search for hope and redemption through their weary and jaded eyes.
Juan Isip is no more urban than say Jess Santiago’s Obando rural. Bobby Balingit and Jess Santiago are landscape artists and both these albums are their modern masterpieces. Both convey our stories. Alternately whispering and screaming about hope, angst, beauty, truth,and love.