I took me 16 years before I finally got to see the original Patatag members perform in a reunion gig at the 70’s Bistro.
For a 90’s activist like me, it was definitely worth the wait.
I had always wondered how the original members of Patatag would sound in a live gig. I joined the student movement in 1992. At that time, there was a different set of Patatag members performing in UP.
I envy the generation of activists who were fortunate enough to experience Patatag at
the height of the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. Their first album Nagbabagang Lupa was the first cassette tape I bought after being recruited to the League of Filipino Students in ‘92. That cassette and their sophomore release Batang Clark, helped initiate me to progressive and revolutionary music. I was fortunate though to hear bootleg copies of live performances of Patatag, particularly one that took place probably in the Cordillera region. Those were songs that had a deep impact on listeners, both because of their excellent rendition and the correctness of the views.
I had wondered what it was like to see Rody Vera sing Manggagawa live. I imagined how guitarists Dodjie Fernandez and Norman Mendoza would execute their fiery guitar styles with precision. How’d they do the instrumental Signos, I wondered. I also thought of what it was like to hear the perfect harmony of female voices in the chorale.
Once again, revolutionary songs of the workers, peasants, the petit-bourgeoisie and the Filipino people came alive through the assembled voices of a formidable chorale the likes of which we have not seen in a long while.
The venue was packed and people were perspiring. Never mind the heat. They came there to witness a rare occasion in progressive music and to relive the sounds of Patatag. Sen. Kiko Pangilinan didn’t mind standing at the back. There were journalists, lawyers, doctors, activists old and new who came to listen to the songs that defined the mass movement during the 80’s.
Patatag kicked-off their first set with the song Pagbagago (Batang Clark) then transitioned to the YS favorite Awit ng Peti-burges whose original title was May Panahon. People got excited when the first lines of Dapat Bawiin were sung. Dapat Bawiin (originally from Uruguay) was a song from the Nagbabagang Lupa album which summed up the peasant struggle for land. They also did Joey Ayala’s Wala nang Tao sa Sta. Filomena, sounding as powerful as when they first recorded it for Nagbabagang Lupa.
The chorale of probably more than 20 singers was accompanied by three guitarists, with Dodjie Fernandez occasionally playing bass and his two sons playing percussion.
Then Rody Vera and Upeng Fernandez did a duet from a song Amanda and Manuel, an unrecorded piece that seemed to originate from Latin America. This was then followed by the Victor Jara classic Tumindig Ka, again sung with such passion as only Rody can.
At this point, Susan Fernandez, sister of Dodjie, took the stage and sung Ang Paglikas (Masdan, o Yahweh) with Rody. It was a song about internally displaced persons during the Aquino regime. Susan also sang Kung Ibig mo Akong Makilala and Awit ni Canuplin.
When Patatag returned for their second set, they did a medley of what they call their “song hits”, the audience favorites or MRS.
They did Julian Makabayan, the Chilean marching hymn Awit ng Tagumpay and Manggagawa (from Sister Stella L.), and another workers song the title of which I could not remember. They sung the Italian anti-fascist song Bella ciao too.
The crowd got to join in the performance when Patatag did their version of Papuri sa Sosyalismo, with the familiar intro, “Hindi tayo titigil hangga’t di nagwawagi”. The audience provided the 1-2-3 beat for a song that has become such a staple even in today’s rallies.
They also did this post-Edsa 1 song about failed promises. I first heard this song in 1992 at a freshmen concert. It included a parody of the Edsa 1 anthem “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo”.
I was pleasantly surprised to see my Math 17 professor Fidel Nemenzo, a person who helped me out during my early years into activism, as a member of Patatag. Turns out he was there at the start of Patatag in 1984 but never got to join a concert after being shot in a rally during the Marcos dictatorship. He wore an OUST GMA pin, by the way.
My favorite performance of the night was Patatag’s rendition of Pandaigdigang Kapatiran (Because All Men are Brothers), a song full of beautiful harmonies about international working class solidarity.
Patatag capped their performance with Joey Ayala and Al Santos’ “Salubungin ang Bagong Araw”, a powerful song that seemed to usher a new period in Patatag’s history. It now appears that this would not be the first and last reunion gig. Another one is set on May 1, international Labor Day. A new recording is also in the works. We can expect more from the members of Patatag, though I heard a few members say that their age has somehow affected their stamina during concerts.
Many of Patatag’s members are in different fields and careers right now. Still, Patatag’s greatest contribution was in enriching revolutionary art and culture and in providing the voice and music for a struggling people during the 80’s and 90’s. Their songs embodied the temper of their times yet are timeless pieces by themselves. Their performances uplifted the spirits of the struggling people wherever they went.
Theirs was not just agitation-propaganda. These are songs that served to advance the mass movement and became part of the rich musical tradition of the Left. These are songs that continue to have relevance even today– songs that deserve to heard again and again so long as injustice remains.
We hope that the present generation of activists will have the opportunity to listen and appreciate the works of Patatag, and to be inspired as well to make their own contributions to enriching progressive and revolutionary music.
As for me, I’d definitely go to the next gig on May 1.
P.S. – I really wish they did Mon Ayco’s Tano. That would have brought the house down for sure. I also secretly hoped they would sing their version of the Russian revolutionary anthem “Bukid, Bundok”. Oh yeah, and I really hope next time they perform Pangamba, one of my all-time Patatag favorites. Their new song on corruption has yet to grow on me though.