History of our music told through playlists and podcasts

FILIPINAS Heritage Library’s growing number of playlists featuring music from its Himig Collection

RIVERMAYA’s song “Umaaraw, Umuulan” begins the playlist, and is followed by Francis Magalona’s “Cold Summer Nights.” After almost half an hour, Sampaguita’s “Laguna” comes on. The tracks go on for an hour and a half, ending with Tropical Depression’s “Kapayapaan.” The Awit sa Tag-init (Summer Song) playlist, created by the Ayala Museum’s Filipinas Heritage Library, is like tuning in to an OPM (Original Pilipino Music) throwback radio program where hearing a song for the the first time in a long time — or just for the first time — elicits surprising euphoria. Learning the backgrounds of these songs by their creators through a series of podcasts adds yet another dimension to them.

The creation of the Himig Collection playlist began during last year’s lockdown. Like many other arts and culture establishments which were forced to close because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Filipinas Heritage Library (FHL) made its collections accessible online.

“The global visibility of Filipino singers through the internet — and of artists abroad who are of Filipino descent — often make people wonder: Where does all this musicality come from? Perhaps the clues to answering that question is the rich, enduring song culture that the Philippines has. And the many traces of that culture can be found in our Himig Collection,” Filipinas Heritage Library Head told BusinessWorld in an e-mail.

“Spotify is a platform where the public can legally access copyrighted music, and so we decided to curate playlists there, featuring songs in the Himig Collection. We believe that music can bring comfort, inspiration, and hope to people during these trying times,” FHL Head Librarian Cecil Ayson told BusinessWorld in the same e-mailed response.

Ms. Ayson explained that the Himig Collection began when the National Commission for Culture and the Arts loaned them its collection of Philippine recordings in the early 2000s. The music was digitized by the FHL together with it’s own collection of vintage OPM recordings on vinyl.

“Back then, turntables or vinyl record players were hardly available anymore, which made vinyl records inaccessible. The catalog of the digitized recordings is now searchable through FHL’s website, and the recordings may be accessed by researchers upon request,” she said.

The Himig Collection is described in FHL’s documents as “aural expressions of the Filipino soul” that provide “not only of the artists’ thoughts, joys, and sorrows, but also of the socio-political views which they held through the years.”

The collection contains music from the 1910s to 1990s from artists such as Nora Aunor, Pilita Corales, Asin, Florante, the Juan Dela Cruz Band, the APO Hiking Society, Hotdog, Sharon Cuneta, and Gary Valenciano — shuffled into thematic playlists.

The first playlist, Sayaw Tayo! (Lets Dance!), consisting of Pinoy dance tunes, was released in March 2020. The themes of subsequent playlists are based on the seasons or holidays that they are released on — such as Maging Magiting (Be Brave) for Independence Day, Salamat, Cher! (Thank you, [Tea]cher!) for Teacher’s Month, Pasko at Pag-asa (Christmas and Hope), Harana, Sinta! (Serenade, My Love!) for Valentine’s Day, and Awit sa Tag-init for summer.

“We choose songs that enrich the theme and those with popular appeal during their time… we include more contemporary songs in our latest playlist, inviting the younger audience to hear more recent music in relation to songs that may not be familiar with them,” Ms. Ayson said.

FHL’s head librarian added that the goal was to preserve Philippine musical heritage with catalog digitization. “Vinyl records are fragile and so digitization was a way to preserve the recordings and make them more accessible to the public,” Ms. Ayson said.

Aside from collating the OPM songs into playlists, FHL also records podcasts called The Muni-Muni Stories, which it described as “a love letter to the heritage of Filipino music.” Done in partnership between the Filipinas Heritage Library and The OPM Archive, the podcast’s first season has 12 episodes where the artists and the stories behind their well-loved songs are highlighted.

The first season kicked off last September with an episode featuring singer Celeste Legaspi telling the stories behind the collaboration with Nonoy Gallardo on her hit, “Saranggola ni Pepe.” The season concluded this March with The Company’s Moy Ortiz and Baihana’s Krina Cayabyab and their discussion on archiving Filipino music heritage. In between, the podcasts featured a wide range of performers and music creators, from folk singers Heber Bartolome, Bayang Barrios, and Joey Ayala, to church music creator Fr. Manoling Francisco, SJ, to acapella group The CompanY, the children of the late rapper Francis M, to pop singer Zsa Zsa Padilla, and Manila Sound pioneers Hotdog, and Up Dharma Down.

“We endeavor to touch on everything Filipiniana. To diversify the topics, we wish to explore not just different themes, but also various aspects of the song-making process. A good part of the insights and discoveries happens in dialogue with our artists and partners — that is the magical part,” FHL Exhibitions and Programs Curator Sofia Santiago wrote in an email.

More curated playlists will be featured in the Himig Collection. The latest and 11th playlist, called Push Mo Lang, was uploaded on April 23 in line with Labor Day. Meanwhile, the second season of the Muni-Muni Stories podcast is also in the works.

“We think it is timely and highly necessary to initiate and sustain efforts like this especially in the Philippines… We can only make this possible with the continuous support of our music community — fans, musicians, composers, record labels, and others all over the Philippines and abroad — taking part in our initiatives so we can achieve our joint goals,” Ms. Santiago said.

Listen to Filipinas Heritage Library’s Himig Collection and Muni-Muni Stories on Spotify. For more information, visit https://www.filipinaslibrary.org.ph/. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman

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