In 2010, a few months after Karl Ramirez’ wrote, produced, and performed the song Makibaka and came out with a collection back then, Bulatlat’s Ayi Muallam wrote this wonderful and detailed review about it. Salamat Ayi! Dreamworker Too, a songwriter referred to here for the songs Balang Araw and Kapit-Bisig sa Pagbabago, is Pordalab’s songwriter-musician friend ate Xandra Bisenio.
The above photo is by Loujaye Sonido ang taken at a gig with Plagpul (including original drummer Leo Isais) at Taal in 2010.
In ‘Makibaka The Album,’ Karl Ramirez offers an hour of progressive music that will appeal to a young, mainstream audience as much it does to an older generation of Filipino activists.
By AYI S. MUALLAM
MANILA — Progressive music will forever leave its mark in the history of “original Pilipino music” (OPM).
Who could miss the musical contributions of legendary folk musicians Heber Bartolome, Susan Fernandez, Buklod, and Asin? Or punk bands like The Jerks, Betrayed and Urban Bandits during the ‘80s who, loudly and proudly, criticized the ruling order?
During the ‘90s, people who join rallies would listen to songs by Patatag and Tambisan sa Sining or watch Jess Santiago or Danny Fabella sing their compositions. Many have memorized a song or two from the Rosas ng Digma album.
Fast-forward to 2010 and now comes a new breed of people’s musicians featured in Makibaka (Struggle), a seven-track compilation album consisting of songs for and about the struggle for meaningful change.
Makibaka the album was first introduced to the public during the commemoration of President Benigno Aquino III’s 100th day in power last Oct. 8, where the song of the same title was performed during the protest action led by progressive groups at Don Chino Roces Bridge (formerly Mendiola) in Manila. The album was officially launched on Nov. 4 through its official website.
The album stayed true to its tagline “Rakenrol Tungong Pagbabago (Rock ‘n Roll Towards Change).” The songs veer away from the usual musical style of protest songs that have folk and marching beats, and instead will give its listeners half an hour of pulsating drums beats and powerful guitar riffs, a few ballad-like tunes, and the Rico Blanco-esque vocals of album producer and chief performer, Karl Ramirez. Makibaka is a rock ‘n roll album that will be greatly appreciated not only by the progressive circle but also by the mainstream audience.
Ramirez, being a young musician weaned on a wide range of modern musical genres, will definitely gain “you rock” points from the young and the young-at-heart listeners. However, Ramirez also paid homage to the roots of Filipino protest music by injecting folk, ethnic beats and mellow guitar tunes, which will surely get a thumbs-up from the not-so-old generation who are not keen on “loud” music.
The Genius Behind ‘Makibaka’
Ramirez was introduced to music at a very young age. His mother, Divina, gave him piano lessons every after Sunday school, while his father, Mon, a licensed and topnotch engineer and creator of Arkibong Bayan, taught him how to play the guitar. He self-studied the violin when he was in high school. “The skills I learned through the years of learning those three instruments helped a lot when I started arranging music,” Ramirez said.
It was in 1998, while studying in the University of the Philippines in Diliman, when Ramirez first tried his hand at musical arrangement, mostly musical scores for independently produced film and documentaries. “At that time, even if production was already computer-based, the recorded output was crude and uneven, with a lot of hisses and hums,” said Ramirez. During his stay in UP Diliman, Ramirez became an active member of Ibalon and Agham-Youth. Ramirez’s early works can be found in his online portfolio.
In 2001, Ramirez further improved his craft when he joined BicolXPress , a progressive and independent audiovisual organization in Bicol. “Being immersed with the oppressed and exploited, it became a necessity to do research on cheap, more efficient and convenient means of producing and recording music scores,” Ramirez said. In 2006, Ramirez produced the musical score for BicolXPress’s human rights movie Hustisya! , an instrumental renditon of Tambisan sa Sining’s “Awit ng Pag-asa.”
It was only in 2009, that Ramirez started writing and performing his own songs. One of his first musical creations, “Alagaan ang Kalikasan (Caring for the Environment),” became the official theme for the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center’s segment in Radyo Veritas aired every Friday at 7:30 a.m. Ramirez later produced musical arrangements and accompaniments for the progressive stage musical Makata’y Mandirigma, Mandirigma’y Makata , which he said is a fusion pop and rock orchestra.
At present, Ramirez is a volunteer of the alternative audiovisual group Kodao Productions.
Makibaka consists of songs written mostly and previously recorded by Ramirez for various campaigns and are issue-based or inspired by current, mostly political, events. Ramirez arranged all songs in the album and performed in collaboration with other people’s artists.
Makibaka may also be considered a narrative, which can only be fully appreciated when the songs are played in the order they appear in album.
The album aptly starts with the anthem-like track “Makibaka,” which carries the album’s main message. The song criticizes the Aquino administration for its failure to provide a better life for Filipinos.
The song features the Phrygian-scaled guitar riffs by Tony Palis and supporting vocals by Walkie Miraña. Palis, a member of Kodao Productions’ board of directors, is a seasoned progressive musician behind the songs “Bangon, Maria!” and “Sawang-Sawa na Ako.” Miraña, a member of the People’s Chorale, provided the musical arrangement, along with Ramirez, for the song “Awit ni Laya” used in Makata’y Mandirigma, Mandirigma’y Makata. Both Palis and Miraña are active members of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP).
This track will surely make listeners sing the lines: “Handa na ba kayo? / Halina at sumama! / Manindigan, makibaka! “the whole day as if it were a mantra. Song highlights include the intro and Palis’s guitar solo starting at 03:27.
The album also features new and improved musical arrangements of “Convergence” and “Alagaan ang Kalikasan (Caring for the Environment).”
“Convergence,” the only English track in the album, won the grand title in Net-25’s Rock the Beat songwriting competition and is now the official program theme of Convergence, the country’s longest running information technology program aired in Net-25. In “Convergence,” Ramirez calls out to the present generation of tech-savvy youth to maximize the use of technology by making it an instrument in providing a better future for Filipinos.
The song “Tagapagtanggol ng Bayan (Defenders of the People)” is Ramirez’s ode to lawyers who risk their lives in defense of the poor and oppressed and the pursuit of basic social change.
Dreamworker Too (http://dreamworkertoo.blogspot.com), a close friend of Ramirez, wrote two songs in the album. Namely “Kapit-Bisig sa Pagbabago” and “Balang Araw” and provided musical accompaniment for Leoncio Bagani’s poem “Oyayi.”
“Balang Araw,” originally recorded by Dreamworker Too, was first performed at the People’s SoNA program on Commonwealth Avenue on July 27. The song tells of not losing faith and hope despite the challenging road toward achieving the dreams and aspirations of the people.
“Oyayi “is about strengthening the commitment for social change and is dedicated to all the heroes and martyrs who fought against oppression and exploitation. The song is also featured in the tribute video produced by Kodao Productions and Bulatlat.com for journalist and poet Alexander Martin Remollino who passed away last September.
“Kapit-Bisig sa Pagbabago” was recorded during the campaign period for the 2010 national elections and is the official theme of the People’s Criteria, the electoral reforms campaign of Pagbabago! People’s Movement for Change.
Ramirez pointed out the difficulties in coming up with an album with very limited resources.
“Since the album is self-produced and self-published, one of the biggest challenges was raising funds for recording equipment. Since we now live in what is called the digital age, everything you need is available online, the music can be produced using the computer. All you need is a lot of time to learn, improve the craft,” Ramirez explained. Ramirez used Cakewalk Sonar and M-audio equipment in recording Makibaka.
Ramirez uploaded the album in music catalog websites like Jamendo, where people can listen to the songs, download and share them for free as long as it’s for non-commercial use.
“People can access the album for free but it can still protect the rights of the songwriters and composers. For example, the songs are licensed by Creative Commons,” Ramirez added.
Competing with major record labels is not what Makibaka intends to do. “Not yet, anyway,” said Ramirez.
Ramirez explains that Makibaka’s main objective is to send the songs’ messages across a wide audience, especially to the younger generation. “There are other venues where we can share Makibaka‘s music and message. If it can’t be heard on the radio or be seen on television, then it can be shared on the internet, played in music bars. And of course, in communities and in the streets, where the struggle for meaningful change is always present.”
“Spreading OPM remains a struggle in the Philippines. Still, in my view, in a time when people should be conscious about what is happening around them, creating and spreading music about society and encouraging people to take part in changing it is always timely,” he said. “Songs that liberate are always timely.”
The songs in the collection, and yes in their 2010 original form, can still be accessed digitally via BandCamp. Enjoy!