A whiff of fresh air for the radicals’ ears

A whiff of fresh air for the radicals’ ears

Reposting a review of Karl Ramirez’ songs back in November 2011. Thank you John Levi Masuli for the wonderful write-up. You can browse the original post at John’s blog here. By the way, Balang Araw, a song mentioned here is a song written by Pordalab’s songwriter-musician friend Xandra Bisenio.

I was browsing Facebook when I stumbled upon Karl Ramirez‘s page. I have known him earlier from my friends, but I only remembered his name when I saw the page. I checked out some of the songs, and I was instantly hooked.

I was listening to radical songs since my first exposure to it when I became connected to the radical student movement in our school. However, for someone who was accustomed to listening rock/metal/ and other heavy stuff, the popular radical songs within the activist circle is not quite a comfortable listening for me. Many of these songs usually employ the folk, Bob Dylan-ish musical form (with the guitar as the main accompanying instrument, and a few ticks of percussion) which became popular during the 70s and usually has lyrics about the experience of workers, peasants and other marginalized groups in the country. Generally, the songs have simple accompaniment and structure, and lyrics are more or less straightforward.

Yes, of course, many of these songs are really good in terms of their social realism, which is the main reason of my listening to them. I like the way these songs reveal the innermost hopes and fears of the people, especially those involved in the mass movement, and of course my own experiences too (in contrast to those egoistic rock star celebrities who know nothing to sing about except their own love stories and egoistic angst). However, it’s kind of depressing that many of these radical songs have subscribed to one particular form (that is, the folk song) and departures from this structure are not quite radical. This ‘tradition’ is quite unsettling for me, since the progressive songs are meant to be popular and not only limited to a particular group of people (this is much more glaring in the context of radical student movements in the campus, where the word ‘activist’ simply means a certain group of people, when in fact it is meant to encapsulate the broad group of students in general, working together militantly towards a ‘progressive’ goal..anyway..).

Learning of Karl Ramirez’s music, then breathe a fresh air into the progressive musical tradition. It fuses the hard-rocking anthems with the indigenous forms, so the music does not sound like a Rage Against the Machine copy-cat. Everything was completely original. Songs like “Makibaka” for instance, has a tinge of the familiar, sing-song, clenched-fist march form, yet somehow towards the middle part, punches of chromatic notes in heavy distortion can be heard. “Balang Araw” on the other hand is a piano-driven tune in the Coldplay vein. “Elian” is another mellow ballad, featuring heavily-synthesized guitar and piano sounds and a dense layer provided by the keys. “Desap” sounds like an Owl City track, only much less ’emo’ and much more sober.

The most important aspect of Karl Ramirez’s songs, however, is their lyrics. Ramirez’s poetry displayed a conscious departure from laconic sloganism and cliched misericordiams. Rather, it ventured new ways to articulate the immortal themes of social action. The songs are dripping with fresh optimism and truthful empathy. There is no space for meaningless jargon or mechanical, inhuman agitation. There is only pure emotion and full-fledged commitment to the undying cause for social justice and a better place to live in.

I wish there will be lot more of these kinds of music, and hopefully they will be more popular in the near future, and maybe even spearhead a revolution in the sterile mainstream music industry today. Padayon Mr. Ramirez!


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