As a Filipino-American, I’ll be the first person to admit that I don’t know much about the music scene in the Philippines, past or present. A preoccupation with American pop in my childhood left me abysmally unaware of its richness and profound understanding of the human heart. That is, until I saw Benito Bautista’s heart-felt documentary, Harana, in which the cultural and musical history of the Philippines is poetically preserved.
The film follows classical guitarist, Florante Aguilar, on his journey of musical discovery through the rural towns of the Philippines, where he finds the roots of the all but forgotten Filipino tradition of Harana. In the Philippines, decades ago, the suitor would serenade the lady-in-wait, either in the company of other singers or more intimately performing alone.
As you ride along with Florante, you sense his desire to reconnect with the past and his eagerness to learn about his cultural roots. You want to sit and listen to each haranista that you meet along the way not only because of the inherent beauty in their songs, but also because these master musician-singers deliver lyrics with a sweetness and a sadness that isn’t found in most of today’s love songs.
Just listen to the some of the lyrics of Ruben Tagalog’s song, “Awit Ko’y Dinggin [Listen to My Song]” translated into English: “Listen to my song/Open your window/Even the stars/Appear to be waiting/When, my muse, will I attain/The hope brought upon by your beauty.” Nobody says that kind of stuff to anyone anymore. It’s a shame, really.
We cheer for the three harana practitioners, Celestino Aniel, Romeo Bergunio, and Felipe Alonzo, as they make their way from town to town, performing songs that haven’t been heard for a generation but sound so comforting and familiar, like music from a fleeting dream.
The movie goes on at an easy pace, like how life was like where many serenades took place, and each scene, whether it be the cloudless day on Celestino’s farm or the night-time gathering at Romeo’s home, brings new meaning to the ideas of romance, courtship and music in the Philippines. For youngsters wanting to learn about their homeland’s musical past or grandparent’s hoping to share their own experience of harana, this is a must see.