Gary Granada: Imagining freedom through music
MANILA, Philippines – If Gary Granada only knew how, he would have taken up arms instead of singing songs.
Then his many small-scale masterworks like “Bahay,” “Kanluran” and the more recent, also poignant and resonant “Minsa’y Isang Bansa” would have been sorely missing in the rich repertoire of Filipino music.
These songs capture the contemporary Filipino experience in their gritty reality alongside the specter of our country’s lost classical heritage. Because Granada’s songs are modern incarnations of the harana and the kundiman.
As an artist and activist, Granada was led at last, in his soul-searching artistic process, towards the path of music. This was and remains his contribution to the earnest struggle of his countrymen’s empowerment.
“Most of us simply fight for a better deal for everybody,” the singer-songwriter told Rappler's Maria Ressa on #TalkThursday last June 13. “I think the way to do it is to attach what you do into something that is a little bit bigger than your music. It’s best to apply what little I know, by way of the musical art, into the movement as we call it."
His internal process, or the revolution he fought in his heart and mind, convinced him of the vital role of each fellowman in our collective struggle to better our lives.
“Even if you're not as strong, even if you're not as fit as the others, you are entitled to some sufficient provision to actually have a meaningful and productive life.”
Granada saw music as an instrument that allows his listeners (the Filipino people to whom he is reaching out) to appreciate the complexity of their conditions and thus be prompted to make a choice and take action.
This is art as catalyst for political action—political in the lofty sense and thus beyond its corrupt mechanics. Rizal was guided by this insight, as were Amado Hernandez and many others in the long and continuing narrative of the Philippine arts.
Indeed, Granada’s songs mirror the prevailing social reality that ordinary Filipinos have known for generations.
“Bahay,” which has become something of a standard in progressive folk, is ostensibly about a house in a dumping site, but serves as an eloquent commentary on the white elephants that have become our country’s institutions.
“It's not that you see a lot of people in despair, but you see our institutions really not helping out,” he explained. “It begs the question: Why? What is it with your society that your institutions cannot quite respond to it in an adequate and meaningful way? [It’s because] the society is set up in such a way that the control of resources is not in the hands of [these] social institutions, but of a few families and individuals.
“You don’t have to be a communist to see that.”
For Granada, the lack of imagination and creativity in government explains its broad insignificance among ordinary lives.
And yet the very institution of government has been guided throughout its history by not a few men of letters—the poets Carlos P. Garcia, Claro M. Recto, and Diosdado Macapagal, to name a few.
“If you have a government whose imagination accommodates little other than foreign investors, nothing [much] is going to happen.”
Explaining his song “Kanluran,” Granada offers his understanding of nationalism and independence.
“I think we need to get beyond our nominal concept of nationalism. Nationalism is not about national identity. Nationalism is important because it is a basis for actually establishing social justice….When you are a nationalist, [your lens is not limited to] your small circle of yourself and your family [but instead you] look beyond, toward the good of the community and the whole country. Are you really independent? Do you really make decisions that [place the] public interest before [the] elite?”
“Minsa’y Isang Bansa” is a song Granda wrote, he says, out of weariness. It’s another poignant appreciation of the Philippines on the occasion of its 115th Independence Day.
“[Kapag nakikita mo na] ganun pa rin ang mga bagay-bagay, you feel exasperated. But at the same time, you cannot simply surrender to cynicism. You hope.”
This hope he finds among today’s young people who are willing to think beyond themselves.
“Are they bound to do a better job than we did? I hope. I’m very encouraged when I see young people. You see good things happening, and that’s where my beer gets sweeter, when I think of these things.”
He isn’t one to acknowledge this outright, but the youth that inspires him today, their endeavors, may be the political action inspired, in turn, by his steadfast songwriting for more than 3 decades. – Jee Geronimo/Rappler.com
Watch his full Talk Thursday interview here: