It began strangely enough: the audience was asked to stand for the Philippine National Anthem, and three women’s voices started singing “Lupang Hinirang.”
And then the lights go on and Cooky Chua and Bayang Barrios are at two separate aisles in the audience area singing “Sana’y Pag-ibig Na Lang.” Lolita Carbon only knows to make a grand rakenrol entrance of course, which is to say that she does it with a swag
ger that is uniquely hers and a voice that fills a room and goes up your spine all at once.
All wearing stylized barongs, there is no concert entrance that can beat this one. Not just because it is unfamiliar, but because it is done with such earnestness and truth.
At a time when cultural production is so embroiled in politics and politicking, one can spot sincerity from a mile away.
Collectively known as Tres Marias, these three women separately and together, did a concert and gave us their hearts.
Music and freedom
My love for Tres Marias is no secret, but if it was possible to love them even more then it happened at this first concert—one that should be done across schools and universities, not just to teach kids about local music and lyricism, but also about truth and honesty in performance.
This is a digression that needs to be pursued about Tres Marias, because it is what made the evening in Music Museum memorable. The fact that no matter how much Barrios, Carbon and Chua worried about their blocking and their script, no matter how much they worried about doing this perfectly and correctly, it was the fact that it was imperfect and real that would shine through.
It is also what ultimately made it a fantastic show.
Because really, the moment Chua left the stage for her first outfit change, and Barrios and Carbon had to at some point call her back out because they had run out of spiels and adlib; the moment Chua went back on stage to start the next song, only to find that her outfit was on backwards—well, there was no turning back after that.
Which is to say that there was no way to recover than to sustain that level of laughter and self-deprecation, that sense of humor and rapport, all of which could only happen because these three women know each other so well, but also know themselves well enough to let it all hang.
It was ironic that on that concert stage when they were supposed to worry about blocking and spiels, outfits and lyrics, these three women would prove all of that unimportant, revealing that the stage is their playground, and music is their freedom.
We were one lucky audience.
Performance and politics
And there’s nothing like watching women who are free to be who they are, no matter the expectations of image, the narrative of celebrity.
Because in the age of manufactured appearances and fakery, how often is one entertained by truth?
But also for Tres Marias, the truth was interwoven with an earnest belief in original Pinoy musical talent, and an audience that would enjoy it regardless of whatever else might be playing on the radio. And so yes, they did a repertoire filled not just with some good ol’ rakenrol, but also the more iconic songs from these three women’s bodies of work. There was also some “Tuliro” via Carbon, a kundiman sample, and Aegis medley, which as you can imagine was pretty fantastic.
It took Gary Granada two songs to remind us of how magical he is as artist and performer, as he brought the house down with a hilarious punchline to his beautiful love song “Iisa” (which he sang with Barrios), but also a new song that talks about the state of politics and government in this country. Oh yes, we put the most corrupt in power; we are complicit in that task even as all we do might do is vote.
But the real political stand came from Tres Marias, who might have steered clear of political songs, but whose mere existence as artists, whose daring to be themselves, allowed for a display of contemporary ka-Pinay-an that all Pinays would want to emulate. There is banter and laughter and friendship, but also there is individuality and independence, the kind that so few of our women artists are able to live and perform.
You know it the moment Chua closes her eyes and disappears into her world of the blues, singing of pain and melancholy like no one else can. You know it when Barrios begins to dance to the music of our roots, doing movements that are familiar, but also painful, because already being lost. You know it with the rasp of Carbon’s voice, her swagger, her rakenrol like no other.
Power of three
There is no overstating the fact of the value of this Tres Marias concert given the state of original Pinoy music, and the crises that Pinoy culture is in. It is not just music after all that is embroiled in the politics of government neglect; it is also not the only cultural sector that has had to suffer the inequities that capitalism wreaks.
The mere fact that there are still original Pinoy concerts being staged, the mere existence of artists who will insist on creativity and nationalism, that is already an up-yours to the kind of system that effectively dismays and disgusts and silences so many artists into refusing creativity, or pushes them to leave nation.
Watching Barrios, Carbon and Chua do their thing on stage, individually and collectively, with only their talent and personalities, their honesty and sincerity, their performance and creativity to fall back on, is also and ultimately an up-yours to a creative industry that is in the hands of the larger cultural empires. Ones that make the Pinoy audience believe that talent is equal to spectacle, and creativity is about hits and trends.
Right here, Tres Marias proved that regardless of what we hear on the radio and who we see on TV, what truly defines us are our cultural workers who commit to creativity and independence, freedom and nation.
One wishes we were all lucky enough to see Tres Marias rakenrol.
* * *
The Tres Marias concert was staged on September 4 at the Music Museum, and was produced by Curve Entertainment, with musical direction by Mel Villena.