IT would’ve been a random night over at 70’s Bistro, though it was so wrong to even imagine that to be possible.
Dubbed Tres Marias, the promise of Bayang Barrios, Cookie Chua, and Lolita Carbon had us three girls traveling from across the city—the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila to be exact—after stopping over for some free cake and drinks in Makati. By the time we arrived at Anonas in Quezon City, it was close to midnight, we had missed Bayang’s set, and Cookie was on stage.
For some reason, we could feel that we would be bowled over tonight. We just didn’t know how. Or why.
Our requests for Color It Red songs ignored—not the right gig for it, we understood—it remained magical seeing Cookie perform. In this small venue where familiarity is premise, if not always a coming home, she is the one woman you listen to, the one woman you want to hear. There is comfort in her voice, the one that is as familiar as this space. There is instant recall: here is the voice that liberated you in college, here it still is, the years notwithstanding.
Hearing Cookie sing, you let go of the sadness of memory. You find that these songs, these voices, are now just about you: they are now just yours.
You hear this singing and you’re soothed into a long-delayed unburdening, a welcome unraveling.
Because there is nothing more liberating than seeing Cookie with nary a self-conscious bone on stage, funny because she is herself, rakenrol woman like no other.
When she talks to the audience in general, her self-deprecation is no put-on. When she introduces the band and celebrates them, her gratefulness is genuine. When she speaks with familiarity to friends in the audience, she doesn’t alienate the rest of us; she makes it seem like a family reunion that we have all been invited to.
She calls on Gary Granada to sing a song or two. And as the chorus of “Saranggola Sa Ulan” reminds us of this particular kind of longing that’s in his body of work, we cannot help but feel lucky: he hasn’t played in forever, and especially not in Manila.
At that point we knew the trip we made to 70’s Bistro was already well worth it.
Yet there would be more here. And we remained like children ready to be surprised, if not unprepared for the gift that is this night’s kind of rakenrol.
Cookie calls on Lolita to do “Paglisan” with her, and here the humility that is Cookie’s is astounding. She was sincerely overwhelmed, as we all were, collectively in that room. We took photos, we recorded it on video. Lolita rocked it.
And we cried.
There is something poignant about this: two women’s voices from different generations. The younger voice thankful to another, her self-effacement larger than ever. The elder is unpretentious and tentative, as if finding her footing, as if re-introducing herself to space now rarely inhabited.
Yet there was no mistaking Lolita’s presence on that stage, no mistaking that powerful husky voice, singing songs all familiar if not in melody, then in lyrics. The ones we grew up with, the ones in our blood.
We realize this because we know to stomp our feet and sing along. We know these songs in the way that we inherit the language of our mothers, the way she holds our hands in a crisis, the manner in which her presence is enough to tell us we’ll be ok. This music seems like something we’ve been taught, we’ve been given.
Rarely does one hear Filipino music and know it to be part of the lifeblood of our own creativities, our sense of self. In the stretch of time that it took Lolita to finish her set, it was clear that hers is a voice, a spirit, that is also ours.
By the time Cookie and Bayang joined Lolita onstage, and sang this unfamiliar but beautiful song about love and happiness and letting go and moving on, we had no words for how it felt.
Floored, doesn’t even cut it.
The gift of Bayang and Cookie and Lolita, is not just their music, as it is their capacity to rakenrol. But more importantly, you find, that on these seemingly random days that stretch far longer than you expected, when evenings become mornings, and you move from one city to another, the gift is so unexpectedly and surprisingly simple.
Here, they say, listen to us and take your freedom.
Take your freedom and run.
* * *
A version of this piece was previously published on GMA News Online, July 2012. It seemed like a good time to get it printed as part of this column because Tres Marias is having a major concert at the Music Museum on September 4, 2015, and it would do us all well to watch these three women do rakenro like no other.