July 15, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: Dong Abay - Rebulto (2012)

Image courtesy of splintr.com
It’s hard to ignore the career-defining impact of Dong Abay’s Flipino, an album which earned the folk-punk rebel every kind of deranged praises known to mankind. The Robin Rivera-produced opus finds Dong Abay piecing a sharp, satirical observation with hawk-eyed storytelling detail that offers a commentary on Philippine society and the stereotypes representative of its very fiber. None of his contemporaries have shown a musical renaissance enamored with natural grace and indelible pop sensibilities that go beyond creative and commercial push, one that reveals a man unafraid to speak what he believes in regardless of what other people might think.

Now two decades in his prime, Dong Abay’s presence still captivates; the wickedly sewn ideas patched in his work have managed to preserve the political sophistication and maturity of his debut album Flipino with sonic experiments that took a 180 degree turn from the guitar-handed, folk rock musings he’s known for.

Backed with skittering synthwork and subtle electronic flourishes that strike in between the dated futurism of Kraftwerk and the cognitive-social poetic readings of Joey Ayala, he teams up with studio producer Shinji Tanaka and esteemed musicians Raymond Marasigan and Buddy Zabala on a concept album that pays tribute to Jose Rizal. Straight and simple, Dong thought of how in a fictional account, the beloved historical figure would rise one day from its Luneta monument stillness and start giving a piece of his mind on the country’s current social, cultural and political landscape.

Fittingly titled Rebulto, Dong Abay takes his cue from where Jose Rizal’s renowned essay The Philippines, A Century Hence leaves off, presenting both a critique and homage on the National hero’s vision of the country after 100 years. “Matuto tayong magka-kalayaan,” he repeats in as many times as he could on the near end of “Rizal Day.” He does it with a mantra-like grind that questions how we Filipinos have lived a life of liberty clothed in neo-colonialism and globalization, compromising our unique indigenous culture to keep up with the pacing of modernity. It’s in this fulcrum that he lays the foundation of Rebulto as red-printed afterthoughts pondering on the real essence of freedom.

Tinted with nuanced sarcasm, Dong approaches “Bagumbayan” with a scarring emotional delivery that evokes Johnny Cash in “Hurt” or Bob Dylan in “Desolation Row”, painting an idealist picture of liberation amidst modern, dark times. “Ang katotohanan, napakasaya ko… Wala nang katulad ni Padre Damaso,” he croons as if he’s held in torture, with nothing to grab but a ballad of lies and wasted hopes. “Pangarap natin na pagkakapantay-pantay… Kaysarap kamtin, kalayaan,” he continues. This time, no amount of sugar-coated words can hide the brittleness crackled in his singing; it’s nothing but a sound of an optimist’s wrenching lament waiting for a glint of morning light to penetrate the deepest of the tunnel.

“Par Que” with its carefree vibe and solid pop hooks, serves as a throwback to Dong Abay’s penchant for fragile humanism. Meant to be a narrative arc pitched when Rizal’s finally given a second chance at life, it’s a finger snapping ode that speaks fondly of life, that such thing is never really over because it hasn’t really began to begin with. “May mga araw din pala ako, katunayan akin ang araw na ito,” essays Dong Abay in his best impression of Jose Rizal rising from the grave. He witnesses the beauty of sunset and watches the people around the park with fervent adoration. He observes. He smiles. He strips off his hero’s vest to experience a life after a century’s worth of resilience. Right there and then, he’s ready to embrace independence the way he smelled and envisioned it in his dreams.

But we all know, things will never be the same again. And it might take a lifetime for us to realize what Rizal has fought for in death's namesake.  A- 

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