(WARNING: This article contains words that civil society might find vulgar.)
When Sir Mix-a-Lot released a song in 1992 about wanting women with big butts, feminists everywhere were outraged. Song is after all overtly sexualizing women, treating them as objects of pleasure especially those that are well-endowed right there.
Fast forward a few decades later and young people are singing along with Shanti Dope as he waxes and wonders about women with dark nipples. Rewind to a few years back and we have Rebecca Black teaching us about the days of the week that Thursday comes before Friday and Saturday comes after but she’s excited about Friday Friday as it is going to be fun fun fun.
For every Queen masterpiece with its cryptic quasi-religious references and sophisticated Mephistophelian themes to Bob Dylan’s Pulitzer-winning poetry disguised as songs, there is somewhere a would-be Youtube sensation whose repetitive lyrics would make Mr. Bieber sound absolutely Shakespearean.
Is it art, still, though?
Or should art always have a loftier meaning, a metaphor, a political message?
“Well, I woke up this morning, and I got myself a beer
The future’s uncertain, and the end is always near.”
Roadhouse Blues, The Doors
“Art is both inevitable and surprising.”
Jae Espino of 13th Parea, art connoisseur and entrepreneur, Deep Talks with Mighty Hillamoon’s Martin Miravalles. With them is DNX Executive Editor Julius Mariveles as they talk of good art, the diligence that gets poured into music that lovers swoon over, or the pedestrian pieces that the masses seem to love.
Espino is fresh out of Buhat Paglaum’s second installment, a rock night with Mighty Hillamoon and other acts. Buhat Paglaum, Espino’s brainchild with Headrush’s Ryan Saez and directed by Juno Oebanda, aims to bring together artists affected by the pandemic, in the hopes to raise funds for them.
Jae waxes his sentiment on art, as he quotes the Poetics of Aristotle of it being both having the ability to surprise and at the same time is inevitable.
“Bob Dylan won a Pulitzer for literature because of his music,” Julius says, “That shows how people put a lot of effort, a degree of diligence to their work. Is it true now?”
Jae breathes deeply.
“It is not really about diligence anymore,” Jae observes, “ The world is spinning 10 times faster now. Before, great song writers would take days to create a single masterpiece. Now, all that one has to do is Google synonyms, open a thesaurus, and they can imitate some person’s poetry.”
Like sardines in a can, Julius suggests.
“Art, or songs, are being mass produced,” he says.
Jae notes that art seemingly has become a business but, he said, Buhat Paglaum intends to go back to more pure times, more innocent time when people create art because they want to.
Sure, it is meant to raise funds for the artists, but Buhat Paglaum has a more noble purpose, and that is introduce people to art, to music in its most unfettered form.
When art is supposed to be. At its purest form.
“[Art] is irrational, technically illogical, cannot be quantified; it is something that artists can never get tired of doing; like Martin now, this is something that he will be doing even when he is old,” Jae says.
The talk now shifts to the two schools of thought: of art for its own sake, or art for a larger purpose. Think Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin, a tribute to the mutineers that ultimately shifted the political landscape of Russia, or Leni Riefenstahl, doubtless an artist who gained fame (notoriety?) for her propaganda films espousing the ideals of Hitler’s Third Reich.
Or should it be made just because, like Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, which young people at that time adopted as their rebel-without-a-cause anthem but which turned out to be nothing but an ode to body spray.
As political lansdcapes shift and dictators get toppled to give way to more democratic leaders, as people start to stage revolutions, should we blame only the rebels? Shouldn’t we blame artists, too, as they are the ones that provide a mythic vision that the masses cling to?
The idea was posed by Julius, paraphrasing Slavoj Zizek.
“That’s true,” Jae concurs, “Artists create something that you can appreciate at its core. It could be a propaganda film which – even when you remove the dogma – can still be appreciated for what it is: great art.”
“Tiktik sa dulom, may itum na handum… latiguha na sila kay tiktik na sila…”
Tiktik sa Dulom, Mighty Hillamoon
Martin remembers growing up in Cadiz, in a residential area that he describes as semi-squatter (semi-slums), in Zone 6 near the port.
He remembers going to the port, to watch fishermen in their boats haul nets and nets of fish to the shore, bringing along with them banyeras of the produce along with tales of aswangs and tiktiks and other creatures that go bump in the night.
“It was part of our local culture,” Martin shares. So, growing up as a kid, his head was filled with stories of witches and the witch’s bane: latigo (whip), ikog pagi (stingray’s tail), and lana (supposedly, the lanahan – the oil flask – would overflow if an aswang is within the room, betraying their presence).
Growing up, he says, he has been witness to a different kind of tiktik.
“You don’t see a tiktik… but when you hear them, it creates fear and chaos,” Martin says, “Every election, we have a different kind of tiktik coming to our area. Like the mythical tiktik, you often hear their noise, but that’s all they are – noise, nothing else.”
Tiktik sa Dulom is Mighty Hillamoon’s politically-charged ditty on trapos, and campaigns, and unfulfilled promises.
The modern-day tiktik, like the mythical tiktik, is all about sowing fear, even division among families.
“Fear is created by society,” Martin philosophizes, adding, “all fear is cultural. What might be fearsome for some, might not be fearsome for you.”
“The samurai ethos,” Julius interjects, “is to not hold on to that fear of dying.”
Jae agrees. In fact, he says, artists operate best when they can enjoy that degree of freedom, when limits on where the envelopes can be pushed are blurred.
For instance, Mighty Hillamoon’s band has a song called Itot Blues (the i-word being vulgar slang in Hiligaynon for sexual intercourse).
Martin admits that the word is not something that you would normally use in polite conversations but, he says, “That [the sex act] is where we all came from. So paano nag bastos na (how is that vulgar?).”
What is allowed and what is not? What makes a topic taboo? Should sex be taboo but the love life of, say, your next-door-neighbor be discussed?
When, Julius interposes, is the envelope pushed too far?
The music scene – especially the underground – allows for such liberty. Hip-hop music, for instance, is largely recognized as a counter-culture for the racist, white-dominated music industry, and is identified with values of ghetto brotherhood, and social equality.
The culture has since seeped through low-level communities in the Philippines, especially among gangs. The risque, raunchy lyrics, (“’Nay ‘nay kadaku sang moon; ‘nay ‘nay…”) are there but much of the anti-establishment ‘tude has since been lost, and the brashness and the boldness of the local hip-hop culture now seemed put-on.
But it doesn’t matter.
It still flips the bird against rigid societal norms and standards of decorum. Which is what art is supposed to do. It is supposed to disturb, to provoke, to celebrate life.
Itot Blues, for instance is the Lifting Belly of songs this side of the industry; a celebratory aria of life, of love, of making love all packaged in a blues format.
This is what Buhat Paglaum is all about Jae says. It removes fetters and allows artists to fly with unclipped wings.
“It provides artists to be who they are, what they want to be.”
Buhat Paglaum is not just building bridges. It is a platform of freedom, of beauty, of aesthetics.
And hope. (READ also part 1 of DEEP TALK: Sex, CoVid, and rock n’ roll)