Musikangbayan is music by the people, for the people

Musikangbayan frontman Danny Fabella writes songs of love, community, and resistance dedicated to the Filipino people.

The Filipino people has fought and will continue to fight for its freedom regardless of how long it will take—be it under the Spanish, the Americans, or even the dictators from our own land. But as time passes, the claws of the oppressive past threaten to once more tighten its grip on the people; evolving technology is utilized to distort history and twist narratives much to the oppressors’ benefit. A dark spell is cast upon the nation, seeking to stifle the voices of the people.

Rising above the shadows of the country’s long repressive history, activist music, also known as protest music, strives to enlighten people through meaningful songs that convey what would otherwise be stories untold. Activist musicians are more than artists; they are also volunteers, researchers, and storytellers of their communities’ experiences.

Among these musicians is emerging folk acoustic band Musikangbayan, which drew flak from those who are disturbed by the idea of protest. Despite the challenges, vocalist Danny Fabella chooses to persevere in his craft as he ruminates on the ups and downs of being an activist and musician of the people.

Empowering Filipinos through music

Danny uses music to touch the heart. As there are already countless songs about romance, he instead writes songs that discuss the unsung situations of the country. He believes that a song shouldn’t just be about the melody, but it should reflect the reality of the people. “Dapat lapat sa lupa,” he stresses.

(It should be grounded.)

Initially a poet, Danny incorporates melodies into the poems he writes about different social issues he encounters as part of a trade union. He says that because the nation is facing numerous dilemmas, “Kailangan isaawit [ang mga problema] para mas madaling maintindihan at makapag-educate [ng] mga mamamayan.”

(Problems need to be sung about so people can understand and learn about them more easily.)

This lyrical direction that Danny practices is evident in the band’s popular acoustic song Rosas ng Digma. The song has become a favorite among many youth activists because of its inspiring imagery of a rose that bloomed amid warfare. According to the lyrics, the narrator dreams of being with this certain rose that was born among the people, admiring its everlasting beauty and promising to take care of her forever. The rose, as Danny shares, symbolizes a citizen with unceasing love for the country and their fellow countrymen. On some occasions, Danny sings this as a tribute to mass organizations for their unwavering strength and dedication to their mission. Seeing the audience be moved by his music is a priceless feat—a fulfillment that transcends any physical reward.

Thus, Danny’s love songs for the Filipino masses become calls for social justice and peace. He advocates for rightfully owned lands by farmers, humane wages for workers, and equal rights and opportunities for men and women. Calling for justice doesn’t guarantee that it’d be served readily; Danny believes the people need to actively work against oppressive powers. “Hindi naman ibinigay ‘yun (justice) ng mga naghahari sa lipunan, kundi ipinaglaban nang husto hanggang sa makamit,” Danny remarks.

(Justice isn’t granted by the domineering ones in the society but rather endlessly fought for until it is achieved.)

Guitar in hand, Danny Fabella strives to help more people understand the experiences of the marginalized sectors.

Enlightening against misconceptions

No art is ever free from criticism, though, and activist music is often thrown under the eyes of public scrutiny. Because it often talks about toppling a system of oppression, protest music is commonly perceived as “anti- government.” The activist movement is often met with scorn, seen to be an antagonist to what is perceived as an “already” thriving system. Protest music utilizes creativity and melody to unite people in standing up for one another.

Although feedback is healthy for improvement, a line must be drawn between critique and plain condescension. Some listeners have been nothing short of appreciative, but Musikangbayan is not cleared from receiving harsh statements online, with remarks such as, “Tae yung gawa mo, walang kwenta!”

(Your work is crap, worthless!)

The cynicism does not end there; some people go so far as to affiliate them with terrorists who “deserve to disappear from society,” as the comments would say in a colorful manner. Danny shares that while these remarks have circulated since the late former President Benigno Aquino III’s term in 2010, this behavior grew prominent and even normalized under former President Rodrigo Duterte’s term. As a result, Musikangbayan had no choice but to develop a tenacious mentality to resist instances of red-tagging. The singer-songwriter is left to ponder, “‘Yung simple nga na [tao] na hindi naman talaga aktibista, nire-red-tag ‘di ba,” implying that a greater struggle is faced by staunch activists like Danny himself.

(Normal people who aren’t even activists get red-tagged, right?)

Fulfillment in protest music

With great fulfillment comes great sacrifices, and for Danny, the biggest forfeit is financial. Having been in the industry for 31 years, he has made it crystal clear that it is truly passion that artists hang onto, not the pay. Money isn’t the objective here. Musikangbayan traces its beginnings from political strikes and people’s rallies. It would be ironic to sing songs for better pay and expect to be paid: “Kaya nga nag-rally—tungkol sa sahod. Mga wala silang (workers) pera, so wala rin kami,” Danny shares with a gentle smile.

(That’s why we rally for salaries. The workers don’t have money, so neither do we.)

The purpose behind Danny’s protest music, therefore, is to simply stand in solidarity with the people. It is a medium that strives for common understanding in society by realizing that everyone belongs to the same nation. “Makikihalubilo ka sa kanila,” Danny advises, “Makikipagtalastasan para malaman mo ‘yung mga problema saka maibigay mo rin ‘yung mga possible resolution.”

(Connect with them. Engage in discussions to be aware of the issues and to be able to provide possible resolutions.)

The musician does not compose a song of social justice with just anger at the government. Instead, he believes it’s a way of giving a voice to the voiceless.

But he also recognizes that not everyone shares the same opinion as he does. While his music calls for patriotism and serving the motherland, other people may deem this unnecessary; some people regard it as a way to distort minds into believing that a problem exists when they think there isn’t any at all. Many people would also insist that elected officials already know what they are doing, so the regular citizens are not in the position to think—or sing about—otherwise.

Despite it all, Danny has no regrets. He finds fulfillment as his music thrives as it reaches the depths of the Filipinos’ most honest narratives and sentiments. Musikangbayan creates music to inform, inspire, and above all, to make the nation understand that the fight is not among Filipinos themselves but by Filipinos coming together—against all the oppression that hinder the collective’s safety, security, and prosperity.

Daphne Bayona

By Daphne Bayona

Samantha Ubiadas

By Samantha Ubiadas

Leave a Reply