Young Filipinos opposed to the US war on Iraq

On the Streets of Iraq: A Review of Musikang Bayan’s Songs for Peace

by Dennis Espada

Music is incomparable as a medium for chronicling history. In every piece of uniquely-assembled notes and lyrics, a composer can accurately depict the nature of both war and peace. This is what the alternative cultural group Musikang Bayan (Peoples Music) has done in its new album called Songs for Peace.

As can be surmised, modern-day music has evolved from dealing with the unrequited love as theme, to giving a deeper insight about social realities and contradictions that insistently demand actions. Much of this musical evolution should be credited to a number of protest musicians of the 1960s and 1970s.

Songs for Peace, the latest album by Musikang Bayan, is more than just a plaintive cry or an invocation to imagine a peaceful world to live in. Its album cover says the opus is meant to protest in strong terms imperialist wars of aggression of any kind anywhere in the world.

Recorded live and released in mid-2003, this album carries politically-sharp and refreshing sounds, a stark contrast to some commercial artists and gospel musicians that war-mongers like the Macapagal-Arroyo regime use to downplay the raging anti-war protest movement. However, the simplicity of acoustic instrumentation that dominated its previous albums namely Rosas ng Digma and Anak ng Bayan are still present, with the lyrics as straightforward as ever.

The fab four composed of Levy Abad Jr., Empiel Palma, Danny Fabella and Jess Bartolomeall singers, songwriters and guitaristsvow to make their musical talents serve the people, despite meagre resources common to most alternative artists.

In three weeks that started a year ago, the United States invaded the oil-rich country Iraq under the pretext of waging a war on terror amidst worldwide mass resistance. It has deployed 250,000 American and British troops launched 12,000 air missions that fired, among others, 725 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 50 cluster bombs and released 12,000 precision-guided missiles, killing thousands of Iraqi people, with hundred thousands more dying from hunger and diseases.

The first song in the albumOver the Streets of Iraqis a tearful tune that mourns the horrors of an unjust war. It begins with a loud siren; a warning signal for the Iraqi people to rush to safety as the countdown to the deadly air strike of the U.S.-led Coalition Forces began.

The chorus goes:

Our lives are not your toy/The world is not yours to own/The arrogance youve shown/An act well not condone/Under the cloak of peace/You surfaced like a beast/Over the streets of Iraq.

Stop your stupid war, says Not in Our Name, an anthem apparently inspired by the American peoples famous battlecry opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq:

The days and nights are burning hell/An endless flow of blood and tears/But all the fears that rule the land/Will be a force to crush you down/As we shout it again and again:/Not in our name will you make another war.

Light a Candle is a tribute song in commemoration of all the martyrs whose ultimate sacrifice is not only a worthy gift to remember but also a piercing reminder to everyone that the struggle for peace must be won. This brings to memory human rights advocate Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy, who were brutally slain last year allegedly by the militarys roving death squad and to whom this album was dedicated.

Oh God! narrates the agony of a young girl asking God to stop the war: This war she learned from her father/Is a war between greed and righteousness/Would it help if you keep on asking the question/Oh God! When would this war come to an end? Not satisfied with the fathers explanation, she later discovers the voraciousness of the U.S. military-industrial complex as the root of the perennial conflict.

Irony of terrorism

The irony of the U.S. terrorist labeling of legitimate dissenters is depicted in the song Youre A Terrorist, while the ballad The Peace We Want exhibits the vision of women and children for a peaceful world. The melancholic, blues-like Dont Talk About Freedom expresses lament on the countless atrocities and oppression that U.S. imperialism has committed against different nations and races, while the agitating Warmonger castigates and calls on the U.S. to disarm, asserting that the weapons of mass destruction is in its bloody hands and not anywhere within Iraq.

Union of the Weak likens U.S. monopoly-capitalism to an evil monster whose reign of terror and fascism, in the end, will soon be crushed by a broad united front of all the people in the world. With a congruous fusion of a solo acoustic guitar and a congo, a part of this apocalyptic song goes:

But undaunting spirit never sleeps/The fight for redemption never ceases/The empire will crumble, all our wars will be won/The union of the weak will defeat the strong.

Meanwhile, To A Poet is a guitar-accompanied poetry rendition asking contemporary poets not to offer the audience with candied rhymes that sweetly poison the consciousness while the wounds of the masses are festering. It is a resolute plea to all writers to open their hearts and minds on the plight of the exploited classes.

This cut sounds like Kung Ang Tula Ay Isa Lamang (If There is Only One Poem), a poem by protest musican Jess Santiago. By comparing the pen to a blazing torch, it reveals a philosophy that a writers potency is measured by his/her revolutionary fervor.

Listen to Musikang Bayans Songs for Peace by heart and you will surely be surprised at how it makes more sense than the usual love songs that have pierced our ears for a long time.