A night with Joey Ayala: ‘Let’s get spiritual!’

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QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/28 May) — And what a spiritual experience it was!

Joey Ayala hails from Bukidnon. He got his primary and secondary education from the Ateneo de Manila University before finally moving to Davao for college, also under the Jesuits at the Ateneo. He walked all sorts of lives in his time as a university student. He was a photographer, an editor and even a musical director for major plays like “Sa Bundok Apo” where he collaborated with artists and writers like Al Santos, Gus Miclat, Ella Ola Kintanar, Babet Naidas, Bogs Serrano and Joji Benitez.

Joey Ayala in Davao City in November 2015 for a homecoming concert at the Ateneo de Davao University where he finished his AB Economics degree in 1979. Photo courtesy of IGY CASTRILLO Joey Ayala in Davao City in November 2015 for a homecoming concert at the Ateneo de Davao University where he finished his AB Economics degree in 1979. Photo courtesy of IGY CASTRILLO

Conspiracy Garden Café, located along Visayas Avenue in Quezon City, isn’t really known to a lot of people. Musical enthusiasts are its common audience since it hosts regular gigs for local and national artists like Bayang Barrios, Bullet Dumas, Jhonoy Danao, Noel Cabangon, Ebe Dancel and Gary Granada to name a few. Surprisingly, for a place that can only probably seat around 50 people, it has a really reliable sound system. But then again, maybe Joey just knows what he’s doing.

Well known for the depth of thought embedded in his music and lyrics, he continues to bring awe not only to his human audience, but I believe to the natural elementals as well (if you believe in that sort of thing). With a guitar in one hand and a beating heart in the other, he will wrap his profound view of the world we live in with the music he so astonishingly creates. He has the ability to engage in the concerns of our immediate society and bring to a stop the world which we individually and relatively perceive. He knows how to involve his audience. Like a bridge over troubled water, he can bring you to a place you can never forget.

Joey also has a particular flavour or style in his music and this is his ethno-rock fusion. You’ll hear in his songs these particularly distinct tunes which are clearly ethnic in colour and in style. Take for example the theme song “Karaniwang Tao” (Ordinary Person) or “Bathala” (Creator). I’m pretty sure he got that particular flavour from ethnic roots. Most of the time – though not during this gig – he would use indigenous instruments like an insi, a kutyapi, or a kumbing.

At the Conspiracy in Quezon City with Joey Ayala. MindaNews photo by KEVIN MIKHAIL H. GOMEZ At the Conspiracy in Quezon City with Joey Ayala. MindaNews photo by KEVIN MIKHAIL H. GOMEZ

Joey has a way of connecting with his audience. He knows their qualms; he understands the struggles that they have; and he makes it clear that he is so much a part of the skirmish against the plight of society. Graft. Corruption. Traffic. Overpopulation. You name it.

He has a particular way of seeing things. He’s an optimist. He sees negativity and finds a way to shed light into the darkness that we see. Many people – foreigners, really – believe that Filipinos, in general, are optimists. Joey goes beyond that. Like a machine refining coal, he turns your darkness into diamonds with his music.

Take for example his song about bananas, “Basta May Saging, Labing!” Yes he has one (If you haven’t heard this yet, then you have some catching up to do). At first glance, it seems like a novelty song. But when read carefully and analysed musically, you’d realize how this can actually also be a song about how we take for granted that which makes us who we are; that which makes us wealthy.

He tells his audience a story about how, in Davao City—since there are hectares and hectares of banana plantations—people have a saying that goes like this:

“Bahala na’g saging, basta labing.” In English, “It doesn’t matter if all we have are bananas, as long as we love each other.”

The expression itself already gives you a glass half empty, yet he has created a song which gives out the same statement with the glass half full. In English, the song title would then read “As long as we have bananas, we’ll have love,” or, “we’ll be okay.” The positivity is contagious. I hope that’s what he’s going for.

The author, Kevin Mikhail H. Gomez, with Joey Ayala. The author, Kevin Mikhail H. Gomez, with Joey Ayala.

Joey is also well known for songs about social change. Change in the way we treat the environment, other people, even ourselves. He has a knack for change, for empowering our inner selves. Well known songs include “Agila” (Eagle), “Lumiyab Ka” (Shine), and “Bathala.” Thankfully he sang two of these songs during his gig.

Joey Ayala and the Bagong Lumad can truly give you an experience for the mind, the heart, and the soul. The music, the fun, and most of all, the connection. The way he plants his views into our heads like a farmer planting his crops was wonderfully done. All it needs is a little watering for it to bloom into our consciousness and hope that a good harvest will come in the future that lies ahead.

Joey ended last night’s gig with Levi Celerio’s “Sa Ugoy ng Duyan,” and his song “Agila,” leaving his audience speechless and motionless after the last chord before finally giving him a standing ovation for a job not only well done, but beautifully.

Again, connection. I end this review with a few lines from one of Joey’s most well-loved songs, and according to him, probably his only popular love song, “Walang Hanggang Paalam.”

“Ang pagibig natin ay Walang hanggang paalam
At habang magkalayo Papalapit parin ang puso

Kahit na magkahiwalay Tayo ay magkasama
Sa magkabilang dulo ng mundo.”

(Kevin, 26, majors in choral conducting at the University of the Philippines School of Music. A tenor at the Ateneo Chamber Singers, he also mentors choral groups and conducts workshops on choral reading and singing which he collectively calls “Purpose and Meaning.”)


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