How strongly can a song impact a people’s spirit and will in the pursuit of its national aspirations? The right song inspires. It unites. It motivates people to persevere.
For us Filipinos, the song “Bayan Ko” has become our unofficial second anthem, especially in times of national trials and turmoil.
I became aware of its recent resurgence when I saw a widely posted video in social media of a stirring rendition, in perfect Filipino, by a Korean choir in a formal concert. I found this so intriguing that I decided to search for other singing groups that may also have sung it in recent years.
True enough, a browse through YouTube revealed that “Bayan Ko” has been sung by other foreign choirs from Asia, the United States and Europe. Among others, Libera, a popular English boys’ choir, has included it in one of their albums. They also visited the Philippines and sang it to enthusiastic ovations from Philippine audiences. A US-based university group, Stanford Talisman, also has it in their international repertoire.
I was sure all these foreign artists know the song’s basic message and sentiment, but I wondered if they and their audiences appreciated each beautiful line of the Filipino words.
So I looked for suitable translations, and better yet, melodic English lyrics which could be sung to the tune. I could find only one melodic version, but it was too florid and not easy to sing, while the few others were quite literal.
I decided to make a melodic translation which captured the spirit of the original Filipino as closely as possible.
Foreign language versions
For reference, I Googled the original English version of our national anthem, “Lupang Hinirang,” which we grew up with in grade school way before the present Filipino version became official. To my surprise, I discovered not one, but three foreign language versions together with the Filipino, all in one video—Japanese, Spanish and English.
I found it intriguing that our national anthem would be translated and performed in the languages of the three countries that colonized us in the past, complete with patriotic scenes of landmark events in our history. I said to myself that whoever came up with this idea of a historically relevant, four-language single video of the Philippine national anthem must be either a Filipino or a foreigner with a bent for historical reconciliation.
With my curiosity aroused, I browsed further through YouTube and was amazed at the immense popularity of traditional Filipino songs and dances around the world. Our musical works have been performed by foreign choirs and cultural groups in almost every continent, with some ensembles even winning international competitions performing Filipino compositions—from the iconic “Dahil sa Iyo,” kundiman classics, folk songs like “Paru-Parong Bukid,” to modern Christmas carols like “Pasko na Sinta Ko” and other OPM (Original Pilipino Music) genres. It was so gratifying to see so much Philippine music not only appreciated but performed prolifically worldwide.
Much inspired, I wanted to learn more about the history of the song I wanted to make a melodic translation of, which has captured the patriotic fervor of Filipinos, and which has become their vehicle of expression in times of national crisis.
I found out that the original version of “Bayan Ko” was in Spanish. “Nuestra Patria” was written by a general of the Philippine revolution, Gen. Jose Alejandrino, as an expression of opposition to the American occupation of our country at the turn of the 20th century. Some three decades later, renowned poet Jose Corazon de Jesus translated it into Tagalog lyrics, and the music was composed by Constancio de Guzman (whose other famous compositions are “Maalaala Mo Kaya,” “Ang Tangi Kong Pag-ibig,” “Babalik Ka Rin”). This is the version we sing today.
During martial law, “Bayan Ko” gained cult popularity, but the song was deemed seditious and its performance in public was banned, and violators faced potential arrest and detention. But after Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was assassinated in 1983, Filipinos became emboldened to sing it as the country’s protest song against the dictatorship, and by that time the regime was powerless to enforce any sanctions on the multitudes that sang it in rallies. (Source: Wikipedia)
At the heart of the song is a people’s yearning for liberty against any oppressor who would take it away. Although the original Spanish version was a protest against a foreign invader (i.e., the “Anglo-Saxon” American), the song has become perennially relevant against any form of oppression, including the abuses against human rights by homegrown despots and their minions.
The English translation of “Bayan Ko” I have come up with can easily be understood by those who do not know our language, and anyone who wants to express his freedom-loving sentiments in song. I assume most Filipinos know the Pilipino lyrics. I found one rendition of the original Spanish version (with lyrics) on YouTube, a solo by a female artist.
Here are the English lyrics which can be sung seamlessly to the tune:
“My Motherland the Philippines,
Land with gold and flowers richly blest.
And the gift of love within her soul
Shone in allure and loveliness
And her gentle beauty and her grace
Caught the alien’s wayward fancy.
You were snatched, my precious land,
Enslaved in misery
Every bird so free to soar and fly,
If you cage her she will surely cry.
How can such a bright and splendid land
Not aspire to rise in liberty?
O my dearly cherished Philippines,
Cradle of my tears and misery,
Hear my fondest wish:
To see you forever free!”
I have asked my granddaughter, Hannah Carlos, who has an outstandingly beautiful voice, to sing both the Filipino and English versions for a video to be uploaded on YouTube, as our modest contribution to have our country’s unofficial second anthem appreciated by a wider freedom-loving audience. —CONTRIBUTED