• Rhizaldy Manalo

Words, Music, and Imagination

Let's play a fun little game, on the count or 3, let's show each other the first song in our favorite Spotify playlists.





For mine, it's Kathang Isip by Ben and Ben...

Ok fine. That may have been a bit anti-climactic, but I assure you this song would be in your playlist, if not right now then maybe some time ago - or it will be in the future. Now, why is that?

I can be lazy by saying that it's an awesome song. Or maybe I can be meticulous by saying that, "how can it not be when this song was at the top of the charts for so long that I started taking care of an avocado seedling and "Kathang Isip" was still at the top even when my Avocado was already ripe". Fine, that was hyperbole, but you all know what I mean.

This song tugged at the heartstrings of so many Filipinos that even those who hadn't experienced any sort of heartbreak imagined themselves to be at the losing end of a bad break-up.

But you gotta ask yourself, why is that? How can a simple song make us experience emotions that we know we haven't felt before?

So let's go down a little rabbit hole I like to call, Music Analysis

Kaya pasensya ka na, sa mga kathang isip kong ito ~~ Wari’y dala lang ng pagmamahal sa iyo ~~ Ako’y gigising na mula sa panaginip kong ito ~~ At sa wakas ay kusang lalayo sa iyo,” Sang Ben&Ben, as you try to reminisce about how the love of your life wasn't really in love with you - and that she was actually in love with someone else.

The words alone are intoxicating, the deep Tagalog literature they wrote was breathtaking. No one in Metro Manila really uses the words, "wari" or "kathang isip" or "kusa" in this deep context of intertwining meaning; as the pang of pain and the acidity of despair is clear in both music and lyrics.

What makes it more real is the melody behind the words. You start off with an acoustic guitar and piano playing the melody "Di ba nga ito ang 'yong gusto... O eto lilisan na ako..." between each other and passing the baton around in the key of A#; a pitch most musicians agree on as the reminiscent pitch, which is the reason why when you listen to a symphony orchestra playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and you hear the Clarinet playing a flying tune reminiscent of early spring, that's in A# or Bb.

Then the lyrics "Mga gabing di namamalayan" when the bass guitar started jamming along and the hum of the low notes tingled the pits of your heart as you continue reminiscing your moments with your special someone.

"...Oras ay lumilipad, mga sandaling lumalayag kung san man tayo mapadpad. Mga sandaling lumalayag kung saan man tayo mapadpad..." With the bass guitar taking the front line and the guitar and piano taking back a step, to allow the swing of the bass to hop, up and down, as you listen to the changes in the meaning of the lyrics.

You can't help but remember all the fun you had with your special someone, the time that went by and yet still not enough. Walking along the streets of metro manila, telling tales of old and so you didn't notice you've walked to the end of her street - when all you've seen is her beauty and the wisp of hair on hair face which, of course, you try and clear up for her.

Thing is, you know you'll start crying at this point, not just because we're at the "Ito'y maling akala, isang malaking sablay." part but also because the music has been perfectly crafted with the bass running in front. We all know that when we experience heartbreaks, we're at some of our lowest points, and nothing entices feelings of heartaches better than well-placed bass guitar plucks.

Now we're at the chorus, where you imagine yourself apologizing to your special someone, asking for forgiveness for expecting love back from them - thinking you were giving everything and now accepting you'll never get anything back in return. "Pasensya ka na.. Sa mga kathang isip kong ito.. Wari'y dala lang ng pagmamahal sa iyo.. Ako'y gigising na.. Sa panaginip kong ito". Where at this point, the vocalist was in front of the ensemble. All instruments are in the background, playing subtly yet obviously.

But throughout all this time, you notice one particular component in every song missing, yes - you didn't notice it until now. There are no drums - and yet the musicality of it, the lyrics melding perfectly well with the melody, up to this point have been nothing but perfect.

Then comes the bass drum hitting it first together with the other instruments, playing a humble 4/4 beat, common to most songs, but the way the drums play it, and the bass pluck it - makes it sound like a semi-jazz ensemble of musical genius. Until the cymbals sound, transitioning to the next verse.

It's at this point when you start hearing it, faint, but it's there - tingling the back of your head with a morose tone that only this instrument can bring... the violin enters. It's perfect that as this instrument starts chirping, the song takes a darker turn, "Gaano kabilis nag simula, gano'n katulin nawala, maaari ba tayong bumalik sa umpisa, upang di na umasa ang pusong nagiisa." The anguish in the lyrics as you realize all that was built falling down as fast it was put up, and the sardonic regret of hoping it was never like this to begin with, as you listen to the transition back to the chorus.

As we draw to our climax, we get to the bridge, a bit fatalistic and all the while accepting - but it's never cut and dry in these kinds of breakups, it's always messy. You listen as the lyrics take you further away "Sumabay sa agos na isinulat ng tadhana. Minsan siya'y para sa iyo, pero minsan siya'y paasa. Tatakbo papalayo, kakalimutan ang lahat." and here, is when our lovely violin takes the prize, as the violinist swings back and forth through the strings slowly bringing the pitch higher and higher until we get to the height of the emotions.

The feelings brewing, now realized, now released, in an outburst - a hopeful tone hanging in the air... and decline towards the end, with the final "Diba nga ito ang iyong gusto? O, ito'y lilisan na ako.." as all instruments remain silent save for the piano. Playing the final tones. End.

This is the beauty of this song, and the musical genius of its composers and lyricists.

I used to say that Filipino music, the likes of Araw-Gabi by Basil Valdez, and Iniibig Kita, by Ryan Cayabyab, were gone - but when I heard this piece... I guess there's hope after all.

Rhiz Manalo is the co-partner to CentrAsia Tours a Central Asia Tourism Agency, Co-Founder, and Co-Owner of The White Dog Collective experts in corporate and SMB digitization. He is a seasoned digital marketing expert, an experienced blogger, systems architect, web designer, and a loving father to a beautiful 7-year-old girl whom he misses so much!

Check out his portfolio here.



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