The Phoenixes of P-Pop Are Here, and They're Fearless
Updated: Oct 9, 2022
I grew up with just enough. There was food on my table and a roof over my head, even if we moved a lot. Both my parents worked full time to make ends meet, but we abandoned homes to avoid eviction more than once. When there was extra money, it went to alcohol. It’s funny how we start to see how things connect as we grow up. Abandonment and neglect are close cousins, and they both have children named loneliness and pain. It crosses cultures and lives among the poor, the rich, and everywhere in between. Where I grew up? There was just enough of everything - except them.
For me, it was a strange feeling to listen to the haunting tones of ALAMAT’s “ILY ILY.” It’s a familiar melody that my brother’s yaya (nanny) sang to him when we were growing up. The sweet song was a part of being Ilonggo that she introduced to my transplanted family, a sung embrace when everything I knew was islands away. She became a part of our family and brought us into her own nurturing culture.
There is a disconnect between our stories. One is of the meeting between neglect and abandonment, and one remembers a supported youth that defined a life. ALAMAT’s newest single conjures up memories. It’s at the very core of the song, but its evolution and roots? That’s where the disconnect comes from.
It All Starts with a Lullaby
‘ILY ILY’ is based on a Hiligaynon lullaby. It's one of the major languages spoken in the Philippines besides Tagalog, Bisaya, and Ilocano, among others. Hiligaynon (along with several dialects) comes from the Visayas region and is only found in several southwestern islands. The introduction of this traditional Visayan lullaby to the rest of the country and the world was … unusual, to say the least. It’s meant to be a comforting song, promising a sleeping child that after they wake from a nap, Mama will be there with bread for them to eat. The second part asks the child to promise to help Mama at home to make life pleasant for everyone. For reasons we don’t really understand, ILI ILI (the title of the original lullaby) became popular only after it was used in a horror movie. It morphed from a comforting and soothing song to a creepy and scary one.
‘ILY ILY’s modern take of the lullaby describes a promise gone awry, when having parents at home becomes a luxury.
The lullaby now undergoes another retelling as ‘ILY ILY,’ we’ve gone back to talking about the separation of parents and children, this time without the promise of a quick return. It’s a theme we see in too many families in the Philippines. Torn apart by poverty, they cling to the hope of providing more by having parents (or sometimes an adult child) live and work abroad. It’s so common that there is a term for it: OFWs or Overseas Filipino Workers. Having at least one member of the family working abroad is so common that continuing education or training is usually made with an eye toward migrating to other countries. Most people would rather not leave home and family, but they often don’t have much choice.
‘ILY ILY’s modern take of the lullaby describes a promise gone awry, when having parents at home becomes a luxury. It’s a story told from the child’s viewpoint instead, and the terror of being alone and feeling unloved becomes the focus of the message. Each character copes in their own way while living with the knowledge that loneliness cannot be helped. There is no choice; it simply is.
A Multicultural Remix
Interspersed verses and lines in Tagalog, Bicolano, Bisaya, Ilocano, Waray, and Pampango mix with the original Hiligaynon lyrics, reminding us of the uniqueness of ALAMAT’s multilingual members.
With their current interpretation, ALAMAT have remixed the lyrics and the melody to create a song that honors the original but is barely recognizable. They’ve combined the original melody with rap verses and unexpected harmonies. Interspersed verses and lines in Tagalog, Bicolano, Bisaya, Ilocano, Waray, and Pampango mix with the original Hiligaynon lyrics, reminding us of the uniqueness of ALAMAT’s multilingual members. Altogether, it makes for a song that lives in the netherworld between a rap track and a ballad while tugging firmly at our heartstrings.
ALAMAT has mixed up their usual vocal arrangement too. Many of their previous releases had a single vocal standout, but ‘ILY ILY’ seems more of an ensemble. The boys and Lyra Gairanod work as a cohesive unit, each one building on the other’s strengths with their individual parts meshing together in beautiful harmony.
Since their sophomore single, ‘Kasmala,’ ALAMAT has never shied away from the big issues.
Whether it makes you think or cry, there’s no denying ALAMAT’s gift for touching listeners and their hearts and minds. The traditional Visayan lullaby has been on a journey and where it’s arrived is at a thought-provoking and maybe polarizing spot. Since their sophomore single, ‘Kasmala,’ ALAMAT has never shied away from the big issues. With each new song and each evolution of the Phoenixes of P-Pop, they are only growing stronger. We love watching them fly.