Harana

Uso pa ba ang harana? (Are serenades still in style?) So goes a Filipino ballad, popular over twenty years ago. I first heard it at university. I remember we were all sitting cross-legged on the floor in the corridor, and two friends of mine started singing and playing that song on their guitars. They were not serenading me, simply making music together, but I’ll never forget that day, with the late afternoon sunshine and the shadows starting to grow long across the campus, and the guitar music and the faces and voices of my friends all around me. I remember thinking it was too bad that the delicate tribute of singing love songs under a woman’s window now belongs to a long-past generation, gone the way of Maria Clara dresses, dropped handkerchiefs, and flirtatiously fluttering fans.

Or perhaps it hasn’t.

One Filipino artist, refusing to let the art of harana simply die out, searched the islands for men who still had the old music in them. He found three. Together, they recorded an album. And not a moment too soon—two of them have passed away in the last year.

I like to imagine the four men, three old and one young, singing and playing together on their guitars. I listen to their voices, still so strong and sure, and I think perhaps this project was a gift for them, as much as it is a gift for the rest for us—something that gave them hope and joy, because the old music wouldn’t be dying with them, after all.

I cherished that university memory of mine because it kept me warm through so many winters that followed. No matter how cold I got, it heartened me to think that somewhere in the world, the sun was still shining, and people were still singing and making music. Perhaps this treasure of an album will do the same for harana lovers, young and old, throughout the world.

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