An OPM gem

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University of Santo Tomas Singers | Screenshot from Youtube video

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, but I made a delightful discovery this week: Filipino music is beloved all over the world, if these videos are any indication. From school choirs to budding Youtube stars to karaoke singers, many non-Pinoys are performing gems of OPM (“Original Pinoy Music”), old and new.

I’m getting re-acquainted with them myself. These songs were the background music of my childhood, although I never really gave much thought to what they meant. Growing up, English was my language of choice. But lately I’m finding that even if I communicate primarily in English, know some Spanish and Italian, and am learning French, sometimes—especially when it comes to matters of the heart—no other language but Tagalog will do.

The other week, my younger sister, who doesn’t know much Tagalog herself, asked my mom and me to teach her some phrases that she could use on her new boyfriend. But we were hard-pressed to come up with any terms of endearment other than “Mahal kita.” To us, romantic Tagalog sounds odd unless it’s being sung. The endearments that many Filipinos typically use are Americanisms: “honey” and “sweetheart.” We figure it’s because for generations, Filipino men had to court women under the watchful charge of chaperones, and so it was only in songs and poems that they could freely express their true feelings—hence the tradition of the harana.

Filipinos sure do love their love songs—and with good reason. Most of them are immensely singable, with lovely melodies and poetic lyrics that tell of noble loves and don’t hesitate to plumb the depths of emotion. Try translating a Filipino love song into English and it will sound over-the-top, with declarations of undying devotion and passionate yearning. Yet the words are always the very best of classical, elegant Tagalog—the kind I wish I could speak more fluently.

Well, if there’s one thing I’ve realized this past year, it’s never too late to learn anything. So I’ve been studying the lyrics of one Tagalog song and so far I’ve learned three new words: tugon, tanglaw, and sanhi. They are from a song called Ikaw (You).

Tugon means answer, and not just any answer, but one that is left on purpose for someone. In the song, the You being addressed is the answer to the singer’s prayers (Tugon sa aking dasal).

Tanglaw means a torch or beacon that lights up the singer’s world (Tanglaw sa aking mundo).

Sanhi means cause or purpose: You are the reason for everything I do (Ang lahat ng aking galaw/Ang sanhi ay ikaw).

The song is so tender that the pronoun itself becomes an endearment. In Tagalog, pronunciation and tone can give many layers of meaning to one word. Perhaps that’s why we don’t need special words or names for our loved ones; we just use the ones we’ve got, colouring them with our own voices.


There are many renditions of the song Ikaw to be viewed online; I chose this one because of the soloist’s pure voice, the choir’s beautiful harmony—and their lovely costumes.


Ikaw ang bigay ng maykapal
Tugon sa aking dasal
Upang sa lahat ng panahon
Bawat pagkakataon
Ang ibigin ko’y ikaw

Ikaw ang tanglaw sa ‘king mundo
Kabiyak nitong puso ko
Wala ni kahati mang saglit
Na sa yo’y maipapalit
Ngayo’t kailanma’y ikaw

Ang lahat ng aking galaw
Ang sanhi ay ikaw
Kung may bukas mang tinatanaw
Dahil may isang ikaw
Kulang ang magpakailan pa man
Upang bawat sandali ay
Upang muli’t muli ay
Ang mahalin ay ikaw


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