Harana

This photo does not belong to me and is used here only for promotional purposes.

Tomorrow, Aug. 28, will be the second public screening (after Cinemalaya) of the film “Harana: The search for the lost art of serenade” at CINEADARNA, at the UP Film Center, at 8pm.

Harana is co-written by Florante Aguilar and director Benito Bautista. It is presented by New Art Media, in partnership with Pacific Ethnographic and Wanderlustproject Films.

The film documents the journey of Aguilar, a classical guitarist who goes back home to the Philippines after 12 years abroad, in search of his roots, and more specifically, the vanishing art of harana (serenade).

(Read the synopsis at haranathemovie.com).

Tickets to the UP show are reasonably priced at P80 (and the websites, including the official Facebook page) have been encouraging folks to contact Isay at 09176633090 or Christi at 09157439915 for reservations ever since the original screening was cancelled due to foul weather).

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At a friend’s gig a week ago, I had a bit of a chat with the director of the film. He was sitting across from me, at the next table, so I took it upon myself to ask a few impertinent questions about Harana in the five minutes prior to the performance drowning out any attempt at conversation:

Q: Harana the tradition, would you say it’s anachronistic, it’s no longer relevant?

Bautista: The endeavour harana will always be relevant, although it’s a vanished tradition. It will still be relevant because it is still an endeavour. The true art form of harana is no longer a part of our modern society, but the evolved harana is still part of our being romantic. Meaning, you can still do harana, but of course it’s not going to be the old, old harana songs. And of course, it’s not going to be the old traditional harana endeavour — kasi (because) the buildings are really tall now. But the romantic endeavour of courting a lady using music and writing and text, that’s still harana.

Q: Isn’t it a fallacy to call [such methods] as harana – because the whole idea of harana is formal, and there are parameters?

Bautista: Harana is an endeavour and there are so many stages. The true art form of harana actually came way before the Spanish period. We have so many different forms – with kapanirong (a Maguinadanaon style) – and using different types of instruments other than guitar. But the endeavour is still the endeavour; it’s still wooing a woman using musical instrumentation and lyrical songs.

When the Spanish came, they introduced Spanish guitars and Spanish rhythm, and the introduction of those rhythms and instrumentation — actually, we have a tendency to love the rhythm and the musical instrumentation but we modified it, and then we infused it with our own form of harana, and that’s the traditional harana.

Right now, if you’re going to do harana as a true art form, wala na yun (it’s gone), it’s done, it’s not going to work anymore. But you can do it – the endeavour na lang (solely). The tradition has vanished, wala na (that’s over)… We discovered masters, but that’s the end of the line.

Q: The whole point of making the movie was to document the death of the art form?

It’s not. The Harana film is a discovery of the lost art of serenade and of course a celebration, a discovery of the masters of harana. We were able to make the discovery. Its intention is not to tell everyone that this has vanished, no, it’s just to inform everyone that there was once a harana and the masters will tell you how it was.

We cannot relive the past… We can only be informed, and moving forward, what are we going to do with it? Are we going to have a resurgence of harana music, or a resurgence of evolved tradition, more than just harana? So those are the arguments of the film.

And of course, like all vanished traditions, what’s the cost of the extinction of our tradition, and we know it, everyone knows it – it’s progress through modernity. Modernity will overwhelm whatever tradition we have.

And so we need to capture it and discuss it so that the future generations will understand that there was once such tradition. So that’s the argument.

Q: But there is no evolved form of this tradition?

Bautista: As of now, wala (none). The only evolved form of harana is texting, sending musical playlist to a girlfriend, that’s an evolved form of harana.

Q: Mixed tapes.

That’s harana. You can say that it’s evolved, ganun lang yun (but that’s as far as it goes).

Q: It’s a pale comparison to the original.

Bautista: Oh yeah. And you would truly understand it if you watch Harana because the Harana documentary is not all about the music, it’s not about the search, it’s not only about the celebration of the discovery, it is the experience – it is the experience of everything.

Q: What are you taking away from this, your process of travelling all over the country and digging into the past, what did it bring you?

Bautista: Well the concept did not come from me; the concept came from Florante Aguilar who’s a master guitar-player. He came here, went back, and through his awakened consciousness, he wanted to champion harana music. But I wanted to know the importance of it, so I started to ask the Filipino Americans in the United States and I go, do you know the meaning of harana? And they said, ‘Harana— is that a Japanese restaurant’? And right there, alam mo na (you already know) it’s important.

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So… enough of a sell, or do we need more incentive for a go-see?

Admittedly, I have been curious about this film since I saw the trailer promoting the first screening at Cinemalaya, but have made excuses not to go: the traffic, the distance, the crowd, the (assumed) low quality of the screen at the venue. I am not even sure I’ll make it tomorrow. (If I don’t, the only other alternatives are film festivals in Busan and Hawaii this October — UP is much closer in every sense of the word.)

Nevertheless (and regardless of my reservations over the screening venue), this film, this search for practitioners of harana, couldn’t have been done at a better time. We are in desperate need of cultural preservation — even by mere documentation — and the culture bearers are vanishing.

I’ve been in the Philippines for all of 31 years and can’t rightly recall witnessing an actual performance of the harana.

What intrigues me about the practice is its formality — the custom is a declaration of romantic interest on both sides, from the man who scrapes up the nerve to call on musicians to aid in the statement of his intent, and the woman, who exhibits her regard (or lack thereof) by turning a light on and opening a window (…or not).

No clearer public declaration can be made.

But we live in an age wherein the sly avowal is much more common — the convenient text, the casual serenade that can easily be brushed off as a joke, the secret mixed tapes (or its digital equivalent) — rather than laying bare one’s affection in such an open manner as the harana.

Imagine the trepidation of the man, the pressure (or abashed pleasure?) felt by the woman, and the potential for humiliation for both, whether the suit is accepted or rejected, in the age-old grand gesture.

So I am curious what the filmmakers dug up, their treatment of the harana, and the reaction of the audience.

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