“Ang bayan ko’y tanging ikaw, Pilipinas kong mahal,” a young soprano begins to sing. There’s nothing else on stage, but it’s as if there’s a crowd singing with her — fists clenched, arms raised as high as they can go. “Ang laya mo’y babantayan,” she sings. “Pilipinas kong hirang.” It’s transfixing, moving, commanding. Pilipinas Kong Mahal, a kundiman by Francisco Santiago, immediately paints a picture of patriotism: each beat almost bursting with strength, every word a fervent promise to the country. And in the two-act play The Kundiman Party, the very same qualities have never been more alive.
Floy Quintos’ The Kundiman Party weaves the current Philippine sociopolitical landscape with one of the purest Filipino art forms: the kundiman. Making a case for the kundiman‘s transformative abilities is Maestra Adela Dolores (the incomparable Shamaine Buencamino), a retired opera singer who teaches her craft. After a heated discussion about her involvement against the Marcoses who funded her opera studies, Maestra finds herself at the forefront of “The Kundiman Party,” a social media movement created to instill nationalism through kundiman. With each video release, Maestra and those in her home — a pianist, a young couple, and her friend group of Titas of Manila — slowly realize what it means and what it takes to love the country in this day and age.
The Kundiman Party does cover a lot of ground, from being born into a political family to protests then vis a vis protests now.
There is no question that the heart of the show is the eponymous art form, and rightly so. The framing device of Maestra Adela being a teacher results in an ingenious script with kundiman staples seamlessly integrated into it. While each kundiman is crucial to the scene it is in, particular standouts are Nicanor Abelardo songs Bituing Marikit (an absolutely sublime performance from Miah Canton, where her character Antoinette sings to her activist boyfriend Bobby) and Nasaan Ka Irog, the latter used to illustrate the loss of families left behind by those subjected to extrajudicial killings.
Their first run in 2018, while relevant, wasn’t as timely as it is now — what with their second run opening a week and a half after the midterm elections. Lines on how the elections were rigged made their way to the show, as well as how the current administration’s practically giving away our own resources to China (this one gets a kundiman to go with it, too).
With all its serious topics — The Kundiman Party does cover a lot of ground, from being born into a political family to protests then vis a vis protests now — it’s also a fairly comedic piece: things like how they said listening to kundiman is “parang nakikinig lang ako sa Ben&Ben” and the Maestra Adela saying “I’m shookt” unironically brought in the much-needed laughs.
It’s rare that a show like this comes along. To tackle current national issues, to discuss reasons why we got to this point, to offer ways on how we can move forward, and to reintroduce a truly Filipino art all at the same time is no easy feat: these things, The Kundiman Party does successfully and without a sour note. It is reflective of how our political conversations go in real life, how things are in real life, but they’re a bit more optimistic. Ultimately, The Kundiman Party tells us that it’s not too late, nor is it too much to hope.
The penultimate scene bathes the stage in golden light. The sun is setting, and they know something’s coming. In the same way the sunrise starts another day, they know that it’s only a matter of time — and they know that the change that’s coming, but it’ll happen on their own terms. It’s powerful how each actor on that stage looks out as the lights fade, but imagine how beautiful it will be to see millions of Filipinos do the same thing: look out to the horizon, with our arms raised, our clenched fists up in the air.
“Ang bayan ko’y tanging ikaw, Pilipinas kong mahal,” the young soprano sings. And if The Kundiman Party taught us anything, you know it rings true.