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Lovely local lullabies for the little ones

By R.E. Asis Published Jan 03, 2023 5:00 am

Crooning “Rock-A-Bye-Baby,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or any popular English nursery rhyme to pacify a cranky infant is one thing, but how about singing a lullaby in a Tagalog, Visayan or Mindanaoan language? It was a calming experience for audiences to hear such lullabies at the recent launch of Himig Himbing: Mga Heleng Atin (CCP Indigenous Lullabies) at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

A project of the CCP Arts Education Department through its Audience Development Division, Himig Himbing featured eight music videos of lullabies from different regions of the country. The project is aimed at reintroducing Philippine indigenous lullabies to contemporary audiences and developing nurturers that are grounded in Philippine songs and heles.

In realizing Himig Himbing, eight music videos of eight lullabies from the regions were developed based on the research of ethnomusicologist Sol Trinidad and arranged by musical director Krina Cayabyab. Eight filmmakers (namely Sigrid Bernardo, Alvin Yapan, Carla Ocampo, Teng Mangansakan, Milo Tolentino, Mes De Guzman, Thop Nazareno and Law Fajardo) created their respective film interpretations of the featured lullabies.

The videos are “Sa Ugoy ng Duyan” (a Tagalog lullaby composed by National Artist for Music Lucio San Pedro with lyrics by National Artist for Music and Literature Levi Celerio), “Katurog na, Nonoy” (a Bicolano lullaby sung by one whom a little boy looks for to put him to sleep), “Wiyawi” (a traditional Kalinga lullaby often sung by caretakers, usually Cordilleran fathers), “Aba-aba” (a lullaby indigenous to Southern Mindanao, particularly sung by the indigenous group Subanon), “Hele” (a lullaby from a 1986 field recording of Dr. Elena Mirano taken in San Mateo, Rizal), “Dungdungwen Kanto” (translated as “I Will Love You,” the first line of an Ilocano wedding song also often sung as a children’s lullaby), “Tingkatulog” (translated as “Sleeping Time,” a folk lullaby from the area of Bohol), and “Ili, Ili, Tulog Anay” (translated as “Little One, Go to Sleep,” a Visayan lullaby sung by a caretaker to a child that mentions a mother who is out buying bread).

Katurog Na, Nonoy, music video by Alvin Yapan

CCP board trustee and vice chair Michelle Nikki Junia, who initiated the idea in the form of a lullaby, explains how both adults and children can benefit from this unique endeavor.

“We want to make sure that we have good research,” Junia elucidates. “I requested to take a look at unpopular lullabies, not just the ‘Bahay Kubo’ (Nipa Hut) version, and dig deeper for a representation from various regions as we believe the country is very rich in traditions. We have to embrace and make that known.” She is also impressed with the production of the eight videos, which were integrated in the folk tales, putting an added value to the lullabies as well. “They were very creatively done and of high quality.”

Sa Ugoy Ng Duyan, music video by Sigrid Bernardo

Being an early childhood music educator, Junia observes that there is scarcity in terms of Filipino lullabies in her classes. “Most of the lullabies Filipino music teachers would use as available resources are western repertoire, she notes. “There are more western lullabies while traditional Filipino lullabies are very few. I see that the importance for the mothers, the elders, the caregivers is to be aware and to share our traditional lullabies, especially that we are giving value to developing in the young our own language. We are Filipinos, but sadly, the younger generation now are more eloquent in speaking English than in our own language.”

Regarding Filipino traditions, Junia does not want them to die. “They have to be present up to this time and they need to be reborn. That’s why the way Himig Himbing was arranged, and the way the music videos were produced somehow integrated the technology to be relevant to the young parents at this time,” she continues. “Probably due to disconnection or lack of interest, they cannot relate to the way it sounds because it has a different ‘taste.’”

Junia also feels that something must be done in order to find a middle ground to reach out to the young parents, and ensure that Filipino traditional lullabies will stay, progress, and be made aware to the public. “The importance of these oral traditions through lullabies is that the exposure of the infants at a very young age already gives them an idea of their identity,” she adds. “We know that most of the time, when we have social events with other nationalities, there is some level of envy, because they really know who they are. But the Filipinos, because many foreign countries have colonized us, there is a confusion of who we really are. We have to accept this problem.”

Adults and kids gather at the CCP Main Theater stage for Himig Himbing: Mga Heleng Atin.

Another purpose of CCP for pursuing Himig Himbing is to promote musical awareness, especially for the young ones in terms of its effect on brain development. “There have been a lot of studies that show that music has positive effects on brain stimulation, even before they are born. That’s why I encourage the moms to already listen and sing to lullabies during pregnancy,” Junia says. “It’s because the vibration of the voice resonates down to the unborn child through the umbilical cord. That’s why it is amazing that when the baby comes out into the real world, and when you play the lullabies you have been listening or singing to when you were pregnant, the babies would respond to it. It’s because they already sense familiarity with what they heard. And this is very important in stimulation, the way young children learn successfully in the different stages of their development. All areas of the brain need to be stimulated. This is a step for speech development.”

CCP board trustee Michelle Nikki Junia

Junia feels that it is very important that CCP is aware of the situation, of how music and the arts can help in academic learning or preparedness later on. “Since the ear is the closest sensory organ to the brain responsible for distributing information to the important regions of the brain, it therefore needs to be stimulated. It makes sense, the first sensory organ developed in an unborn baby are the ears, so it’s really auditory,” she says.

“The lullaby is a soothing form of music suitable for infants, for very young children. There is a bit of trauma when the unborn baby comes out of the womb, and that trauma can be helped by music because of its soothing effect.”

She sees the better way to communicate with babies is through singing lullabies, reading a book, or storytelling. “We have to promote our own lullabies and make sure they remain as they are,” she emphasizes. “It flows through our bloodstream so we have to make sure that they know their roots.” 

Audiences will have a memorable takeaway. “I think the young parents would be very excited to have a fresh and new set of repertoire to sing to their babies,” Junia advises. “There are not many activities that you can do for infants. It’s really a repertoire of songs that can truly help them in this stage to nurture their young ones. They will be proud that they know something indigenous.”

The videos of Himig Himbing: Mga Heleng Atin can be viewed on the CCP Facebook page.

For more details, visit the CCP website or follow the official CCP social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.