Heber Bartolome, folk music icon of ‘Tayo’y Mga Pinoy’ fame, passes away

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  • Heber Bartolome, the Filipino folk music legend who preached the value of self-worth in his masterpiece “Tayo’y Mga Pinoy,” died Monday night, his brother Jesse confirmed. He was 74.

    “Nawalan siya ng pulso kaya dinala sa Veterans (Memorial Medical Center),” Jesse told ABS-CBN News.

    “Mahusay na pintor (Heber), matulungin sa kapwa.

    “Isa siyang haligi ng Pinoy rock. May social relevance ang mga gawa niya. Pero may love songs din siya.”

    Heber Bartolome formed Banyuhay with brothers Jesse and Levi, whose work catapulted them to fame in the 1970s and whose songs spoke to common folk and their struggles.

    “Wala akong kantang hindi hango sa tunay na karanasan. Kasi mahirap magsulat ng hindi mo naman naranasan. Ang maganda kasi sa mga sinusulat mo, iyong mga binabanggit mong salita nagmamarka sa mga nakikinig na meron karanasan ganu’ng din,” Bartolome said in an interview with GoodNewsPilipinas.com in June.

    In the same interview, he said he was sick, but he did not elaborate.

    He named his band after a literary magazine he put together before martial law was declared in 1972. He was designated a visual artist and contributed poems on Banyuhay, which means metamorphosis.

    A University of the Philippines alumnus, Bartolome and his band are considered OPM pillars. Besides being a musician, he was also a painter.

    Later on, he taught Filipino literature at De La Salle University; Gary Valenciano and Ralph Recto were among his students, he said in the same interview.

    But Bartolome’s pièce de résistance was “Tayo’y Mga Pinoy”, a song that protested against Filipinos subsuming their identity in favor of Western tendencies.

    He said the music and words to it just came to him.

    “Nakatayo lang kami sa pinto sa tapat ng dormitoryo namin. Inaantay ko kapatid ko. Siya naman merong gitara. May mga inii-scale siya. Tapos nagcomment ako, ganito dapat scale. Tapos sa scale na iyon nanggaling iyong melody,” he told GoodNewsPilipinas.com.

    “Lagi kong sinasabi God given ang mga sinulat ko. Parang ginagamit ka ng kung sino na, may bumubulong. Biglang dadaan sa isip mo. Hindi iyong parang susulat ako ng tungkol sa pagiging makabayan. Wala akong ganu’ng mga impression.”

    The nationalist message behind “Tayo’y Mga Pinoy” caught the attention of Francis Magalona, who sampled it in a rap version he produced and released in the 1992 album “Rap Is Francism.”
    One of Bartolome’s last public performances was on the Filipino Music Legends series “Behn Cervantes the Roofdeck.”

    Prior to the pandemic, Bartolome said he had been performing live every year in Canada.

    His music put a spotlight on the daily hardships of the masses.

    Bartolome wrote about inequality (“Karaniwang Tao”), the plight of commuters (“Pasahero”), poverty during his time (“Almusal”) and social apathy (“Inutil sa Gising”).

    Erehwon Center for the Arts, a community promoting Filipino artists, described Bartolome’s songs as having “transcended time and have continued to appeal to and move various generations of audiences.”

    Mark dela Cruz, a frequent collaborator of Bartolome, remembered the revered artist. – (Mario Dumaual and Reyma Deveza, ABS-CBN News)

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