HIMO’G HUNI: Beyond Music and Lyrics

Part 2 of the Himog Huni series

The night just broke and we were just about to hop in the car. We are to drive to Dauis, to Paulene Quinal-Nistal’s place, me for an interview and the rest of my companions — Himo’g Huni composers and interpreters — for their promotional video shoot. Serj Atup is in the driver’s seat; I, Melay Libres and her sister Leneth, and eventually, Maricel Sombrio and Kristian Nikko Geangan, are sitting at the back. The album plays in the background. The engine starts. The car comes to life. The trip begins. And so did the exchange of stories and banters.

It is cool to think that a frustrated musician is in a car with singers and composers. One would think that it is going to be an awkward ride, at least for me, with discussions probably circulating on music. Instead, it was a casual exchange of stories and it is fascinating since I haven’t had any prior encounter with the people inside the car, except for Melay who I first met back in 2015. We would poke fun at each other, but more on Paulene and her seemingly endless list of request.

We arrived at Dauis and as soon as everyone has settled, the work begins. Maricel gets her phone to record. Paulene instructs the artists regarding their spiels. The rest served as assistants. In the eyes of an outsider, Himog Huni is more than just a competition that brought musical geniuses together. It became a convergence of artists whose end goal didn’t revolve around the thought of winning but of amplifying the Bohol music scene.

A Long Distance Love Affair
Paulene welcomed us with a big smile, like a kid who saw her mom arrived with candies. And like candies, Paulene is fructose who took human form, undeniably sweet and bubbly.

I met Paulene back in 2014, during her bid for Miss Silka Bohol which I was assigned to cover for my work with LifestyleBohol. We would bump into each other the following year, now in Miss Bohol 2015 where she represented her hometown Balilihan. Since then, we’d see each other by chance and would exchange casual hellos.

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Apart from her endearing personality which ultimately captured the heart of her husband, Jofel, her singing chops also shine. And this is highlighted in her entry LDR. While some may find it cheesy, but the track, nonetheless, captures the romance between her and Jofel, who at that time, was still her boyfriend.

The song was written “while longing,” Paulene explained. The singer-songwriter herself was in a long distance relationship with Jofel for a couple of months but kept it under wraps until the song was completed.

“After nako nahuman ang draft, ayha nako gi-inform si Jofel,” Paulene confessed. (After I finished the draft, that’s when I informed Jofel.)

We asked Jofel what he felt the first time he heard the song but all he can say was a shy smile, refusing to answer because “dili man ko apil sa interview” (“I’m not included in the interview). So we just asked if he felt kilig and answered us with a yes. And the room erupted in cheers.

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Love is indeed in the air in the midst of this lovely couple, much more now that it is a long distance love affair no more. There’s no need to blow kisses on the other side.

Sister Acts
“Why did you join?”

The question floats in the room and Paulene jokingly answers, “Para palit bugas.” (So I can buy rice.) As if that wasn’t enough for us to laugh out loud, Melay Libres claimed, “Kay dako ang prize.” (Because of the huge cash prize)

When I asked her sister, Leneth, the same question, the older sister chimes in. “Para nay usa namu mudaog. Kay the more entries you send, the more chances of winning.” (So that one of us wins. You see, the more entries you send, the more chances of winning.) And the room blurts out in laughter again.

The ball might have started rolling on a very light note but the sister tandem of Leneth and Melay are way deeper than quick banters and comical rebuttals.

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Melay Libres, an Electrical Engineer by profession, has always found herself in the comforts of her guitar and statement printed button-downs. No bias but she can give Taylor Swift a run for her money. In fact, her entry Kapoy Na has an original runtime of fifteen minutes. But it really is not because the narrative was lengthy but more because there were quite a number of sobbing breaks in between, so she says. This is how invested Melay can get in terms of songwriting; hence, her songs carry the emotions that it has to convey.

“Ning-apil ko para marecord nako ang kanta for free,” Melay said. “Kani akong gisend jud nga entry kay kahibaw man gud ko nga nindut siya and kahibaw ko nga naa jud siya’y chance masud as a finalist.”
(I joined so that I can record this song for free. I submitted this as an entry because I know that it is a good song and I know it has a good chance to be included as a finalist.)

Written with someone the talented singer-composer has been crushing on in mind, the song, as listeners would have it, has become an anthem for anyone who has been struggling to keep their hopes up in this crazy battlefield called love. Maricel Sombrio, on our way to Dauis, commented: “Samok kaayo ning kanta ni Melay ba. Kanang gusto pa ka mufight [sa inyung relasyon] unya makadungog kas kanta niya unya makaingun nalang ka nga ‘Tama na. Kapoy na.’” (Melay’s song is so annoying. Just when you still want to fight [for the relationship], you’ll hear her song and you’ll say to yourself ‘It’s enough. It’s tiring already.’”

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On the other hand, Leneth, the youngest contender for the Unang Hugna at age 15, carries the same giftedness emanating from her older sister. According to Melay, the younger Libres would write songs of profound stories like that one original composition which talks about her confusion as to what career path to take.

Leneth’s entry, Uwat, although from the same alley of heartbreak and moving on songs, is more in touch with the innocence of young love, and the frailties of an inexperienced heart. The metaphor was inspired, literally, by her scars.

“Gisuwat nako ni para sa akong crush nga paasa,” Leneth answers, shy like a girl who is about to reveal her crush to the rest of the world. “Gipa-feel niya nako [nga naka-angay siya nako] so nag-assume nako. Pero dili nako ganahan maka-crush niya. Dili nako ganahan mu-assume.”
(I wrote it for my crush who gave me false hopes. He made me feel [that he likes me] so I assumed. But I don’t want to have a crush on him anymore. I don’t want to assume any further.)

While the two Libres are eyeing on the same prize, it is still heartwarming how they push each other not just to go for the top plum, but to make good music and expand their horizons. They may come as a double threat, each half of the sister act armed with amazing skills and loaded with sheer determination, but for the many who sees them beyond the context of a friendly competition, Melay and Leneth — and their sisterly bond — will remain an inspiration.

To be continued

The Grand Finals of Himog Huni Unang Hugna will be on January 6, 2018, 7 pm, at the Buon Pastore Community Center, Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, Taloto District, Tagbilaran City.

All photos courtesy of Himo’g Huni.

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