Whatever happens for the next four months, I already know what my favorite music video of the year is. I’ve watched it probably between 250-300 times, almost daring its durability, only to find myself still amazed every single time. It’s everything I love about music. It’s Cathy Go’s performance video for “Alon”.
Nothing about it is ostensibly mind-blowing: a stripped-down acoustic affair, set up at a recording studio, a bunch of unhip dudes playing instruments, and a girl with a powerful voice at the mic. Yet, every bit of its simplicity only manages to underscore its rich beauty.
The first thing you notice is that Cathy Go doesn’t sing the words to the song so much as she lets them spill out of her body. The urgency and desperation in the lyrics become almost palpable, her body twitches and convulses as if it could no longer bear the sheer enormity of the music. In fact, there is something remarkably physical about her voice – the way it fills the ear, the way its brassy texture subtly mimics the sound of the motor when she sings “TRAY-SEEKEL”, the way it sends ripples to the chest.
Across the room sits Mike Villegas, enjoying the rapturous tremors. Along with Angelo Villegas (bass) and Michael Alba (k-hon), he drinks in every note and every strum. Theirs is the picture of pure, unspeakable joy – every chord jump producing such ecstatic thrills that all they can really do is grin as if they’ve entered a place where music is the only truth.
“Alon”, of course, is the creation of Mike Villegas, performed originally by his wife and Pinoy music icon Bayang Barrios. But Go was born to sing this song. Her vocal bursts dovetail with the song’s melodic inflections that rock the soul like comforting waves. They are familiar flourishes I’ve heard before from Villegas, in the Rizal Underground classic
“Bilanggo” – a song that latched itself to my consciousness two decades ago and has never left since. “Bilanggo” remains my personal soundtrack for wounded, festering obsession. As with any piece of high art, Villegas’ song lends a heartbreaking beauty to an irredeemably ugly feeling. His cries come in undulating swoons because the pangs of love never occur in a waning trajectory – they dip and jump; tease and torture. For Villegas, the pain is sharp and permanent: “Patay-sindi sa init at lamig, maging ang patalim madadaig. Galos sa dibdib, tato ng ‘yong mukha sa balat.” The grace of his chord progressions subvert the blunt rhythms of the heart that when he sings “hindi pa rin matutong sumabay ang damdamin ko, kahit na ganito katamlay” in a lovely, jagged pulse, it is as if he’s trying to conquer the elusive movements of love.
In “Alon”, the chase continues: “Tricycle, bilisan mo ang harurot, baka di ako umabot at maiwan niya ako.” Villegas, who has receded into the background after penning one of the most iconic songs of the Pinoy Alternative golden age, still grapples with time and love. “Ba’t sumasayaw ang alon ng pag-ibig?”, he asks, as only someone who is perennially left behind can. But the song is brimming with the exuberance of someone who has found peace in missing the boat. There is an undeniable joy to “Alon” that Cathy Go clearly sees and she sings it with such privileged passion, vicarious yet owned.
I’ve always found Mike Villegas’ seeming career reluctance frustrating. Everyone familiar with his work knows he is a genius, perhaps at par with the Dong Abays and Ely Buendias of the industry. Yet, he seems perfectly fine operating from the periphery – as songwriter for his wife, sessionista for the likes of Aiza Seguerra, and discoverer of talents such as Cathy Go. Watching this “Alon” video, however, it is clear that he doesn’t share this frustration. He is doing what he loves to do. He keeps exploring the same themes and asking the same questions, only now he uses other people’s voices, perhaps content with listening to the echoes of his cries from a distance. And all he can do is smile giddily.