To describe “Rebulto” as a triumphant return to form for Dong Abay is a gross understatement.
Lyrically, the album that serves as a modern-day mouthpiece for Jose Rizal finds Dong’s unique musical genius still working in overdrive.
Musically, it’s a progressive shift in direction as the 41-year-old singer-songwriter, once described as The Last Angry Young Man of Pinoy Rock, introduces a new synthesizer-heavy sound with obvious new wave influences – a marked departure from his punk-influenced brand of rock.
“Nagsimula ang ‘Rebulto’ nung naimbita ako ng Dulaang UP na gumawa ng kanta para sa play nilang ‘Rizal X’. Gumawa ako ng tatlong kanta, ginamit nila yung dalawa. Tapos nanganak na nang nanganak,” he recalled during the album launch held Thursday at Cubao X.
“Syempre malikot ang imagination ko so ang concept ko dun, ano kaya gawan ko ng kwento yung rebulto ni Jose Rizal at isang gabi, gumalaw siya at kumanta tapos tumigas ulit?”
Dong said “Rebulto”, which he calls his own gift to Rizal, his favorite Filipino writer, is basically how he thinks Rizal would react if his monument suddenly came alive today.
“Mahal ko si Jose Rizal. Gusto ko ang mga ideya niya. Mga sinulat niya eh yung mga ideyang Pilipino na kailangan pa rin natin sa panahon na ito,” he pointed out. “Kung hindi rin dahil sa kanya, hindi rin ako ganito mag-isip. Gusto kong ipakita sa kanya na isa akong Pilipino na hinahangaan siya kasi malaki ang nagawa niya sa tao.”
With a blistering set that introduced all seven tracks from ‘Rebulto’ as well as old favorites from Yano’s sensational debut release and his last solo album, “Filipino”, Dong turned in a thunderous performance backed up by the members of Sandwich, The Dawn’s Buddy Zabala and Rivermaya’s Mark Escueta in a brief cameo.
Prior to and even during Dong’s set, a video of him talking about the album and explaining what the songs are about was also played.
Starting his set with the bouncy strains of “Kilometro Zero”, Dong describes it as his “creative, non-fiction song” which is basically a fact sheet of Rizal’s Luneta monument including coordinates, type of materials, significant dates that led to its construction.
“Kinuha ko lang ang facts ko sa Wikipedia so hindi ko na in-acknowledge kasi Wikipedia wala namang author eh,” he admitted, smiling. “Yung term na Kilometro Zero, siya mismo yung marka sa rebulto ni Rizal. Dun tayo magsisimula sa Kilometro Zero.”
Dong said the song “Rizal Day” was actually a poem by Amado V. Hernandez written way back during the American Occupation. “Sa panahon ngayon, totoo pa rin ang sinasabi ni Ka Amado nung panahon ng mga Amerikano,” he stressed.
The commercialization of Rizal’s image, which for Dong is not necessarily a bad thing, is tackled in “Anonymous”.
“Sa akin ang punto ko dito is kilalang-kilala natin si Rizal without mentioning his name. Gustong kong sabihin sa tao na he is our best hero at nagamit siya sa lahat, meron siyang theater, kalye, probinsya,schools, courses at ginamit din siyang brand ng sigarilyo nung panahon ng Amerikano.
“Pero ang title ng kanta ‘Anonymous’ so parang punto ko lang yun sa fellow Filipino ko so sino siya, sino sya? I’m not lambasting him, it’s just a fun song for me.”
“Kikilos,” with its playful backbeat, is what Dong describes as the album’s “magic moment”.
“Ito na yung gumalaw siya. Imagine mo ang isang rebulto na gumalaw. Magandang kanta ito para malaman mo kung ano yung reaction niya sa kasalukuyan pagkatapos ng hindi pagkilos mula ng binaril siya nung 1896,” he said. “Dito rin yung naghubad na siya ng overcoat at sinabi nyang, ‘Ang init init kaya sa Pilipinas!’ Magtataka ka nga kung bakit naka-overcoat sya sa rebulto niya eh sa Europe lang niya sinuout yun dahil malamig ang klima dun.”
Dong qualified that this is just how he sees Rizal but also conceded that the hero may have also been predisposed to vanity as he carries himself with a certain degree of style.
“Nakita mo naman nung binaril siya maporma pa rin, pusturang-pustura pero para sa akin pinapakita ko lang sa kanta na si Rizal eh Pilipinong-Pilipino pa rin at hindi kailangang magsuot ng overcoat dahil ang init-init naman sa Pilipinas. Dapat nga, naka-shorts at sando lang siya,” he suggested.
Other songs in the album are the single “Par Que”, “Bagumbayan” and the concluding track “Titigas”, which finds Rizal reverting back to his granite form.
If the daily posts on his Facebook page are any indication, Dong is no longer the rebel that he once was when he first entered our consciousness with the in-your-face anti-establishment anthems he wrote for Yano. He is now largely a family man who proudly declares how well his only son, Awit, is doing in school.
Thankfully, the biting wit and telling commentary that characterize his trademark lyrics are still very much intact in “Rebulto”. The bald and bearded musician nonetheless still cuts an imposing figure with his heavily tattooed frame, which recalls Edward Norton in “American History X”.
Onstage, he still has that menacing look in his eyes when he performs. But he also relates well to the audience with smiles and often humorous spiels, a sweet counterpoint to the intensity he brings to every number.
“Ang album ko, P200 lang. Ang pirated, P50. Huwag kayong bibili ng pirated. Kaibigan ko si Ronnie Ricketts,” he declared in reference to the Optical Media Board chairman who conducts raids of stores selling pirated items.
He is still not above making headlines for causes he believe in, such as when he tied himself to a tree in Baguio City during Earth Day last April. And he continues to address people’s problems not only through his songs but also on his blog.
Only time will tell whether or not the songs in “Rebulto” will resonate as loudly as the well-received classics (“Mateo Singko, “Perpekto,” “Esem,” “Tsinelas” and of course, “Banal Na Aso, Santong Kabayo”) that comprised his encore numbers in his Cubao X concert that lasted all the way past midnight.
Not that it would probably matter much to Dong Abay. From the looks of things, he already sounded pleased with the gift he had created for his and our national hero.
Nobody knows for sure how Jose Rizal would react if he were still around, but we could venture an educated guess that he would most likely give Dong a high five and “Rebulto” his two thumbs up.