MEET: Bayang Barrios, lumad woman warrior artist for indigenous peoples

Bayang Barrios music artist
Bayang Barrios proudly carries her Manobo heritage. Credits to Bayang Barrios Villegas.

Meet Bayang Barrios, the Filipino music artist who proudly carries and passionately fights for the indigenous peoples’ heritage.

In recent weeks, the name Bayang Barrios came up when people talked about the longest-running jukebox musical “Rak of Aegis” staged by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA). At the RAK’s 7th season run which wrapped up in September, Bayang essayed the role of Kapitana Mary Jane of Barangay Venezia who belted out her convictions via the songs of the Aegis Band.

This October, Bayang returns to the spotlight as the face of Filipino indigenous musicians as she opened the month-long observation of Indigenous Peoples (IPs) Month in the Philippines with a performance at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

The story of her name is both poetic – as the Manobo tribe to which she was born into – and prophetic, as Bayang Barrios readily speaks out about the plight of the IPs.

She was given the name Junelie Barrios when she was born in Bunawan, Agusan del Sur on June 12, and one can imagine the Philippine National Anthem playing “Bayang magiliw…” – and the names fit her to this day.

Bayang grew up with the river-dwelling Manobos whom she recalls were fisherfolk, hunters, and nipa weavers. In a Kalinaw Kultura interview, she also recalls witnessing their ancestral domains taken away by newcomers who traded land rights for food, among other offerings, which resulted in the Manobos pushed to more remote areas of Agusan.

The young Bayang grew up with discrimination against her kind who are being stereotyped as uneducated and uncouth. She left her tribe and became a teacher.

Then she met Joey Ayala and became part of Ang Bagong Lumad, the iconic performing group that played indigenous musical instruments and sang the music of people’s struggles. Her songs with Joey became themes for people’s movements and the relationships that were borne out of the struggles for human rights. Their “Walang Hanggang Paalam” is a heart-rending song of sacrifice between lovers in the people’s movement who could not be together.

Bayang found herself back in the world of the lumads whom she left, and she was embraced back and found peace.

Bayang met Joey Ayala and became part of Ang Bagong Lumad. Photo is of a recent reunion performance. Credits to Bayang Barrios Villegas.

Bayang Barrios talked to Good News Pilipinas about her IP-inspired performances and passionate fight for IP rights and welfare.

Bayang clarifies that she designs her own performance clothes using inspiration from the tradition of the Manobos in Agusan. She cautions others to avoid claiming their clothes are that of a tribe even if they aren’t.

“Ang pinaka isyu lang naman ay ‘yong binabastos ang sa mga festival. Sasabihin nila from Manobo or galing sa particular na tribo tapos hindi naka base doon yong suot, ang iba pa ay sobrang malaswa naang dating kaya doon nagrereklamo ang mga IPs,” Bayang reveals.

Bayang says she feels strongly about the recent closing of lumad schools.

“Di ako sang-ayon doon kasi di na nga nakakapagbigay ng mga eskuwelahan ang gobyerno tapos itong may alternative learning ang mga IPs at isasara pa nila. Natatakot silang matuto ang mga IPs kasi marunong na itong magtanong kung bakit kukunin ang lupa at mag-assert ng kanilang karapatan sa mga ancestral domain na ginagawang mining site. Kung talagang sincere silang tulungan ang mga katutubo, mas dapat pa nga suportahan ng gobyerno ang mga ganitong projects para sa mga IPs,” Bayang declares.

“Mas mahaba-habang trabaho pa para mapakinggan, makilala at i-respeto ng kapwa Pilipino ang mga karapatan bilang Katutubo.” – Bayang Barrios

Asked for messages she wants delivered to the government, the public, and her fellow IPs, Bayang Barrios had these to say:

“Sa Gobyerno, na sana magsilbi nang buong katapatan, pagbabagong hindi panggagago. Kay Duterte, maraming tumitingala sa kanya isang utos lang gawin kaagad, sana hindi utos ng pagpatay kundi ang pag nurture sa ating bansa, pag unite at pagmamahal, pagtupad ng mga batas at hindi nila sariling batas.

Sa Publiko, ang magiging mulat at hindi sunod sunuran kung anong sabihin ito na pinaniniwalaan. Magbasa at mapagpanuri, ‘wag maniwala sa fake news. Mahalin ang sarili, mahalin ang pamilya, kapwa at higit sa lahat ang bansa.

Sa kapwa IP, mas mahaba-habang trabaho pa para mapakinggan, makilala at i- respeto ng kapwa Pilipino ang mga karapatan bilang Katutubo. ‘Wag kalimutan ang pinanggalingan at ipaglaban ito. Mga katutubo ang kaluluwa ng lupa, pahalagahan, at protektahan sana sila.”

Bayang Barrios lends her voice to the cause of IP and other human rights. Credits via Bayang Barrios Villegas.

Bayang Barrios as a solo artist has traversed many paths in the music industry, bringing her brand of music, and indigenous weave-inspired fashion, wherever there are audiences who appreciate her message.

Bayang Barrios composes her own songs and has won multiple industry awards including the Metropop Music Festival, Likhawit, Awit, Katha, Catholic Mass Media Awards, and MTV Asia. A collaboration with Gary Granada gave her an Anvil award for “Lakbayin ang Pilipinas (which became the theme of the national tourism program). Her powerful voice also won the Hanoi Music Festival.

Her more publicly-known songs include “Katribo Ko”, “Bagong Umaga”, “Malayo Man, Malapit Din (which became the theme of GMA’s Pinoy Abroad)”. Bayang was one of the 14 OPM artists led by Ryan Cayabyab who sang the “Sana Naman Taumbayan” advocacy song. Bayang’s music is carried by her own label with husband musician-producer Mike Villegas, Mayumi Records.

Bayang Barrios is a world music performer, singer, songwriter, musical theater actor. Credits to Bayang Barrios Villegas.

Bayang’s stint with Rak of Aegis is not her first foray into musical theater and acting, in fact, she played the role of “Musa” in the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ production of “Balag at Angud” in 2018. She was also in the Virgin Labfest’s “Marawi Musicale”, and acted in the tribal drama “Kauyagan” for the To Farm Film Festival. Bayang was also an original member of the cast of the musical “Lean” about the martyred University of the Philippines activist.

Bayang Barrios continues to perform solo, with her Tres Marias sisters Cooky Chua and Lolita Carbon, and with Ang Naliyagan band, in music bar gigs at the 70s Bistro and Conspiracy, in concerts, festivals, corporate and government functions, in benefit concerts and events organized by people’s organizations and civic groups.

Bayang Barrios goes on stage for the Pinoy Playlist Music Festival on October 20 at the BGC Arts Center.

WATCH this video of Katribo Ko, performed by Bayang Barrios at Ang Naliyagan and SEND well wishes for her continuing mission as a lumad woman warrior artist for indigenous peoples!

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Angie is a self-confessed reformed news critic who vows she has finally found infinite value in delivering the good news. She teaches students of all ages how to make the important interesting for audiences across media platforms.