The Return of eLf ideas

ideas of an eLven being in Canada

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Covering The Camerawalls’ "Canto de Maria Clara"

(original rearrangement by haLf man haLf eLf)

This is my band haLf man haLf eLf's performance of "Canto de Maria Clara," which took place on November 1, 2012, at Millennium Library in Downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, for the library's Skywalk Series of performance by musicians with Classical influences. In this performance, haLf man haLf eLf was comprised by Christine Mazur (acoustic guitar, violin, cello, vocals), Dave Labovich (mandolin), Janice Bamforth (cajon), and aLfie vera mella (piano, bellkit, floor tom, vocals).

The Original
"Canto de Maria Clara" ('The Song of Maria Clara') is a song by the Philippine New Wave / Indie Pop band The Camerawalls, included in their debut album, Pocket Guide to the Otherworld, released in 2008. The lyric of the song came from a Spanish-worded poem written by the Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal. The music was composed by bandleader / chief songwriter Clementine Castro of The Camerawalls. 

Here is a very beautiful live performance of The Camerawalls of their song "Canto de Maria Clara," complete with a guest rondalla group (a group of bandurria and octavina players). 

The Musical Connection

When my former band Half Life Half Death had a grand reunion concert in the Philippines last February 3, 2012, The Camerawalls was one of the bands that performed with us, along with The Gentle Isolation and Your Imaginary Friends.

I've felt a connection with the music of The Camerawalls, obviously because we work around the same music genres.

Back in Canada, through the suggestion of my current haLf man haLf eLf bandmate Chirstine Mazur, who really fell in awe of the Philippine national hero (Jose Rizal), we included The Camerawalls' song "Canto de Maria Clara" in our repertoire. As everyone should know, the lyric of the song actually came from a poem written by Rizal and the music was composed by Clementine Castro and his band The Camerawalls.

And being true to my concept of deconstructing and reconstructing a song to make it befitting our own style of music, we rearranged that Camerawalls song first before we made it a regular on our setlist. In the past, I had the penchant to cover a song to the note. Now, my goal is to be able to make the song even more complicated (instrumentally and structure-wise) to fit our brand of Baroque Pop or Classical New Wave.

"Canto de Maria Clara" originally follows a 3/4 time signature (waltz beat) all throughout, from beginning to end. To make our version musically progressive, to fit my band's musical aesthetics, I made two significant changes:

Hawaiian Strumming
First, I added as the intro a 4/4-time signature Hawaiian-ukulele style of strumming, to break the monotony of the waltz beat and to start the song in an upbeat manner, then slowing down to the main body of the song. The intro of the song "The Hurt" by the Hawaiian group Kalapana might come to mind.

Also, the lap-tapping in the intro of our version of "Canto de Maria Clara" was an impromptu element during practice that I thought of just to give our mandolin player, Dave, the count and the tempo; but it turned out to be sonically attractive (at least to my taste) so we decided to make it a permanent part of the song. Listening to it now, I realized that it recalls the intro of The Smashing Pumpkins' "1979." This was not a conscious action on my part, but the Pumpkins' being one of my favorite Alternative Rock bands, I'm sure that the influence simply came out naturally and subconsciously.

I subconsciously incorporated the intro of The Smashing Pumpkins' "1979" into the intro of our version of "Canto de Maria Clara." The song comes from the Pumpkins' third studio album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. "1979" is my third-favorite Pumpkins song; first is "Drown" (from the OST of the 1992 film Singles); and second, "Today" (from the second album, 1993's Siamese Dream.

Philippine Folk Song
Second, to make the instrumental part longer and to add more progression, I thought of inserting into it the main melody of the kundiman (Philippine folk song) "Paruparong Bukid" ('field, farm, or prarie butterfly'). This way, we are able also to give the song a Filipino flavor.

Here's a YouTube video of an instrumental version of the Philippine folk song "Paruparong  Bukid," to give those who don't know the piece an idea which melody we did use for our version of "Canto de Maria Clara." The piece befits the Spanish-worded "Canto de Maria Clara" very well because "Paruparong Bukid" itself was not originally Filipino; it was a 1939 Tagalog translation of the Spanish folk song "Mariposa bella."

"Paruparong Bukid" is a Philippine folk song made in 1939, which was actually a cover of the original Spanish folk song "Mariposa bella," composed in the 1890s.

Final Note
haLf man haLf eLf's version of "Canto de Maria Clara" depicted in the video above is still a raw version. When we finally get to record our studio version of it, the song will definitely be more beautiful and well-structured and orchestrated.

Here's the original text in Spanish of Jose Rizal's poem, "Canto de Maria Clara."

Dulces las horas en la propia patria
Donde es amigo cuanto alumbra el sol,
Vida es la brisa en sus campos vuela,
Grata la muerte y más tierno el amor!

Ardientes besos en los labios juegan,
De una madre en el seno al despertar,
Buscan los brazos a ceñir al cuello,
Y los ojos sonríense al mirar.

Dulce es la muerte por la propia patria,
Donde es amigo cuanto alumbra el sol;
Muerte es la brisa para quien no tiene
Una patria, una madre y un amor!

And to complete the musical connection, here's The Camerawalls' Clementine Castro and haLf man haLf eLf's Christine Mazur, performing the song together at 2nd Street Jazz Club in Los Angeles, California, USA, on November 9, 2012. Christine went to a one-week trip to L.A. last November to meet up with Clementine to play some gigs and work on some musical projects. Based in the Philippines, Clementine is currently in the U.S. for a vacation. He has relatives and friends there.

Christine first met Clementine in the Philippines last January; she went with me and my family on our vacation to the Philippines. Christine went back home to Canada not only with good memories and insights about the Philippines but also with new friends and musical connections. I've known Clementine way back in early 2000s when he was still a member of the Philippine New Wave band Orange and Lemons. 

Thanks to Clementine Castro of The Camerawalls for giving us the permission to cover this song of theirs.


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