A voice strong and steady
From 1988 to 1994, Philippines bore witness to the uncovering of a rough gem, unearthed straight from the portals of mother earth. That gem was an untrained, raw voice that filled the halls of the country’s peripheral music scene, carrying the profound lyrics and musical notes of Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad further into dizzying heights.
That voice was Bayang Barrios.
Bagong Lumad literally means “new native” but Ayala prefers the phrase “altered native,” which perfectly encapsulates Ayala’s entire world perspective breathed into life by his music, his lyrics, and Bagong Lumad’s performance persona. But unlike Joey and the rest of Bagong Lumad, Bayang has confirmed—probably untainted by colonial blood—indigenous blood coursing through her musical veins. This fact, second only to her voice, made her an instant hit among audience and the press alike. For who would have imagined a spritely Manobo (indigenous tribe in Agusan, Mindanao) young woman from God-knows-where would send shivers down everyone’s spine and stun the entire country with her gripping, husky soprano?
But “altered native” Bayang was. Born Junelie Otero Barrios on June 12, 1968, Bayang grew up within a strong Catholic background, and in social environments that scorned indigenous peoples. She grew to be ashamed of her own culture until being part of Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad led the path to her own cultural (and political) enlightenment.
By 1993, Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad was a household name, and Bayang Barrios became part of a musical phenomenon that was to define a large part of Philippines’ peripheral musical future for more than a decade. The group became THE alternative to the mainstream music industry that actually made it to the mainstream.
In 1996, Bayang went solo, and with the help of husband Mike Villegas—also a composer and award-winning guitarist—produced under major label Universal Records her debut album, Bayang Makulay. And while the album never made headway in the commercial scene it won several prestigious music awards in 1997, including: the Lorenzo Ruiz Award for Music from the Catholic Mass Media Award, Katha Awards Best Folk Vocal Performance and Best Folk Song for "Saan Nanggagaling ang Himig," Katha Awards Best Folk Arrangement for "Alay sa mga Kapatid, and Katha Awards Best Folk Album for Bayang Makulay.
Not content with the local awards at such an early stage in her solo career, Bayang went international, representing the country in the Asian Vocalist Festival of the 1996 Hanoi Music Festival held in Vietnam, and came home with the prized Golden Award.
That same year, her song “Bagong Umaga,” a collaborative undertaking with Mike (who wrote the music), was one of the 12 finalists in the 1996 Metropop Song Festival. The song also took home the plum for the 1997 Katha Awards Best World Music Song.
Soon, Bayang was blessed with a deluge of awards and recognitions: the 1998 Anvil Awards for the interpretation of songwriter Gary Granada’s “Lakbayin ang Pilipinas” (1998); finalist in Himig Handog Para sa Bayaning Pilipino (2000); Katha nominee for world music song "Ngansiba" from her second album Harinawa (2002); MTV Choice of Women Achievers (2003); Awit Awards Nominee for Best Alternative Song for “Malayo Man, Malapit Din”; and Nominee to the Forum of New Global Leaders (Music Category) in 2004.
Bayang also featured in several music albums including Himig Handog para sa Mga Bayani (Star Records, 2000); Mabuhay Ka Pilipino, the official centennial album (1998); and Isang Daang Taon (Universal Records, 1997).
Within ten years of going solo, Bayang’s powerful voice could be heard in popular television ads, including GMA-TV’s celebrated fantasy television series Encantadia.
Working hand-in-hand with Mike, Bayang released two more independently-produced albums entitled Harinawa (2001)—co-produced with Sammy Asuncion, Bob Aves, and Billy Bonnevie, and Alon (2004), which, according to critics, is Bayang’s most mature and exciting work yet.
Still unable to break through mainstream radio, Bayang managed to become a famous sidelight—rare among alternative artists—as she gained primetime nationwide TV coverage with appearances in huge television networks such as ABS-CBN, GMA-TV, and ABC5.
In 2004, GMA-TV’s Eye Witness documentary entitled “Pinoy Jam” and “Bayang Bayang Musikahan” featured extensively Bayang’s journey from Manila to Mindanao to visit her artist friends and reconnect with her indigenous roots.
Bayang leapt into stardom when she won the grand prize in the 2004 Metropop Song Festival for her song “Malayo Man, Malapit Din”. The entire country watched with joy as Bayang jumped up and down in jubilation when she received one of her most important achievements.
Not only did Bayang make a distinctive mark in the music industry—she was also a favorite in the theater industry, taking on lead roles in major original musicals across the country. Her theater performances include: Hudhud of Dinulawan and Bugan at Gonhadan (CCP’s Tanghalang Pilipino, 2004); Panaw (Mebuyan Peace Project, 2003-2004)—entry to the Asian Women Directors’ Festival and Conference in India and the Asia-Pacific Conference of Women in the Arts in Manila; Pitong Ritwal (Asian Council for Peoples Culture-Theatre for the Environment Network, 2000-2001), which toured the country, Belgium and the Netherlands; The Moonlit Night, a Japanese play that toured key cities in Indonesia and Japan (1997-1999); and Lean, the Musicale (1997).
Peace, environment and social work
Perhaps Bayang’s greatest contribution as a music artist is her unfaltering dedication to peace, environment and social causes.
Her songs protect the environment, invoke wisdom, praise hard work and diligence, celebrate motherhood, encourage forgiveness, uphold openmindedness, call for world peace, exalt love, and respect cultural diversity.
Concerts-for-a-cause are never complete without Bayang’s appearance. She is the perennial suki (favorite “customer”) of non-government organizations (NGOs) and artists coming together for peace advocacy. These include: the launching of the Federalism Movement; Kulturang Kalye (Street Culture); various International Women’s Day Celebration; Konsyerto para sa Kalikasan (Concert for the Environment); the launching of Mothers for Peace; Alay sa mga Nanay (for the Mothers); Bantay Kalikasan (Guarding the Environment); innumerable Concerts for Peace; and still innumerable NGO conferences nationwide.
She also guested in several cause-oriented concerts organized by media producers including ABS-CBN's Laya Concert for the People Power Anniversary; Boto para sa Kinabukasan (ABS-CBN); a concert for Tabang Mindanao sponsored by Probe Team; Bantay Bata (ABS-CBN). In 2003, she guested in Channel 23 at Tina Monzon Palma’s "Artista para sa Kapayapaan".
This site contains a yet un-updated and incomplete long list of her achievements and involvements. At 40 years old, there is no stopping Bayang from stretching that list further into old age—at least not while she can still sing. The birth of daughter Mayoomi in 2006—a remarkable feat at her age—inspired her to work harder, accomplish more.
Nearly 20 years since she made a leap of faith with Joey Ayala at ang Bagong Lumad, and more than a decade since she made yet another leap of faith as a solo artist, Bayang’s voice still fills the halls of the country’s peripheral music scene, sweetly spilling over into mainstream musical territory as fine mists of cool water—strong and steady, long and lasting, holding her own amid quick changes in music trends.
The pretty apartment in Quezon City where she now stays with her family, happy family photos on the refrigerator door, a collection of angels and candles, and an array of art works and celebrity-type photos against beige walls which she helped paint are testaments to a long triumphant journey from the hills of Agusan where she often walked barefoot as a child—unable to buy slippers. And her wornout guitar and husband Mike have been the friends that accompanied her voice through the long, tireless journey.