"For the Love of Imelda," from Baby Gil with Philippine Star

I believe it would take several books or at the least one full-length musical to capture the many faceted life of former first lady and now Rep. Imelda Marcos. But the efforts of David Byrne and Fatboy Slim in the double CD release, Here Lies Love come close.

This is one remarkable feat considering that Byrne is a British artist best known for the hits of Talking Heads and his later avant garde recordings while Slim is a DJ, whose expertise is of course, in dance music, mainly electronica, while Imelda is Dahil Sa æyo. But that must be the reason why this disco opera works. They have no preconceived notions about Imelda, just what they had read. They also have no emotional connections, having never lived in the Philippines much less had any experience with the Marcoses.

Truth to tell, my initial interest in this project came about because of Charmaine Clamor. The US- based Filipino jazz artist was one of those whom Byrne picked personally to record for Here Lies Love. She sings Walk Like A Woman and she sounds great. Hers is actually one of the best cuts in the album. Good break for Charmaine because she is among big names like Cyndi Lauper, Tori Amos and Natalie Merchant in an album produced by Byrne and Slim. I thought it would be a collection of songs that we might or might not associate with Imelda. I listened to hear Charmaine and also to find out what Byrne and Slim had done with the music.

Here Lies Love turned out to be much more than that. The focus is on Imelda and Estrella Cumpas, the girl who took care of Imelda as a child. Described as a song cycle, it traces ImeldaÆs life from her childhood in Leyte to her days in Malaca±ang, the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr. and the departure of the Marcoses for exile in Hawaii. Alongside these is EstrellaÆs uneventful life whose highlight was being once close to ImeldaÆs family and who was promised that she will always be taken care of. The story says she was not.

Byrne and Slim stayed close to story and the songs are all narratives, at times too literal. The garage people in Here Lies Love by Florence Weleb or like Martha Wainwright as the young Imelda singing The Rose of Tacloban and country music star Steve Earle as Ferdinand in A Perfect Hand where his motherÆs every tear is a victory. I would have prepared something more lyrical with songs that can be lifted off the musical and appreciated in another context. But then this is about Imelda and Byrne and Slim simply worked with the facts.

I didnÆt think Byrne, extremely talented though he is, would be able to pull this one off. But he does and I can honestly include Here Lies Love among his best. The key to everything here is the music. Because Imelda loves to dance, Byrne and Slim zeroed in on æ70s disco and used the genre for their palette. The melodies and arrangements are what draw the listeners in. Then caught up in the beat they start listening to the lyrics, find them brilliant and so they stay up to the end of the tale.

I am sure a lot of Filipinos will buy copies of Here Lies Love because it is a unique look at the history of this country. They will be glad to find out that it is also great music with lots of little treats strewn around.

Like the cover photo of Imelda at her most beautiful; the rare pictures inside the sleeve; like did you know that Imelda dated Ninoy Aquino but the relationship didnÆt get far because he found her too tall? It is Byrne himself who sings the Ninoy song here Seven Years with Shara Worden as Imelda; did you know that Imelda once said that Here Lies Love is what she wants written on her tombstone?

Among the songs included are: Every Drop Of Rain by Candie Payne and St. Vincent as Imelda and Estrella Cumpas; YouÆll Be Taken Care Of by Tori Amos as Remedios Trinidad y de Guzman Romualdez, ImeldaÆs mother; How Are You? by Nellie McKay as Estrella; Eleven Days by Cyndi Lauper as Imelda; When She Passed By by Allison Moorer as Estrella; DonÆt You Agree by Roisin Murphy as Imelda; Pretty Face by Camille as Imelda; Ladies In Blue by Theresa Andersson as one of ImeldaÆs Blue Ladies and Why DonÆt You Love Me? by Cyndi Lauper as Imelda and Tori Amos as Estrella.

So listen, find out more, remember the era and enjoy the music.

by Baby Gil, for Philippine Star, AUGUST 30, 2010