One could take a cursory listen to Malaya (meaning ‘free’) and quickly conclude that it is a song about a break-up. It is easy to see why; Kitchie Nadal reserves the most solemn section of the song for the following lines:
Malaya ka na sa aking piling
Magmahal nang walang
Malayang-malaya ka na
The Tagalog of the first line is ambiguous. It could be interpreted either as “You are free from me,” which indeed sounds like a romantic letting go of a dying relationship, or it could be interpreted much-differently as “You are free with me.” The freedom referred to in this latter sense is not simply a lack of restrictions, but moreover a transcendent type of liberty that is made possible by something great—perhaps sacrificial love, or Providence itself.
Regardless of which interpretation is taken, the rest of the lines can be readily translated with greater certainty:
You are now truly free
Yet, if one listens intently, and looks further into the story of the musician herself, then there would be no doubt left as to what this powerful piece of music really means.
Let us rewind a bit to the mid-2000s, when Kitchie Nadal still had a prominent place in the popular Filipino consciousness. With her “haunting” voice, she launched a promising career with the then-radiowaves staple “Huwag na Huwag Mong Sasabihin” (Do Not Dare Tell). Among other hits, including “Run”, “Bulong” (Whisper), and “Same Ground”, she was also able to corner a contract for a TV show theme (“Majika”).
A few years passed, and this star who at one point was called a queen of pop, slipped out of the public view. The last time she was talked about was in early 2015, when she famously got married in a ready-to-wear dress which she nonchalantly bought off a department store. (Inquirer Entertainment: “Kitchie Nadal dons P799 RTW gown in autumn-themed wedding”) As is the case with many fading stars, many people probably assumed that she simply failed to sustain her popularity with the finicky Filipino entertainment market.
Many people probably had it wrong. Kitchie did not simply fail to put out hit after sellable hit—more likely, it was just not her priority. As narrated in a video that claims to be a preview for a full documentary (that shares the same title as the song; YouTube: “Kitchie Nadal Malaya trailer”), during the height of Kitchie’s popularity, she found herself wanting more, trying to make fuller use of her talents. It is in fact a familiar story; and, like in the better versions of these familiar tales, Kitchie in the end found fulfilment in serving others.
It sounds too good to be true, that a promising pop princess would let go of her lucrative and comfortable future so that she could empower disadvantaged children, through music but without the glamour. And it is possible indeed, that we do not really know how she lives her life, that all this is just a PR stunt, that her epiphany and passion are just a fiction.
But that would be exceedingly skeptical and unfair, and irrelevant to the simple point we are trying to make—that Malaya is not a song about personal heartbreaks, but rather a story about addressing a much more tragic heartbreak, that of seeing less-privileged children go astray.
Hence, Kitchie sings:
Lumikha ng tunog na mapapasunod
Mga ligaw na mga bata
Bigyan ng pag-asa
‘Di mo maiwasan sumabay sa agos
Ng kahirapan at pagdurusa
Nalulunod na sa luha
Humingi ng tulong
Dahil dito lamang ako ay
…Sapat na ang mga oras
Na nakakapit sa patalim
…Manalig ka at maniwala ka
Sa aking kaharian
Make a sound and lead
Grant them hope
You can’t help but be borne away
By difficulty [poverty] and suffering
Drowning in tears
Do not hesitate
To ask for help
Because I am just here
…Enough time has been spent
In suffering to make ends meet
…Have faith and trust
In my kingdom
And when Kitchie soars, “Malaya ka na sa aking piling…,” we know that she is not bidding a romance good-bye, but she is singing about a different passion, about liberating the less-fortunate and setting them off on a destiny towards something great.
It would be very unfair not to note that Malaya is more than just Kitchie’s work. It is the title track of her 2013 album under 12 Stone Records. Based on the credits written there, Malaya (the track) was produced and arranged by Jie Song Zhang and Ed Unay. Music was a collaboration between Kitchie and the Stone Forest Ensemble (which has members hailing from China, Sri Lanka, U.S., and Russia). While the Tagalog lines are Kitchie’s, the song’s English lyrics are by Jie Song Zhang.
Malaya (the album) also contains a version of the track with different accompaniment and an edgier vocal performance from Kitchie.
Note: translations into English for the song’s lyrics, as well as song and album titles, are the work of the author. It goes without saying that translations can only go so far in reproducing the wit and spirit of the original words.