The Real True Meaning of ‘Gaheto’ in Eraserheads’ “Harana” 

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Back in 1997, Eraserheads released an EP, a taste test for their then upcoming fifth studio album. They called it Bananatype. And put a monkey on its cover. At the time, local bands/artists don’t usually release EPs or maxi-singles. Which explains why Ely Buendia had to explain what is an EP and why, during their TV appearances. Not all of their fans were familiar with the format. Heck, they even provided an explanation for it on the album’s liner notes. And so Bananatype was a one-off thing for Eheads. It was a limited edition, a collectors item, printed in limited numbers of CDs and cassettes. The EP contains a lead single, a hit commercial jingle, and the rarest of rarities. 

Releasing in EP (extended play) format wasn’t a common practice then, but there were also other EPs and maxi-singles released around the time. Of course, there’s the Fruitcake (1996) maxi-single, which contains a (slightly) different version of “Fruitcake” and a rare live track, “Christmas Alphabet.” There’s also Wolfgang’s Weighless (1996) promo single, back with a non-album track (“Roadworthy Man”) and came in five different album covers featuring ‘monsterized’ faces of each band member.

Then, there’s Grin Department’s 1996 EP titled Pre’ Pare (Reydi) on cassettes and Apunten (Eym) on CDs, containing three new songs taken from their then upcoming album Fuego! Unlike the other EPs/singles, the songs in Bananatype are exclusive to the EP. That is, Bananatype is truly a collectors item and probably, the first of its kind in the local music scene (Eggboy’s self-released Taste Test EP would come out a year later).

“Harana”, the lead track off the album was a huge hit and maybe, the last Eheads song to dominate the airplay on major radio stations and hang on the countdowns for months or weeks. After their ambitious and critically criticized fourth album (Fruitcake), “Harana” sounded like a return to their radio-friendlier days. That it sounds somewhat closer to “Ligaya” and “Toyang” than to any song off their last two albums, was probably one of the reasons it was a bigger radio hit than either “Fruitcake” or “Kaliwete.” It was also catchier than both “Huwag Mo Nang Itanong” and “Torpedo.”

Like the two aforementioned songs from Ultra, “Harana” is also a song about love. You could say it’s a love song though hardly a romantic one. Like in the t-shirt parading, thesis-making, dorm room serenading “Ligaya”, the lyrics are pretty straightforward (Wag nang malumbay/Ang pag-ibig ko ay tunay), with lines that calls to mind old kundiman songs by Larry Miranda (Tumutunog ang kampana/Halika na sa dambana). The singer/narrator’s intent is pretty clear, there are no hidden meanings — except for a tiny lyrical detail that has bothered curious and eagle-eyed fans ever since. WHAT THE FUCK IS GAHETO

Whether intentional or not, Eraserheads’ songs are seldom devoid of ‘easter eggs.’ In their most popular songs, there’s always something in the lyrics that makes fans curious, makes them ask questions. Like the bridge in “Toyang”, where some of the lines are written in Ilokano. Or the dirty version of “Pare Ko” with the word ‘nabuburat’, which could actually mean different thing if we take the meaning of the word ‘burat’ in the language Buendia grew up with (Central Bikol aka Bikol Naga). In Naga, ‘burat’ means drunk, and ‘naburat’ means got drunk, ‘nalasing’, which nicely connects it to ‘maboteng usapan’ mentioned earlier in the song. Then, there are questions like, what magazine or type of magazine was the narrator reading in “Magasin.” Or how could one get hit by a car in an eskinita? Also, was it ‘makinis mong bra, so?’ or ‘makinis mong braso’? Okay, I made up the last one. 

I don’t know who among the four came up with the word ‘gaheto’ but it is most likely that the word became a catch-phrase within the group, during their gigs, inside and outside the studio. Just like the incorrect use of ‘natin’ became a catch-phrase during their US tours and eventually became the title of their then next album (Natin99). It sure is a made up word. Well, words wouldn’t be words if they weren’t made up in the first place. 

Kung ako ang papipiliin
Ay nag -Amsterdam na ako
Wag mo lang akong pipilitin
Na wag gumamit ng gaheto

So, ‘gaheto’ is a Tagalog word for gadget. But what kind of gadget? I read some misguided notions here and here. Someone suggested that maybe, Buendia was referring to a gadget used for smoking weed, like a bong or something and that “Amsterdam” was a code for “weed”, since the city is known for cafes that offer hash brownies and such. But, is weed the only thing Amsterdam is famous for? How about strip clubs? And at broad daylight?

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Disclaimer: This is not in Amsterdam.

Okay, I can’t really blame these guys if they think gaheto is this or that. People think differently, see things differently. There are those who look for (non-existent) hidden meanings beneath the words and read (the spaces) between the lines just because. That’s what makes Unique’s fans so unique, actually. Ditto with the IV of Spades crowd. There are those who overreach with their song meanings, and there are those who sleep on their job—in the middle of crisis, calamity, pandemic, and have blood on their hands. Motherfuckers.

Once again, we find fans who are obsessed with songs’ meanings or in this case, fans who are curious about the meaning of a certain word in a song. And I think it’s worth repeating what Hardly Worth Explaining said about this. By the way, Hardly Worth Explaining is a blog dedicated to explaining stuff that are hardly worth explaining, like, say, why do humans make funny faces during orgasm. Here’s what HWE said: 

“some people need structure to their song lyrics. They need to understand exactly what the singer is talking about, or at least catch a whiff of relatability that helps them forge a connection with the band, so as to maybe – maybe – set themselves free from their struggles and find the strength to help heal this broken world that only the power of music can supply.”

Not gonna lie. I as well didn’t know what gaheto means until maybe ten years ago. And since I can’t live in a world where there are Eraserheads fans who don’t know the real true meaning of the word, I’ll go out of my way and be the good Samaritan in the story. Even though I’m not rich. Because the Samaritan, in the story, spent a lot of money to take care of that guy. And people were actually kind of racist to the Samaritan guy? Okay, I don’t want to be the Samaritan anymore, but I’m still going to tell you what gaheto is.

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First off, the song is a parody of the traditional harana. Like in a harana, the narrator sings not only about his love but also about himself. However, in the song, it was implied in the chorus that he does quite have a reputation (Sabihin man ng ‘yung nanay na/Wala akong silbi sa buhay). And so, to convince the lady that he deserves her love or attention, he has to brag about himself in the verses, that he can be someone else (a politician) if he wishes to or somewhere else (in Amsterdam) if he chooses to—but with conditions. Where does gaheto figure in all of this? Wait, we’ll get into that. 

Secondly, Amsterdam isn’t a code for anything. It simply means Amsterdam, the place, the city. And ‘nag-Amsterdam’ means to live or work or play in Amsterdam. ‘Nag-Amsterdam’ should be read in the same sense as ‘nag-Japan’, ‘nag-Australia’, ‘nag-abroad.’ And this is where Buendia gets self-referential. Actually, he meant playing in Amsterdam, as in playing in a band, in Amsterdam. It’s like saying ‘nag-Japan kami’, which they did or ‘nag-US kami’, which they also did. 

And gaheto? We’d usually call them effect pedals, or whatever extra gadget they use with their guitars and drums. But the Eraseheads being Eraserheads, they called them gaheto. And based on Pillbox No. 3, it seems that there was a time when they got obsessed with their gaheto set-ups that someone (maybe it was Ely) had drawn the pedalboard setup of each member of the band. Sure, Ely Buendia could have played in Amsterdam if he wanted to, just don’t ask him to refrain from using his gaheto

gaheto
Ely’s gaheto set-up from Pillbox No. 3.

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