The musicality of Cebuanos

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

I was entering the foyer of the Cebu Country Club last week when I heard a loud singing in the ballroom. I went to the side entrance and saw a young man singing to an empty room. He was rehearsing to sing in an event later, and he sang so well with a good, strong voice he could have been one of the many professional Filipino singers. A few months back, when my grandchildren from the US and Manila were in Cebu, they were all agog about their cousin “Shoti” who has millions of followers in Youtube/Tiktok/Facebook for his song compositions that he sings, which are interspersed with Cebuano words. They had pictures/videos with him and wanted him to greet their friends and classmates online, as all their classmates and friends have been asking them if they were related to “Shoti”.

The musicality of Filipinos is well known. The talent of Lea Salonga and all the Filipinos in Broadway and West End shows are proof. Olivia Rodrigo’s hitting the top music charts and Jed Madela’s winning in international singing contests are more confirmation. Jose Mari Chan’s composition and songs, especially Christmas songs are classics to Filipinos all over the world. From Cebu, aside from Madela, Pilita Corrales is an icon and Jun Polistico reached Asian popularity. Anecdotal evidence shows that Cebuanos have more musicality.

In a Dionne Warwick show in Manila and in Cebu, Warwick was impressed that in the sing-a-long portion of the show, the Cebuanos knew the tunes and lyrics of all of her songs, but not the Manila audience. During talent nights in cruise ships, Filipinos were almost banned for always winning, the Cebuano singers have dominated the singing contests. There is however, an equal percentage/proportion of Cebuano casualties in the karaoke fights in/over the singing of Sinatra’s “My Way”.

I have seen/heard years before a Filipino choir sing acapella the Cebuano ditty, “Rosas Pandan” and an Asian choir singing with accompaniment. It was intriguing to see/hear non-Filipino singing in Cebuano dialect. Recently, I saw on video an Eastern European choir sing the same “Rosas Pandan” in flawless Cebuano. When I googled it, not only did I get the lyrics of the song , it is reported that Rosas Pandan is one of the favorite and most-sung composition/arrangement by choirs/choral groups all over the world. The Americans, Russians, Koreans, Austrians, Spaniards, Chinese, and choirs from many countries have sung the song with perfect pronunciations and intonations. Why this song/composition/arrangement has captured choral groups in four continents is due to the range of the voices that lets vocal fireworks from all sections of the choir, the tempo and cadence of the tune and the unusual lyrics. Only in Cebuano are the lyrics ayay, ayayay, tigadong, and tikadong.

“Rosas Pandan” is an original composition by Cebuano Minggoy Lopez with lyrics by also Cebuano Piux Cabajar. There is a Tagalog version by Levi Celerio which does not have the oomph of the Cebuano lyrics. It was the musical arrangement of a UP Music professor, George Hernandez, that popularized the song worldwide among choral groups. There are other Cebuano songs that have Tagalog and English versions like the Christmas song, “Kasadya Ning Taknaa”, or “Usahay”, but they have not reached the stature of “Rosas Pandan”.

Cebuano musicality is a mixture of Asian, Spanish and Chinese influences. There are more Spanish words in the Cebuano dialect than in Tagalog. The lament in Cebuano ballads comes from the centuries of subjugation/colonization which are also in Chinese ballads. The upbeat tune of “Rosas Pandan” is a coming of age rediscovery of identity and assertiveness after defeating tyranny and gaining independence. The song was composed in the 1950’s when zarzuelas were staged, but only became popular in 1973. In this age of information and communication technologies, “Rosas Pandan” could only get better and more popular. So I am waiting for the Artificial Intelligence (AI) version of this song.

The opposite of AI is Natural Stupidity which is also just as scary, particularly if it inflicts persons in government and in power.

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