Like a breath of fresh air, new bands are emerging proudly Cebuano. Fresh and exciting. Bands like Missing Filemon, Smooth Friction, Scrambled Eggs, and leading the pack, Junior Kilat, now conquering the nation with an explosive first single titled “M-16” off a smashing debut album, currently blowing everyone away in rapid fire. Bisaya never sounded as hip before.
With these bands’ success, a good question for other local bands is why not write more songs in the local vernacular. Most Cebuano bands, ours included, are western influenced. Many in fact write songs exclusively in English.
Does that make us less Cebuano? Less nationalistic perhaps? Have we turned our backs on our cultural identity and roots? Debatable but probably yes. So what?
Firstly, why should we write Cebuano lyrics when we simply can’t? The language of instruction in our schools is English. All the while, we are taught that the national language is Pilipino now recently renamed Filipino, actually Tagalog, for all I care. Nothing is taught about the Cebuano language, literature, or culture. Well maybe some history. Lapu-lapu killing Magellan wearing only a bahag. Some history. So since our schools don’t teach us the spoken Cebuano, how are we expected to master it? On our own by listening to local ‘dramas’ on AM radio? Since our schools don’t teach us Cebuano grammar, how are we expected to study it? By reading cheap local tabloids?
How can we be expected to embrace, much less promote Cebuano culture when in the first place, we have trouble identifying it? Do we blame our schools? Maybe, but I wish not to dwell on that. We all know our educational system has more ills than sidewalk vendors selling poisoned cassava cakes.
In spite of these, I still sense that most local bands do want to promote the Cebuano identity albeit in their own ways. But more than that, they want to be honest. For many local bands, to actually perform songs in Cebuano doesn’t make them feel proud. It makes them feel awkward. For many, to sing in Cebuano is not a choice to make. It is a challenge to avoid.
Plus it doesn’t help that the only Cebuano songs the average Cebuano can sing to is Matud nila and Max Surban’s novelty songs, so if it isn’t classic, it’s comic.
Try writing a love song in bisaya and sing it with a modern guitar riff. Instead of the line “love will prevail”, try singing it as “ang gugma mupatigbabaw”. Hardly easy singing, I tell you and hardly easy on the ears. Sing that line out loud and tell me honestly that you aren’t stifling a laugh.
But some bands like my examples earlier do thrive on the nuances of the Cebuano tongue, sometimes referred to as the French of Philippine dialects. Cebuano does have a delicious lilt that lends well to balaks or romantic odes.
Still, even then, English is the preferred medium locally. It is, after all, the emerging global language, the language that is now spoken by more and more non-native speakers worldwide. In this age of globalization then, shouldn’t our music also reflect this trend?
In conclusion, let me proffer that singing in English doesn’t make you more American any more than singing in Cebuano makes you more Bisaya. It would be a pointless exercise then to debate which language is more appropriate in which to write one’s music. In the end, let us remember that music in itself is the language.