I’m sure many of us by now have mixed feelings about Bisrak. On one hand, I sure everyone is happy that Cebuano is finally starting to be an acceptable language in FM (it really is absurd that it once wasn’t), and that a lot of new music is being created in Cebu. On the other hand, it’s really sad to see that what seemed to start as a really cool movement will just end up as another sexbomb girls kind of fad.
Perhaps it’s just part of the birth pangs of a new community of musicians and listeners, like the heyday of grunge in the 90’s, when the anti-mainstream music itself became mainstream… but perhaps there are things we could do to save bisrak from mutating into some junk-food joey-de-leon pop.
Here’s my two-cents worth:
Zero tolerance to crap
I don’t think that the bisrakers have the excuse of punks that they are rebelling against some commercialized, over-complex, image-heavy music industry by singing 3-chord nursery rhyme-sounding songs. If there were a lot of successful sell-out Cebuano (real) rock bands, or if everyone is doing Cebuano epic prog-rock, yes—bare-bones, nursery rhyme punk rock would be a wake-up call to a music industry which has lost its way. Yes, singing in Cebuano is a cry against the Tagalog and English dominated Philippine music industry. However, singing crap no cry against nothing; it’s just crap… which brings me to my second point…
(before I proceed, people might counter with that classic reply: “if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it; mind your own business.” This, you might have noticed, is the same mantra of pornographers: “if you don’t like it, don’t look; it’s not your business.” But the thing is, it is MY business, it is OUR business. Whether or not you and I listen to crappy bisrak, it will affect our lives and the lives of our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s grandchildren. Although crappy music and pornography are in different spheres—one moral, the other aesthetic—they both affect the world we live in, whether we listen/look at them or not. This on top of the fact that one is plain wrong and the other is plain ugly.)
Artists also have to feed their children
The only way we’ll have professional sounding bisrak is for our musicians are really professionals—ie, they can make a living out of their music. That will only happen if the rest of us support them with cold, hard cash. They also have kids to feed. It’s great that people are actually doing this without the monetary incentive, but if we really want really good music, musicians have to do their thing full time. It’s like division of labor… the rest of us non-artists will just have to make ourselves really good teachers or carpenters or doctors or call center agents or lawyers, so that we could earn some money and buy CD’s and watch concerts so that our artists can also be really good artists.
This also means that we try to get music using means which allow as much money to get to artists vs. music company executives and bootleggers. A few years ago, I promised myself never to buy pirated CDs of local artists or bootleg them from the internet. A few times I have failed, but God knows I have struggled! Soory, soory, soory! But, but, but: if I am given the choice, I’d buy a pirated CD of a famous American artist and buy a genuine one from a local one, especially CDs of indie bands. I actually asked a priest about this. He said that it is a much worse to buy pirated CDs of local artists and buy ones from foreign artist, just like it is much worse to steal 100 pesos from a beggar than to steal 100 pesos from Lucio Tan. Let’s try our best to pay for the music we listen to. I don’t think it’s really really bad to not give more money to Michael Jackson or Britney Spears, but I think it is quite an injustice to not support the starving artists we listen to…
Technology, I think, will make the middle-man (the music label or the bootlegger) obsolete. But a feasible business model an artist-to-consumer thing is, I think, still years away. But it will come.
I have the right to be taught Cebuano
The most significant, the most radical, and the most long-lasting thing we can do for Bisrak and Cebuano-language music in general is, I think, to include the Cebuano language in our schools’ curriculums. Let’s face it: Filipino music in Tagalog is much more mature than music in Cebuano. This is not only because musicians who write in Tagalog can actually make a living out of it; this is because most of them have had a really decent training in Tagalog. On the other hand, Cebuanos only learn the language of their forefathers from drinking sessions and Catholic liturgy. It is not surprising that lyrics of Cebuano songs contain words extremely vulgar or extremely pious, “giatay” and “himaya,” the profane side-by-side with the sacred. It just seems to me that not having to study MY language, while having had to study Tagalog for more than 10 years, is a bit unfair. Don’t you think so? Hey, my parents were also diligent tax payers. Why the heck have I been deprived of a serious education in my mother tongue? Tagalog song writers have been producing really good songs, from Wolfmann to Wolfgang to Up Dharma Down to the Dawn… while Cebuano songs are mostly novelty songs and crappy songs. It’s unfair! While Urbandub and SATI may be at par with the best Manilenyo bands in writing in English, they haven’t produced songs in Cebuano at par with the Tagalog songs of their counterparts in Manila. This is not because they aren’t good song writers; this is because they, who are mostly college graduates, have been deprived of education in Cebuano language and literature!