The development of Bisrock is not simply a result of the bisrockers’ opportunistic maximization of the popular Cebuano media. Surely, the pop media helped a lot in the spread of bisrock songs but there is more to this than meets the eye (or ear, I suppose).
For one, the Cebuano music scene has always presented a counterpoint to the mainstream Manila’s TV-oriented music industry. While Manila was wooed by Victor Wood, Yoyoy Villame and Max Surban had been regulars on the Cebuano radio airwaves. Their music rendered the ordinary insanity of everyday life into a stream of comedic interludes. Yoyoy’s buchikek song, for example, was said to be just a collection of all the Chinese store names in his neighborhood. It was neither Mandarin nor Cantonese, it was simply Yoyoy. Their regular attendance in amateur hour contests (as hosts or as performers) also helped a lot in anchoring their music into the Cebuanos’ psyche.
The age of the radio ushered in the amateur hour contests all over Visayas. I think this is critical because public performances before (like the linambay, moromoro, Via Crucis, etc.) were inundated with religious deference. The amateur hour contests, on the other hand, were purely secular (save that this almost always happens when fiestas were approaching). At the center of the amateur hour universe lies the emcee, a charismatic personality who is both witty and nasty (i saw once how an amateur hour champion left in a huff because the public were roaring with laughter at his bald pate’s expense).
I believe that Yoyoy and Max Surban’s wit and humor is almost a mirror reflection of the amateur hour emcee’s persona. If I remember well (during the time when an amateur hour winner was an “in” thing), the emcee is there not merely to present but to entertain–e.g., a singer is a comedian at the same time; sort of a humorous renaissance man with a mike. Not a few popular emcees of “amateur hours” went on to become successful street comedians, busting into the radio airwaves from time to time. For Yoyoy and his generation, to sing is to sing is to sing indeed.
Now, with the bisrock, there is of course some continuities and discontinuities with the “amateur hour tradition”. Many of the songs tried to retain the humor that undercuts much of Yoyoy’s songs. I don’t think that this is intentional on the part of the bisrockers (to mimic Yoyoy’s witticism). But I am really amazed that much of the bisrockers’ and the Yoyoy generation’s songs were practically churning out the same humorous themes.
Perhaps, singing as a comedic interlude can tell us more about ourselves.
While listening to a bisrock song about why a guy needs to use his fingers and not the utensils (nganong gi-finger, gi-finger na lang), I asked myself these questions: Why is the jokester persona everywhere? Is there more to joking than the laughter it generates? Could joking be subversive of colonial structures (like, for example, how Yoyoy and the bisrockers, re-encode many popular Tagalog and English songs into humorous Cebuano puns)?
Even in matters of religion, Fenella Canell, paraphrasing an anthropologist, once said that lowland Filipinos tend to only have two representations of Christ–the suffering Christ of the Passion and the child Jesus, a holy prankster and jokester. Surprisingly, Cebu–the center of Bisrock–is suffused with images of the Holy Child. Why? Now, that’s for another blog post.