regarding yoyoy (part 1)

Posted: May 18, 2007 in All and Sundry, Music Reviews, Musings

“he may be the precursor of philippine rap. his song lyrics were poetic, lyrical and just genius.”– francis magalona referring to late cebuano novelty singer yoyoy villame, in an interview on abs-cbn

clearly, for cebuano and other musicians across the country, the death of mr. yoyoy villame is a great loss to philippine pop music. the man has influenced countless musicians including jr. kilat, the most recent cebuano band to gain popularity among mainstream filipino audiences.

but to most of us are grieving for his death, the only consolation we have is that as expected, yoyoy’s music has outlived him.

around four years ago, in a small table outside persian palate in ayala center, i remember budoy talking to me about the various influences of jr. kilat, which was then still an up and coming band, and he mentioned novelty singers yoyoy and max as major influences in songwriting. (that was supposed to be an interview for a magazine article which didn’t get published because the editor thought at the time that the band was not yet that successful. i kept explaining that the band was going to be successful soon because i knew that it was slowly gaining underground mass base. but oh well, little did that editor know that the band was going to be big in the future.)

as i was listening to budoy talk about yoyoy and max, i suddenly found myself nodding at everything that he was telling me. while i was raised in an”american” school and had sesame street and updike’s rabbit stories as entertainment material, as a child, i also had the chance to listen to cebuano novelty songs. thanks to our househelps who made sure that we got a taste of cebuano radio entertainment when my mother wasn’t around the house.

yoyoy’s songs had always seemed very funny and “bisaya” to me. the kind of humor only bisayans like me get to enjoy and understand, what with lyrics replete with sexual nuances and double meanings.

but while i enjoyed the songs, i also had to hide that enjoyment for fear of being called tacky or “baduy.” growing up, i was often told that most cebuano songs are “baduy” because they are “masa.” later i realized that this was just a part of the whole colonial project of socializing me into the english as the primary language perspective. hence, all else were “othered,” particularly my own first language bisaya or cebuano. tagalog i believe has never experienced that kind of marginalizing because in the national context it has always been considered the national language just like how mandarin is used as the common language among the chinese. because of this kind of bias, bisaya or cebuano has been regarded as “second” to other languages in luzon, and often perceived by the manila center as the language of lower working class particularly that of”maids” or bus drivers.

but going back to yoyoy. so when budoy told me about siday, duplo and yoyoy, i realized that i had to start looking back and re-examine my own view of cebuano music in general. francis magalona was right in saying that yoyoy may be the “precursor of philippine rap” not really in terms of form, but in terms of the principle of rap as we trace it to the historical roots of the verbal joust in philippine literature.

a verbal joust is a debate between poets. each trying to outdo the other in terms of how fast they can come up with a reply in verse. a person’s abilities as wordsmith is measured by how fast you can string words together following conventional rhyme and meter.

while on the surface, yoyoy’s lyrics were just “funny,” beneath the words are reflections on philippine society and culture in general. his humorous songs can even be seen as subversive so that even a simple review can’t justify the complexity of his musical ouvre. i think it is about time somebody should take notice and give this man his due. not just as a comedian, or novelty singer, but as an artist, as an icon worth studying. i’m not even sure if there’s an existing archive of his music around.

a few years back i have thought of conducting a research on yoyoy’s ouvre. i even planned to do a short documentary of him after meeting him in person by chance. but the project never pushed through since no funding came in. national concern on the arts was always associated with preserving or reflecting cultural heritage that actually meant indigenous. and yoyoy, as far as i have read or heard, was never considered indigenous among academics, among high-brow cultural conservationists. he was considered novelty, or just pop.

(to be continued next entry where i will talk about meeting yoyoy by chance)

  1. nino says:

    would the whole colonial project mean that yoyoy was a poco artist? hmmm. now i understand what he meant when he wrote and sang (altogether now!) — “march something something something something, when magellan discovered the philippine islands … mother, mother, i am sick! call the doctor very quick! doctor, doctor, will i die? …” pure poco genius! calling all history teachers …

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