by Jose Buenconsejo

“Sa Kabukiran” composed by: Velez Concepcion Cananea; Music Directed By: Prof. F. Santiago; Format: Shellac; Record Record Number: AMM 842 / 48024; Language: Visayan (Philippines)

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the utilization of the musicians in the still-foreign-owned music industry was a major strand in the web of cultural development. It cannot be separated, in the first instance, from these materialistic imperialistic commercial undertakings. It must be borne in mind that these musicians were already earning money in the paid entertainment world of musical theater before recording came and where they thrived, notably in vernacular zarzuela productions. What happened in the 1920s was the commodification of the received music traditions that also were necessarily transformed in the process of entanglement. The Tagalog kundiman, for example, became “art” (in the hands of Bonifacio Abdon, Francisco Santiago, Nicanor Abelardo and Francisco Buencamino Sr) from the point of view of the educated elites. In Cebu, vernacular zarzuelistas such as Piux Kabahar collaborated with composers José Estella and Manuel Velez. The bulk of the new song compositions from Cebu in this decade came from music theater. Most of them, similar to what happened in Manila among the Tagalog composers, employed the balitao, the traditional song-debate between a man and a woman. Since dance cannot be recorded in sound, a new genre called balitao romansada (i.e., balitao on a romantic love theme) came about. Balitao romansada was a composed song; it was unlike the traditional genre, which was improvised.

The most well-known “composed balitao” from Cebu was Manuel Velez’s “Sa Kabukiran.” Cananea who comes from the town of Carcar in Cebu first sang and recorded this for the minor recording company Brunswik. It is not yet known whether this song was culled from one of Kabahar’s earlier comedic zarzuelas such as Hm and Fifi that had music by Manuel Velez (see Wilhemina Ramas’s documentation).

Stylistically, the song is in strophic form, each strophe of which is made up of four smaller balanced phrases. It sublimates the antiphonal texture of the traditional man-woman song debate balitao but the variations in the strophes are laid out in a sectioning that is reminiscent of the earlier popular form tanda de valses. Moreover, as composed music, its innovation is also seen in how the melody moves. Departing from the too-symmetrical melodic contours of the folk, the newly composed idiom in “Sa Kabukiran” has an A section in which the melody is built upon two-bar motives; this creates a larger phrase rhythm and thus accrues an overall rhetorical dynamism. The B section in “Sa Kabukiran” is one such artifice, the rhythmic push of the asymmetrical zigzagging phrases (see notation below) land to the unexpected coquettish cadenza simulating the flity bird with trills and tremolo. In the Brunswick recording, actual bird sound is even interpolated as a novelty ( a better solution would have been just to wshitle it).

This cadenza is made up of coloratura runs that is in accord with the emerging middle class construction of the bucolic but virtuous maiden. The artifice is similar to José Estella’s “Ang Maya,” sang by Maria Carpena that was a pioneering success in the global music industry a decade earlier. It also resonated with Hermogenes Ilagan’s zarzuela “Dalagang Bukid” that was composed by Leon Ignacio, popularized by Atang de la Rama, and made into a film (the first full length Filipino feature ever) by José Nepomuceno in 1919.

Figure 1: Phrase analysis of Velez’s “Sa Kabukiran”

Figure 2: The cadenza of “Sa Kabukiran”

From this essay, the role of the recorded sound in the popularizing of the song was indeed significant for its popularity depended upon the song’s wide public circulation and consumption.

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