Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Post-Colonial Kapampangan shirt

I used to design "Post-Colonial Kapampangan" shirts like this one. The shirt above has the old Kapampangan word "Balasbas" (which according to Bergano dictionary is a word used for the sun when it deviates from its usual path in the sky; to me, it can mean "deviant," or someone who doesn't always go with the usual flow) and is written using the Kapampangan variant of our indigenous writing system, Baybayin (not Alibata!).

Kinda cool?!

Kinda cool.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sandara and her Tagalog, Pinoy celebrities and their English

Sandara Park, now Dara of the internationally rising Korean girl group 2NE1, had visited the Philippines twice to take a short vacation and to guest in certain talk shows such as SNN and Entertainment Live.

I've only seen her interview clips on YouTube, and like what all other people are saying, Sandara still speaks Tagalog fluently (although her accent is East Asian), making viewers think: why is Sandara, who does not hold any Filipino blood in her veins, prefer to speak a native Philippine language when in front of Filipino TV cameras, while our own Filipino-blooded celebrities endlessly speak and speak English endlessly on national television?

I have my own hypothesis regarding this inquiry. For Filipinos, a good command of the English language, especially in spoken form, is a display of erudition. Being an important subject in school and as a language spoken by the world, along with our favorite Hollywood stars and foreign musicians, the English language is comparable with a kick-ass car, an exquisite pair of shoes, or chic clothes. Displaying to the public, especially on national media, one's ability to speak English is indeed an attempt—intentional or subtle—to promote one's superiority over the rest of the Filipino masses who have a poor grasp of the international language that is English.

The audience, on the other hand, continuously praise icons who have good English, because they too hold the belief that the better English a person has, especially in the entertainment business, the more valuable he/she becomes.

They want Tagalog

Years ago, I had my first-hand experience of being in a movie set. I was the Script Continuity Supervisor for Star Cinema's 'A Love Story,' directed by Maryo Delos Reyes, starring Aga Muhlach, Maricel Soriano, and Angelica Panganiban. Also part of the film was TJ Trinidad, who played as one of Ian's (Muhlach) brothers.

Coming from a rich family, TJ's character, along with his brothers and sisters in the story, had lots of English and Taglish lines. Whenever I would approach TJ for us to rehearse his lines, he would always tell me to translate into straight Tagalog the Taglish lines written by the scriptwriter because according to him, he doesn't like speaking too much Taglish. This I appreciated.

TJ is, of course, a Filipino, albeit with a Spanish descent. Raised in an uppity environment and having gone to a school for the wealthy, I can imagine him hearing more English than Tagalog throughout his childhood and teenage years. So why does he want straight Tagalog, when this country puts high premium on English speakers? I again offer my hypothesis.

Speaking fluent Tagalog, on the other hand—especially for foreigners and Filipinos who do not have huge mass appeal due to their elitist cosmopolitan image—is a symbol of wanting to be patronized by the middle and lower classes, whose dominant medium of communication is the local language. This mentality is evident in such cases when Filipinos are amused upon hearing foreigners, say Thalia or Brian McKnight, speak Tagalog. And foreign stars wanting to break into Philippine showbiz acknowledge this as well, evident through the likes of Akihiro Sato, who is taking up Filipino courses in the University of the Philippines.

Going back to Sandara Park, I think that is the reason she uses Tagalog as much as possible whenever in front of Philippine cameras. As a Philippine icon who has got no Filipino blood, she makes it a point to build a connection with the Filipinos, and what tool can be more effective than using their language?

Now that she is famous in Korea, and knowing the Filipinos' penchant for people who have gained recognition in other countries, her ability to speak Tagalog in spite of her Korean blood is indeed an asset for Sandara. In fact, in one of the tracks in 2NE1's mini-album, Sandara said a Tagalog line in the intro: “Punta tayo sa fiesta.” She wanted to mean “let's go party” though, and it's funny because we never refer to fiestas here as parties.

Same with Kapampangan

On a provincial level, this is also evident. When famous and rich people from Manila, or other parts of the country or the world, come to Pampanga, and they mention a few, tongue-twisted greetings in the Kapampangan language in public gatherings such as concerts, press conferences, or mass media, it's as if we feel more hospitable toward them compared to those who don't make efforts (superficial or not) to connect with us.

A popular case here in the province is that of Jean Christopher Gaillard, a French geographer who has made several geographical researches in Pampanga. He has been staying in the province for more than a decade now. What amuses people whenever they encounter him is his excellent and natural command of the Kapampangan language. Not only that, he seems to have considered Pampanga and the Philippines as his home instead of his country of birth, France.

Without cautiousness though, attempting to connect with the audience through their local language may backfire. I remember reading from Albina Peczon Fernandez' book 'Ten' a funny case when a political candidate of Pangasinense descent was trying to run as a public official in one town in Pampanga. In an attempt to establish ethnic connection with the voters, the majority of which were Kapampangan, the political candidate made some Kapampangan slogans, one of which was: “Ibiye yo kaku ring botu yu, patalakad ko ring tete yu (Give me your votes, and I will have your bridges erected.” However, due to his Pangasinan tongue, what came out from his mouth sounded like this: “Ibiye yo kaku ring butu yu, patalakad ko ring titi yu (Give your your penises, and I will have your penises erected.” Laughter followed.

Birth of Taglish

Of all the pidgins spoken in the Philippines, nothing could be more popular (and irritating to listen to) than Taglish. Taglish is becoming a lingua franca in Metro Manila, especially in the media institution, where instead of saying “Ipaliwanag mo sa akin para maintindihan ko,” more and more youth prefer to say “I-explain mo sa akin so I'd understand.”

In Sandara Park's interview with Bianca Gonzales in Korea and with Luis Manzano and Toni Gonzaga in the Philippines, the Korean lady seems to speak more straight Tagalog lines than the Filipino hosts, much to the wonder of viewers.

Taglish I believe is a result of a desire to win audiences from both the upper and lower echelons of society. One displays his knowledge of English through the frequent use of grammatical English clauses and words, while reminding the people that they are equally knowledgeable in Tagalog by fusing English with Tagalog clauses and phrases.

This is becoming the trend na kasi kaya dumarami yung mga nag-i-imitate nito. All thanks to television.


In a linguistic point of view, all that is happening in the realm of language in the Philippines is natural. Creoles like Taglish really form when a local language encounters a stronger or much more prestigious language in its own territory, much like how mestizo generations are created, i.e., through the union of foreign and native people.

But even though there is nothing really “wrong” with what we've discussed so far as far as linguistics is concerned, we can still make recommendations that would better our cultural condition. It's analogous to the case of a healthy person, who may choose not to jog every morning, but if he does, there would be additional benefits.

We need to have more local celebrities that we see on national free television (and cable channels, if possible) who can manage to appear cosmopolitan, classy, and intelligent without having to resort to English-speaking and Taglish. Fluent Filipino must not be limited to radio reporters, newscasters, and Pinoy folk rockers; it should penetrate the mainstream, the chic, and the glamorous.

Nakakairita na kasi hearing Taglish all the time sa TV.

2 Types of Artists

Katulad ng pag-aararo ng bukid, ang paglikha ng sining ay tunay na isang sex act. Ngunit kagaya sa sex, maaaring magkaroon ng inequality sa kasarapan. Yung tipo bang yung isa lang ang may effort at nanenerbis habang ang isa ay nakahiga lang at nagpapasarap.

Sa isang e-group ng mga Kapampangang alagad ng sining, napataas ko ang kilay at presyon ng iilan nang gawin nila akong "Artist of the Month." Doon kasi sa Artist's Statement ko, ang inilagay ko ay:

There are two types of artists: those who make love with their audience, and those who merely masturbate in front of them.

Riot! Siyempre marami akong tatamaan. Marami kasing artist, art for art's sake ang kanilang layunin sa paglikha. Ang art naman para sa akin ay isang instrumento para makapagpadala ng mensahe sa lipunan sa kadahilanang may gusto akong baguhin. May social function kumbaga.

Paano papansinin ng karamihan ng mga tao ang gawa ko kung sobrang artsy at obscure ng gawa ko? Sa larangan ng literatura, kung sobrang hebigats ng aking pananalita at sobrang seryoso ng aking approach?

Kung iyon ang mga type kong approach, not taking into account yung literasya ng aking mga mambabasa at ang interes nila, tila nagdyadyakol lamang ako noon. Nagpapasarap, habang hinahayaan ang mga interesado na panoorin ako kung gusto nila. Yung gustong manggalaw naman sa akin, puwede siguro, pero di ako magre-reciprocate.

Sining bilang lovemaking -- easy to read, interesting, entertaining, at kahit patago siguro, educational. Noong kolumnista pa ako sa, ito ang gumagabay na prinsipyo sa aking pagsusulat. At sa mga proyekto ko para sa Kapampangan ngayon, ito rin ang palagi kong isinasaisip.

Ngunit bakit ang mga artist na tine-take into account ang kagustuhan ng mga tao, sila ang binibigyan ng masamang imahe sa daigdig ng sining? Mga sellout. Mga "pokpok" ng sining. Mga "commercialized" at iba pa. Kadalasan pa nga, hindi sila tinatawag na artist!

Di ba hindi patas?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What the heck is Kpop!?

It's not Kapampangan pop. The K in K-pop stands for Korean, and the term must have been an offshoot of J-pop, as in Japanese pop, which the Koreans used to consume very much back when they were still in the process of having their presence felt in the global community.

I'm guessing I was writing about the Korean pop music scene ahead compared to other journalists, thanks to my self-appointed obligation of monitoring the pop music scene vis-a-vis the development of Pinoy pop music—which I can only describe as pitiable, no thanks to the non-creative producers wasting the talent of very gifted young Filipinos with novelty music, ugly copycat tracks, unflattering remakes, and sleepy ballads.

Weeks even before Ricky Lo wrote about the re-packaged Sandara Park, I have already featured the all-new “Dara” with her YG Entertainment-managed group 2NE1 in Central Luzon Daily, along with the market gamble of Korean pop stars BoA and Se7en in the States. And now, the whole country is singing and dancing to Wonder Girls' “Nobody,” the melody of which is too catchy for us to not download through the Internet.

What sets K-pop apart

As I'm writing this, I'm listening to a folder in my MP3 player dedicated solely to my K-pop favorites. Yes, that's right. In spite of me being a so-called monitor of world pop music, catchy K-pop tracks have proliferated so much in that I just had to declare them autonomous in the my MP3 world and create their own folder. Funny I don't even understand the lyrics of the songs, except that I hear 'saranghae' almost in every song. (That's “I love you” in Korean.)

What's different with K-pop is that different artists from different management companies produce hot songs one after the other, unlike in others countries like Taiwan, where only Jay Chou and Jolin Tsai have impressed me; now that the two are inactive, there is nothing much to monitor in their homeland.

Now regarding the genre itself, K-pop is nothing different from what American pop music is offering; hip-hop, RnB, and disco tracks are abundant, except that the lyrics are in the Korean language, with smatterings of English phrases and sentences—an obvious influence from J-pop. However, I see something different from K-pop—it's a whole new resurrection of group bubblegum pop, which has long died in the American scene, now replaced by solo artists.

Life Cycle of Bubblegum Pop

Let me give you a brief history of the American pop music scene since the 90s. Boy groups, girl groups, and co-eds came in throngs—the Backstreet Boys, N'SYNC, 90 Degrees, A1, O-Town, Westlife, Spice Girls, Solid Harmonie, Steps, A*Teens, to name a few. Then came the rise of solo female pop—Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore, Jessica Simpson, and the like.

Solo males also started popping like Usher, along with former-group-members-turned-soloists like Justin Timberlake, Gerry Haliwell, and Beyonce. Dancing had become more complex from the simple modern dance, to actual street dance, with complicated moves not all members of the 90s generation can do. “Black American music” started to rule American pop, with non-blacks trying out “black” styles—take Christina Aguilera, JoJo, and Justin Timberlake for example. Slowly, American bubblegum pop died, at least in the US, replaced by young alternative pop, the Jonas Brothers, Hilary Duff, and the like.

Whoever thought Koreans would be absorbing that love-it-or-hate-it genre, but with a whole new form? This is how it is in the K-pop scene. In the US, you have one Justin Timberlake that sings with vocal curls and bluesy falsettos, and dances advanced and lyrical hip-hop. In Korea, you have a chinky boy group composed of younger Timberlakes that all sing, pop, lock, and drop it—and they all do these damn good, thanks to serious training of performers.

Also, instead of the usual classy adult packaging of US pop artists, K-pop retains the bubblegum flavor of pop—colorful backdrops, rainbow clothes, and psychedelic album covers. Back when American bubblegum pop was gradually fading, it was very humiliating in the Cool World to admit being a fanatic of bubblegum pop. Try performing a Backstreet Boys song in a high school event, and your schoolmates would cringe at your disgusting taste.

But K-pop is a growing trend. They're the new cool thing, and the moves that accompany the tracks are not your typical left-right-left-right steps, or the simplistic combos that accompanied 90s bubblegum pop. If I were in high school or college currently, I'd definitely not hesitate to pick a K-pop song for my performance number.

How did it boom?

It's called Culture Technology (CT), a branch of Information Technology (IT), which I believe the Koreans are taking seriously. They even have their own Graduate Program focused on CT in S. Korea. In a nutshell, CT is the use of technology to propagate culture (while IT is the use of technology to propagate information). Try to ride an Asiana Airlines plane, and Korean movies and music are accessible right in front of your seat. In Seoul, they have a museum dedicated to Hallyu—the Asian term for the Korean wave—where you can listen to sample tracks from pop stars like Rain, and have a digital pose with a Korean celebrity.

The Korean cultural invasion of the Philippines is evident. In Angeles City, there is already a Korea Town along Friendship Hi-way, where almost all billboards are written in Hanggul, and a Filipino passing by can only wonder what the heck they are saying. The Angeles City government also celebrates the Choo Seuk festival every year for the Korean residents of the city. I myself am a frequent customer of the convenience store called Mr. Ramyun, which offers delicious Korean noodles and other Korean instant goods, like fruit popsicles, seaweeds, and cookies—and I rarely see Korean customers in the store; they are mostly Filipinos.

Colonial Mentality?

This Korean phenomenon might shake the claims that the Filipinos are suffering from colonial mentality, i.e., preferring the products of our former colonial masters than our own. The Koreans and the Filipinos share no colonial history, yet we are now basking in the spicy sauce of Korean pop culture. What does this imply?

Truth be told, the Filipinos are just bad in making pop-cultural products despite our undeniable talent in performing, that is why we are unable to reverse the colonial mentality we are said to suffer from. The truth I believe in is that foreign products are sometimes really just better than local ones. Nationalism is good, but if it blinds us into believing we are the best people in the universe, it's not being nationalistic; it's called being delusional.

As I consume lots of Korean cultural products, I am trying to absorb everything I can, hoping to channel them into the Filipino pop culture someday. That's how the Koreans did it anyway, absorbing Japanese, Chinese, American, and European sensibilities, and “Koreanizing” them into their own.

Well, let's hope Sarah Geronimo's new Beyonce-esque image will live a long life. I finished writing this article with Big Bang's “Last Farewell” (a Korean disco pop song) playing in my MP3.