I grew up in a home where Sunday mornings were all about the songs of Max Surban and cassette tapes which my grandfather, Diosdado Sr., called “standard Bisaya” music.

Living in a house next to my grandparents meant listening to Turagsoy, Gihidlaw na Intawon Ako, Manok ni San Pedro and Baleleng on Sundays while my Lolo Dado was drinking coffee and enjoying his monay bread. Matud Nila, Usahay, Rosas Pandan and Olivia were also played.

Back then, I hated the fact that I had to listen to all of them. I wanted to hear more pop songs from the American bands and singers. Listening to the songs that my grandfather played on Sundays was an ordeal. It did not help that my parents’ taste for music were more of Celine Dion, Backstreet Boys, Styx, Air Supply, The Carpenters and Bread.

There was no single Britney Spears cassette tape or CD in the house until 2003 when I told my mother that I need to practice a song from Spears’ second album, Oops…I Did It Again!

At 13, Visayan music to me was either annoyingly humorous or downright melodramatic.

I did not care much for them until I entered the halls of the University of the Philippines Cebu and cookouts exposed me to Bisrock songs. Oh what a change that was. The day I entered UP in 2003 was the moment I realized that the world is not just about Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears or A1 and Westlife.

In my college years, I got hooked to Missing Filemon. They were formed in 2002, the year before I entered UP Cebu. I scraped just enough money to buy their CDs and did not eat proper lunch and dinner for four days so I can buy a copy when the Suroy-Suroy album was released in 2005.

Then there were songs such as Gugmang Giatay by The Ambassadors, Lingin by Aggressive Audio, and Palagot sa Kontra by Phylum, which were most requested in Bisrock concerts during those years.

Over the years, Cebu’s pride for locally produced song written in the very language that we speak grew in number. These songs became more relatable as the genre turned to pop and songwriters like Jude Gitamondoc and Cattski Espina worked long and hard to elevate Visayan music.

While seated on a chair inside a jampacked Cebu Coliseum on January 18, 2013 for the 33rd Cebu Pop Music Festival, I was treated to a beautiful song that Jude Gitamondo co-wrote with Cindy Velasquez. Pregnant and controlled by crazy hormones then, tears streamed down my face as Cattski Espina, without the usual pomp that is characteristically present in many Cebu Pop performances, sang “Usa Ka Libo’g Usa Ka Panamilit” with clear vocals and heartbreaking lyrics. The song nailed melody, texture, harmony and rhythm to a level where Visayan music is a force to reckon with.

Usa Ka Libo’g Usa Ka Panamilit still is my favorite Visayan song.

The world of Visayan songs has grown so much since I first listened to Baleleng.

Last July 27, Cebu’s music scene welcomed 10 new songs to its expanding portfolio after the finals night of the first ever Visayan Music Awards (VizMA) 2019 was held at the Oakridge Pavilion.

I was rooting for three songs in the lists: Yana Durado and Adonis Durado’s Balitaw, Ferdinand Aragon’s Matag Piraso and Melay Libres’ Lingi-a.

The Durados’ tandem was a sure win. The lyrics crisp and true; the melody light and moderately nostalgic.

Aragon’s Matag Piraso is a painful hymn of a person trying to gather the pieces of his broken heart. Words and music and vocals made up for the killer combination that catapulted this masterpiece to be the grand champion of the first ever VizMA.

What was special about VizMA 2019 was the presence of Melay Libres’ song called Lingi-a. While pop was the chosen genre for most songs, Lingi-a was transformed into an electronic dance music (EDM). I listened to it before the live performance and I was surprised that Melay can actually pull off an EDM song. I first listened to Melay during an open mic session organized by the Cebu Literary Festival and the songs that she perform are a far cry from EDM.

VizMA organizers made a unique artistic call by converting Lingi-a into an EDM. My only issue was the live performance. By turning Lingi-a into an EDM, it became a big and difficult song, a genre that is not yet explored on a wider net. It becomes a song that is hard to surmount that in a live performance the artist needs to be a strong one so he or she won’t be devoured by the song. That happened to the artist who performed this song live.

But then again there are hits and misses in any music festival. Melay Libres’ song made it to the Top 3 because it was a fresh take on what could have been another song of longing. But Lingi-a is not Melay Libres. Someone give her more platform to showcase her songs. I heard she’s from Bohol. Do give her more exposure.

I love how VizMa has given singer-songwriters of this region to share their talents and skills minus the snobbery and superiority that some artists and composers exude. If we are to promote our culture and heritage, then there is a need to be more open about listening to genres and themes which we are not often used to.

You’ll be surprised about what you’ll find when you do so.

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