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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Masskara Festival: Reliving Its Spirit And Grandeur

"It's's alright! No matter what adversity, Bacolod fights on!" - (Masskara Streetdancing lyrics)

To a Negrense at home or abroad, if there is one thing to be proud of or get excited about, it is the annual Masskara Festival celebration that takes place in the month of October in the city of Bacolod. The celebration is  world-renowned  for its unusually three-week long merrymaking activities marked by street dance and float parade, and the participants' ostentatiously colorful costumes which is proven to be the most popular tourist attraction.

Growing up in the Northern part of the province, I actually did not know the history behind the Masskara Festival. In fact, I could even better relate when I first set foot in Manila as friends would call me "Batang Negros" - maybe because of my skinny frame and sun-drenched color that could qualify me for a cousin of Aborigines. Little did I know that the sobering label for Negrenses as "Batang Negros" (a poster kid  portrayed in media as emaciated and hungry holding an empty bowl), was one of the reasons Masskara Festival came into being.

Let's talk a bit of history here. Negros Occidental was once called the "Sugar Bowl of Asia" and was reputed to be one of the most progressive provinces in the Philippines. If my elementary history serves me right,  it used to be the only province in the country with 5 chartered cities and one highly urbanized city that time. In fact, even its capital Bacolod still maintains its moniker as "Billionaires City" as some prominent sugar barons and highly successful businessmen in the Philippines live in the city.

Those glory days however were put to a real test and in fact the province succumbed to gloomy times in late 70s through early 80s. This was due to the price of sugar  in the world market pegged at an all-time low, compounded by America's sudden preference for  sugar substitutes like high fructose corn syrup that reduced the demand. And that consequently sealed the fate of the sugar industry in the province. Subsequently, people from all walks of life fell on hard times as  it is the lifeblood of the province. On 22nd of April 1980, an inter-island vessel Don Juan  owned by Negros Navigation collided with the tanker Tacloban City and sank. Over 700 lives were lost in that tragedy including prominent families in the province. Those were days of gloom when you almost see a lot of people  in mourning.

In the midst of these tragic events, local artists and leaders decided to hold a "festival of smiles" to showcase the unique Negrenses' brand of resilience and fortitude, in light of the devastating gloom that overtook them.  This was also symbolic of every Negrense's declaration of keeping his spirit aloft amid every adversarial situation. Thus it gave birth to the concept of smiling mask  identifiable to the Negrense spirit, and so the Masskara Festival was born.

One feature of Masskara Festival that is a knockout draw for tourists is the street dance competition, where elaborately colorful costumes worn by participants are a feast to the eye to match with the smiling masks that complete the pageantry. Some say it is the Philippine's answer to  the world-renowned Rio Carnival, for its gaiety and spectacular display of skills by the dancers to Latin beats that usually accompany the dance. There were twists however as this year's organizers decided that the music to be used in the street dance should be original, hence a battle for originality.

The street dance competition alone is scattered in as many days as possible to accommodate all participating groups which are divided into different categories:  barangays, schools and commercial establishments. The Masskara Dance Showdown is another separate competition held at the city's public plaza and is usually the highlight of the festival. Apart from these attractions, the crowning of Masskara Queen is also a proven blockbuster every year for it is a brain and beauty battle among universities and colleges in Bacolod.

This year's theme "Celebrating the New Icons of Bacolod", points out how far the city has gone in terms of its progress. Many notable supermalls and world-class hotels have sprung up in the city including business centers and BPO hubs that provide jobs to locals.  In fact, the city owns the title of "I.T. and BPO capital" of Western Visayas  with the presence of 8 major call centers. It also ranks 3rd, next to Metro Manila and Cebu in the top 10 Next-Wave Cities due to its upbeat economy and its being an ideal investment center. The city is also a Hall of Fame awardee for being the cleanest and greenest highly urbanized city in the country. And the new pride of Bacolod - its government city center which is widely regarded as the most beautiful in the country, so that speaks a lot in terms of achievements for the city.

Bacolod's charm as a tourist destination is known to be boundless, not only because of its unique brand of merrymaking that keeps tourists on coming back. Other equally fascinating attractions such as food, pasalubong items and mementos are cool enough to be ignored. Those who want to pamper themselves with  celestial gastronomic experience, the unique tradition that is chicken inasal of Bacolod is one to die for. Owing to its own success, this great cuisine uniquely endemic to Bacolod has also given birth to its own Inasal Festival - when the city is virtually conquered by chicken inasal fanatics.

Indeed the Masskara experience is something to be looked forward to - the revelry, the gaiety and the sea of smiling faces that is uniquely Negrense. To them, it is their way of celebration and expression of thanks for whatever life brings them, be it blessings or otherwise, the Negrense spirit is held aloft through the test of time.

MassKara 2011 Official AVP from Daryl Jimenea on Vimeo.

***Masskara is coined from two words: Mass, which means "many" or "multitude" and Kara, a Spanish word for "face", thus Masskara is a multitude of smiling faces.


DonPepe1972 said...

I've never experienced Masskara festival before, although I've been in Bacolod years ago. I hope one day I could come back and during the Masskara festival. God bless!

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