People regard them as opinionated, demanding, difficult, rarely expressive, and very proud. Most musicians in this country tend to agree they are a most difficult bunch to contend with. I’m not talking about label executives or concert promoters. Nor am I talking about music critics and entertainment writers. I talk of a distinct class that runs the gamut of social strata. A specific group of people that musicians either hate or enjoy, rarely in between. One time, I saw Francis Magalona walk out on them once out of sheer frustration yet on the same occasion, Joey Ayala celebrates in their company even when he wasn’t expecting to. Performers either wither or bloom in front of their scrutiny.
I talk of no other than the Cebuano audience. Such a proud bunch. Difficult to please, difficult to understand, and just plain difficult.
By some strange quirk of cultural and biological evolution, Cebuanos can’t seem to understand the value of generous applause, me included. I only learned to applaud more, albeit grudgingly, after my early experiences on stage made me realize its gargantuan value as a performer on the receiving end. For an artist to perform in front of, and to draw applause from the Cebuano audience is just as hard, if not doubly hard as say, pulling teeth – a trying task for the dentist and a painful ordeal for the patient. But let’s not talk of the one standing and doing all the work. Let us instead try and analyze the one who just sits there and waits for things to happen, and gargles liquid and spits in intervals.
So why are Cebuanos known to be such a tough audience? Why is it so hard for them to clap hands after a number?
Is it because of the Cebuanos’ anatomy or physical attributes? Probably not. After all, Cebuanos are descended from Lapu-lapu whose hands were better at wielding the kris than an invading Spaniard’s pale pair could parry. Or wasn’t Magellan Portuguese? In any case, Cebu’s local blacksmiths made better weapons than those of the European invaders could make armor. Cebuanos have good hands, history stands witness to this, so no, it’s not because of defective wrists.
So is it because Cebuanos don’t care to applaud because of laziness? Probably not. For a stiff Cebuano audience can just as easily transform into an angry mob throwing bottles and coins as well as creative expletives at the stage with characteristic enthusiasm and riotous vigor. Cebuanos are anything but lazy. Even Juan Tamad was not Cebuano for if he was, he’d have been called Juan Tapulan so no, it’s not because of lethargic arm and hand muscles.
So is it because Cebuanos don’t recognize talent? Probably not. After all, just like the gay community, it takes one to know one, and Cebu is known to be such a wellspring of unheralded and often underrated musicians. If there is any single province in the Philippines that is associated with musical talent, it’s Cebu. Other regions can brag about their famous cooking. Others brag about their famous handicrafts and local industries. There’s even a region that’s just famous for their bragging. Cebuanos however, simply can sing or play an instrument better. Even better than they can brag about it. Just visit any hotel in any country in the Pacific rim. Chances are, the musicians at the lounge are Cebuanos. Or just go around the country and hang out in any videoke joint. In provinces other than Cebu, (yes, I’ve been around the country to tour videoke joints – don’t ask me why), it can get horrible quite often and, many times, tortuous. In Cebu, it’s slightly different. Of course, the singing can get bad at times, yes, but on average, there is always a surprising display of raw, uncoached talent. Cebuanos are good if not better singers and musicians and should recognize talent easily so no, it’s not because of an obtuse sense of talent.
Still, the question lingers. Why are Cebuanos such a tough audience?
I strongly suspect the answer lies in the Cebuano’s pride – not their dried mangoes, mind you - but their haughty attitude in the belief that they are better than others, a sense of self-worth just as tough as their famous local delicacy is fibrous and chewy.
Cebuanos tend to think that whatever anyone does on stage, he can do better. And even if he clearly can’t outdo the performance even in his head, he still won’t show that he’s impressed at all. Cebuanos, by nature, are hinawayon. Roughly translated, it means ‘quick to criticize’.
If the performer on stage is a horrible singer, a Cebuano will say so in unflattering and exaggerated words. If she’s a diva, a Cebuano will say something about her skewed face. If she’s a diva and an angel, a Cebuano will say something about her bad taste in fashion. If she’s a diva, an angel, and a doll, a Cebuano will definitely not like her at all. If its not one thing, its another. There is no pleasing the Cebuano. And even if they are pleased, they won’t show it.
Even if you were a Cebuano performing in front of Cebuanos, you’d get comments like ‘silingan ra man na namo’ (translated: he’s just someone who lives in our neighborhood’). So in some ways, it is even worse for locals. Maybe that explains why in ways, Cebuano musicians have a more disciplined approach to their craft. Maybe not technically better than other musicians, but as a rule, generally less reckless. I sense this to be the natural result of constantly playing in front of a hinawayon audience.
So naturally, Cebu bands practice more. Which surprises a lot of Manila bands when they ask what the secret is. Just practice, practice, and practice. Nothing new and nothing revolutionary. If Manila bands have attitude and Manila audiences are worked-up easily. Cebu bands on the other hand are always worked-up while it’s the Cebu audiences that have attitude. See the difference?
In conclusion, it is not to say that Cebuano audiences have better taste. That would be saying a lot more than others will agree to. Only that Cebuanos can be very picky and unforgiving. Being a Cebuano myself, I offer no apologies. I can offer dried mangoes though.