Yoyoy Villame was buried recently in his native town of Calape in Bohol. Not much fanfare there, which was probably what the genius of novelty songs probably wanted. Besides, this is the Philippines where the passing away of real talents is often met with whimper. The productive and creative are recognized only rarely.
I grew up in a generally poor neighborhood in Sitio Kawayan, Barangay Sambag 2, where children’s joys were simple. No computers then, the number of TV sets was limited and radio was the main source of entertainment. Aside from popular 30-minuters like Diego Salvador and Amorsola, we went for Yoyoy Villame and Max Surban.
We children always found time to gather and talk, sometimes in the house of a friend and at night near mercury lamp posts. I think it was in one of those gab fests that somebody brought with him a song book of Villame’s compositions. It was then that I learned to appreciate the creative genius of the man. “Magellan” was a big hit that time.
I don’t know if Yoyoy was able to preserve the songs of his earlier years in Bohol, because his recent album collections no longer included many of them. His record company at that time was not Vicor but one called Kinampay, and the quality of the recordings had the feel of a kombo lata. But the songs were unique—truly novelty.
This was what differentiated Villame from Cebu’s own pride, Max Surban. Max was the more prolific of the two, producing songs in torrents that vividly described the lives of simple people (my all-time favorite is “Kontes sa Hambog” and “Mitulo Na”). Yoyoy, meanwhile, was constantly experimenting, putting new spins to the common.
“Magellan’s” grammar was atrocious, and Yoyoy was a poor historian, but his take on the Battle of Mactan was hilarious. When I first heard that song, I wasn’t prepared for the surprise after that line about Magellan tumbling down after being supposedly “hit on the neck”: “O mother, mother I am sick, call the doctor very quick…”
Yoyoy would later bring his songs and his act to Metro Manila where “Magellan” and the unintelligible but catchy “Butsekik” made him popular. He translated some of his Cebuano songs to Tagalog (“Mag-exercise tayo tuwing umaga…”) but created new songs like “Philippine Geography.” And he continued to write Cebuano songs for us Visayans.
Filipino and Cebuano culture have actually two faces, one elitist and the other pangmasa. Even as western songs and their local variations would eventually capture the elitist crowd, the masa continued to patronize the music popularized by Yoyoy and Max. Even elitist FM stations would, from time to time, recognize this by playing their songs.
As they grew older, Yoyoy and Max, who initially followed separate paths to stardom, would work together for a few concerts and reinvention of their hits. Visit your favorite stores selling pirated CDs, VCDs and DVDs and you will find the Yoyoy and Max copies still selling briskly, giving so-called Bisrock albums a run for their money.
It is sad that so-called guardians of our arts and culture have not recognized the contributions of a Yoyoy Villame, because if they had, they would not have allowed his passing to go largely unnoticed. That just shows how elitist these people are. But they can still make amends. A tribute to this great Boholano songwriter would be apt.
–-Candido O. Wenceslao wrote this for his May 30 column in Sun.Star Cebu