Philippines is a festive country, with festive people, and a festive culture. The endless list of festivals held in the country all year round is the embodiment of this festal nature of the Filipinos. From festivals named in honor to patron saints to festivals of food, plants, and animals, there is even a festival of festivals being held up north – there really no reason for the Filipino people to be in a festive mood all year round. But a clear standout from this extensive list of festivals in the country is the MassKara Festival the City of Smiles, Bacolod. With its bright, cheerful, and embellished masks smiling from ear to ear, paired with the vibrant costumes of street performers dancing to the blasting music in the street; MassKara Festival will never fail to give you the ultimate festival experience of your life.
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History of MassKara Festival
The bittersweet tale of Philippine sugarcane business. It was said that the Arab traders are the ones who brought sugarcane in Mindanao. From there, the plant made its way to the Islands of Visayas and the mainland of Luzon. In the 17th century, almost every province in the country has their own sugarcane plantation. By that time, the sugar production in the country was big enough to support exportation. From 1775 to 1779, the country was the largest source of sugar in Asia.
A merriment born in the midst of despair and grief. Unlike the masks the wide smiles of the masks, MassKara festival tells a different story. In the 1950’s to 1980, the sugar industry in the province of Negros Occidental and nearby provinces is booming and at its peak. This economic growth was halted when sugar substitutes such as fructose and corn-syrup from the United States are introduced in 1980. This brought the prices of exported sugar cane to an all-time low level, a thing that severely impacted the economy and brought crisis to the people of Bacolod.
That same year on April 22, MV Don Juan collided with MV Tacloban, an empty oil tanker in the Straight of Tablas and sank to the sea. This tragedy claimed the lives of more than 700 passengers, of whom mostly are residents of Negros Occidental including the family members of then Mayor Jose Montalvo of Bacolod City. The Don Juan tragedy and the economic crisis was perhaps the darkest times of the City of Smiles.
It was during these challenging times when Mayor Jose Montalvo along with other officials, civic leaders, and artists came up with the initiative to liven up the Charter Day of the city. It was from this efforts that the MassKara Festival was born. The term MassKara is a portmanteau of the English word “Mass” meaning the people and the Spanish word “Kara” which means “face”, so MassKara technically means “face of the masses” or “a multitude of smiling faces”. The term MassKara was first coined by the President of the Arts Association of Bacolod (AAB), Ely Santiago.
This festival which is held every third week of October is a reminder to the resilience and strong spirit of the Bacolodnons and Negrenses amidst adversaries.
- Bacolod: City of Southeast Asia. This year’s theme exemplifies the wish of its current city mayor; that is for Bacolod City to become a premier city not only in the country but in whole Southeast Asia. As a matter of fact, Philippines will host the 50th anniversary of the ASEAN this year and Bacolod City is one of the host cities.
- Festival logo. The very first logo of the festival was designed by no other than Ely Santiago himself. This days, the design of the logo changes annually based on the given theme. This year’s festival logo was designed by Mark Lester Jarmin, a digital designer from Brgy. Banago, Bacolod City. He is an expert in character and mascot designs, cartoons, and web and print illustrations. It is also a first time this year that the logo is a character logo.
- Festival masks and costumes. Masskara Festival’s elaborated and extravagant masks and costumes are considered to be one of the best festival attires in the country. The grinning masks are made from different materials like paper or fiberglass, painted with bright colors, and adorned by colorful beads, sequins, and laces.
Just like its festival logo, the masks and costumes used in the festival also evolves. In 2007, the first Electric MassKara was added. The masks are decorated with LED lights and the street dancing competition is held at night for full appreciation of the lights.
ABS-CBN Bacolod holds an annual MassKara Festival mask making contest which is open to the public and the designs are displayed at the MassKara Festival exhibit. And if you want to take home some MassKara souvenirs, you can visit Jojo Vito Designs Gallery.
- Festival music. Like its other aspects, MassKara Festival music also develops through the years. From the original medley and native songs to the electric beats and mix, the festival music has a colorful evolution. For this year’s festival music, it was made by Roberto Aves, one of Philippine’s leading jazz proponent. The music is divided into 3 parts with the first part incorporating Filipino indigenous sounds of bamboo instruments and gong rhythms with the beat of “Taiko” drums of Japan. The first part was also incorporated with voice ad libs called “Tata” from Bukidnon.
The second part is where the street dancing happens, it features the evolution of the music from indigenous into modern. It uses EDM or Electronic Dance Music style with vocal tracks from singers. The third part is the part where the “ASEAN Integration” theme incorporated. It features sounds of hip hop and Afro-Cuban beats.
The last part is a recap of the street dancing part. You can listen to the festival music on SoundCloud and feel the hype of the upcoming MassKara festival.
How to Get to Bacolod City
From Manila. You can fly to Bacolod from Manila for around 45 minutes through Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific via the Bacolod-Silay Airport. Upon arrival you can take a taxi cab or a shuttle bus to your destination.
From Cebu. From Cebu City, you can reach Bacolod City by air or by land trip for approximately six to seven hours.
How to Join the Fun
This part is for the first timers or those who always forget to do or bring this or that. So before we jump to the things that you should never miss in your trip, here are some reminders and tips so you can better enjoy your MassKara Festival experience.
- It is a must to read and learn about some things about the place you are going before going there. Familiarize their culture, know the good food to try, and take a look at their history. This will give you a better idea of where to go or what to try so you don’t go there and wander aimlessly. This will help you save a lot of time and money and let you make the best out of your Bacolod Trip.
- Be prepared. Never go unprepared, make sure to bring all the things that essential when you step out of your hotel room. Bring umbrella in case the weather changes mood, wear sunscreen and hats to protect yourself from harmful sunrays, and always bring with you a bottle of water, always.
- Wear comfortable clothes. There will be a lot of people in the venue and a lot of physical activity so make sure that you wear something that you are comfortable at. Consider also wearing walking or running shoes since there will be a lot of walking
- Find the Best View. If this is your first time watching or attending the MassKara Festival, it is important to know the good spots in the city to watch the street dancing parade. One of the best areas to witness the event is at the Bacolod Public Plaza where the dance arena is located. You can also ask their tourism officers or office about getting yourself a photographer’s pass in case you are a blogger or photo enthusiast.
- Get there early. The street dancing parade usually starts at 2 PM so make sure that you are already in the venue an hour or two before it starts so you can get a good spot to watch or photograph.
Things You Should Never Miss
MassKara Festival have always been filled with fun and exciting activities through the years. The month long celebration kicks off with Festival opening on the first day of October and the highlights of the festival occurring on the third week. For this year’s MassKara Festival, here are the things you should not miss from the scheduled activities.
- LGBT Ambassadress coronation night. Get ready to laugh out loud and be amazed by the witty banters and answers of the gay prides of Bacolod as the battle for the crown of Miss LGBT Ambassadress 2017. The pageant will be held at the BAYS Center at October 3, 2017, Tuesday at 3:00 PM.
- MassKara Red Party. This activity is perfect for all the party animals out there. Held at the Bacolod Government Center Grounds, the Red Party is a night filled with music and dancing. There is nothing better to a DJ blasting off the music as you dance with a lot of people, it is definitely a night not to miss. Party starts at 9:00 PM, so be at the venue earlier to have a great spot to party all night.
- Nights of Mardi Gras. This activity is held for three consecutive nights starting from October 10, 2017 starting at 8:00 PM in the evening. For each night of the three-nights period, 5 barangays from the competing barangays will perform live their own rendition of the MassKara Festival music together with their dancers. The Nights of Mardi Gras is being held along San Juan St., Gozaga St., and Gatuslao St.
- MassKara Queen. Bacolod City does not only have beautiful sceneries and spots but also have stunning ladies. The MassKara Queen pageant will showcase the beauty, wit, and talent of the ladies from all around Bacolod City. The pageant will be held at the equally elegant L’fisher Hotel on October 14 at 7:00 PM.
- Batucada Drumbeating Competition. Groups of 4-6 person each will play drums as they dance to their choreography around the Plaza. Cash prizes are given for the winners of both School and Barangay categories. The Batucada Drumbeating Competition will be held at the Bacolod Public Plaza and starts at 7:00 PM.
- Electric MassKara. Witness the merging of the traditional aspects of the festival with that with the modern technology as LED lights illuminates the masks and costumes of the participant. The Electric MassKara comprises of different activities such as Electric Zumba sa MassKara, Electric MassKara Performing, Floats competition, and Street Parties. The Electric MassKara activities starts at 5:00 of October 21, 2017 at the Tourism strip or Lacson St.
- MassKara Street Dance and Arena competitions. This is the very highlight of the MassKara Festival so everyone in Bacolod for the festival should have no reason to miss out this activity. The street showdown is a highly-anticipated event wherein a total of 15 barangays plus 11 schools, dances and jive their way to win the Masskara Street Dancing and Arena Competition. The showdown will happen at the Bacolod Public Plaza and will start at 3:00 PM according to the newly release schedule of activities.
- The Food. Besides all these fun activities, one thing that everyone should never miss when attending the festival is the plethora of good food. You can never leave Bacolod City without tasting their original Chicken Inasal and don’t forget to buy your friends their sweet Piyaya.
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MassKara Festival truly shows the rich culture, history, arts, and traditions of the City of Bacolod. It also shows the civic spirit, values, skills, and ideals of the whole Bacolod and even Negros Occidental people. With all these ideas, tips and knowledge about Bacolod and the Festival, your plans for your Festival trip will surely be unforgettable and worth it. So get your stuff ready, book your flight, and witness one of the best of the best festivals in the country.