A Fresh Look and Listening to the Balagtasan - Page 2
The Balagtasan that I attended today had the poets debate over the issue of corruption. As common knowledge for every Filipino around the world, corruption in the Philippines is one of the biggest problems that the country is still struggling today, even way before the country was liberated from foreign occupation (Spain, U.S. and Japan). The topic of the debate was "Should the leaders or the citizens be blamed for the country's ongoing corruption?"
The poets in this event, all male, appeared in Barong Tagalog, traditional Philippine embroidered formal garment. Female poets appear in Baro't Saya dress, the equivalent to the male Barong Tagalog. The entire format looked synonymous with the modern lyrical showdowns, such as the "Yo Momma" jokes in (American) Hip-hop culture, but rather than exchanging verses aiming to insult the opponent, the debaters use all forms of lyrical word play and deliver them with their utmost attitude to show their intent of their views of the overall issue. The poets were not just merely memorizing their poetic spoken word intended for their opponents, but they deliver them as if they were simply free-styling from their minds and hearts that give the entire Balagtasan forum engaging to the audience. The poets deliver their spoken word with so much passion that there are at times where they perform as if they were doing stand-up comedy to even singing their words. Even the mediator also delivers his words in to playful speech that spices up the amusement of the entire forum. Like the lawyers preparing for their opening statements and possible rebuttals to their opponents before the big event, the poets also prepare their verses to recite with some ad-libbing here and there when needed.
The Balagtasan was a very popular form of amusement among Filipinos during the early 20th Century until the end of World War II, where Western pop culture took over the Philippines' own cultural ways of entertainment. Even if that was the case, the spirit of the Balagtasan continues today, from established schools to various Filipino Communities all around the world. In the U.S. alone, there have been many Balagtasan events in different parts of the country, from simple entertainment to even competitions among poetry clubs and forensic clubs from schools. Many poets see the Balagtasan as an early form of modern spoken word and slam poetry, now popular in the African-American Community and the Latino Community, heavily influenced by modern hip-hop culture. Some even say that the Balagtasan is one of the original roots of modern American spoken word and slam poetry.Continued on the next page