By Ibarra C. Mateo
HOW does one explain to the young Filipino millennials the life and literary achievements of poet José Corazon de Jesus, considered as the first king of “balagtasan”, who is marking his 86th death anniversary on May 26?
The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), under its President Arsenio J. Lizaso, has enlisted a phalanx of seasoned actors, ventriloquist, opera singers, traditional mambabalagtas from Bulacan, and young rappers to do this.
The roster includes established actors John Arcilla, Ronnie Lazaro, Lou Veloso, ventriloquist Ony Carcamo, the Philippine Opera Company, and rappers Beware and Negatibo.
It was revealed in a news conference that Lizaso is a nephew of De Jesus on his mother’s side.
In the same news conference, Lizaso announced that the CCP’s production of “Pagbabalik-Tanaw sa Unang Hari ng Balagtasan” coincides with the 86th death anniversary of De Jesus.
“The CCP is honoring Jose Corazon de Jesus or Huseng Batute through this event because his works exemplify artistic excellence, cultural values, Filipino aesthetics, and our national identity. These are embodied in our performance pledge to attain a humanistic global society,” Lizaso said.
“In this digital age, we would like to introduce the millennials to traditional poetry, the balagtasan, and the kundiman music which are the precursors of Spoken Word, the rap battles, and the modern Filipino love songs,” Lizaso said.
Activities begin at 1:30 pm. at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute. The theater, a black box intended for experimental performances, was named after the poet’s pen name Huseng Batute. The event is free and open to the public.
De Jesus was born on Nov. 22, 1896 and died on May 26, 1932.
A native of Sta. Cruz district of Manila, his parents were Dr. Vicente de Jesus and Susana Pangilinan.
De Jesus wrote his Buhay-Maynila column in verse at the Taliba newspaper for 10 years. His poems were published in six books, namely, Mga Dahong Ginto, Gloria, Mga Itinapon ng Kapalaran, Sa Dakong Silangan, Ilaw sa Kapitbahay, and Maruming Basahan.
He also penned lyrics for songs, most of which are kundiman or the traditional Filipino love songs. He translated the song “Nuestra Patria” to “Bayan Ko” which is considered as the second (unofficial) national anthem of the Philippines.
Aside from writing poetry and lyrics, Batute similarly excelled in performing in balagtasan.
The balagtasan, named after Francisco Balagtas who wrote Florante at Laura and Orosman at Zafira, is a Filipino literary form of debate where rhymed verses are created in spontaneity under topics that range from Philippine politics to culture.
Batute received numerous recognition for balagtasan. He won the title Hari ng Balagtasan in 1926 and again in 1929, where he beat this closest contender, Florentino Collantes.
“Pagbabalik-Tanaw sa Unang Hari ng Balagtasan” is being staged in cooperation with the Provincial Government of Bulacan.
The literary event has two segments. The first is the forum where invited speakers discuss the works of Batute and their relevance to the contemporary times. Second is the “Pagtatanghal” where 10 of Batute’s works are to be performed.
Bulacan Gov. Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado is one of the speakers in the forum.
Among the Batute works to be performed are five poems, sections from the first balagtasan held at the Instituto de Mujeres in Tondo, Manila on April 6, 1924, and five songs which he provided lyrics to.
Multi-awarded writer and performance artist Vim Nadera and Louise O. Lopez will host the event.
The event is spearheaded by the CCP Office of the President and implemented through the Intertextual Division.
(For more details on “Pagbabalik-Tanaw sa Unang Hari ng Balagtasan,” contact Kimberly Lim at 551-5959, 0919-3175708, or at firstname.lastname@example.org).