All smiles for MassKara
BACOLOD CITY — The making of the iconic smiling masks used during the famous MassKara Festival here is an art in itself.
In the early days of the MassKara, masks were made of papier maché, but these would end up damaged when rain poured during performances — a not unusual occurrence since the festival is held every October during the rainy season.
Now, dancers are using masks made of fiberglass that can withstand heavy rains and can last to about 10 years.
And the masks are not light—weight- and price-wise.
These could weigh from one to 5 kilograms and cost between P2,500 and P8,000 each, depending on the size and intricacy of design, said choreographer Segundo Jesus “Panoy” Cabalcar Jr., a Grade 9 teacher at Bacolod City National High School.
“The mask has to be attractive from every angle, even from a distance for judges to fully appreciate them,” said Cabalcar, who has won the most MassKara Festival streetdancing competitions and best masks awards.
The fiberglass base costs P500, but the price goes up once it is painted and embellished. It usually takes about two days to complete a mask.
The MassKara Festival began in 1980 when Negros Occidental province was reeling from a twin tragedy—a sugar crisis and the sinking of MV Don Juan where at least 700 people died, many of whom were from Bacolod.
To lift the spirits and hopes of a grieving people, the festival, featuring its signature smiling masks, was born.
The name was coined by late artist Ely Santiago, former Art Association of Bacolod president, from the words “mass,” which means a multitude of people, and the Spanish word “cara” or face.
Every year, the event changes themes. This year, it is “Bacolod: City of Southeast Asia” in reference to the country’s hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit.
The theme usually provides inspirations to mask makers like Cabalcar when designing their masks.
Cabalcar, who is choreographing three groups in this month’s festivities, usually starts designing the masks of his performers as early as July to make sure that they are better than the previous designs. This year, he is merging the different cultures of the Asean countries, with the Philippines as the focal point.
Activities for the 38th MassKara Festival kicked off on Oct. 1 and would peak on Oct. 21 and 22 with street dancing competitions.
Eleven groups are featured in the school category on Oct. 21, while 15 groups compete in the barangay category on Oct. 22, said festival director Eli Tajanlangit.
Organizers expect the street dances to feature choreography using native Southeast Asian movements.
To highlight the Asean in festival activities, Tajanlangit said the organizers created a new and original dance music that fused local sounds with global style. The composition used mostly Philippine and Asian instruments, and was done by the country’s leading jazz proponent, Bob Aves, a native of Bacolod.
“It will be interesting (to see) how our choreographers will render these elements (Asean theme and choreography and music) and put them together but we are excited because they have always delivered. I’ve seen some of these movements and I am excited. These alone will prove we really are a ‘City of Southeast Asia,’” he said.
According to Tajanlangit, the organizers decided to feature Asean not only because the Philippines is this year’s host but also to encourage people to think beyond the Visayas and the Philippines and explore Southeast Asia, and even the world.
“We have to prepare our people to work and live in a borderless and multicultural world,” he added.
This year’s festival also pays tribute to the MassKara dancer.
“Our logo, the very first time depicting a character, is in fact a MassKara dancer rendered as a cartoon,” Tajanlangit said.
The festival will feature the same activities, though organizers try to improve on each event.
Tajanlangit cited the Electric MassKara starting 5 p.m. from Oct. 20 to 22 down the Tourism Strip on Lacson Street, which would have a new look with light shows and special effects spread out all over the strip to convert it into a giant party place.
To address different markets, organizers have opened three festival areas—at the public plaza with its food and beer kiosks, the Bacolod Government Center (BGC) grounds for early evening outings of families, and the Electric MassKara at the Bacolod Tourism Strip for the young crowd.
“We are boosting activities on the BGC grounds to hew it closer to our intention of having a family-oriented site, where entire families can eat out and stroll in the early evenings,” Tajanlangit said.
New events include the “electric Zumba” at 5 p.m. on Oct. 20 and 21, which hopes to gather zumba dancers to fill up the 23-block Tourism Strip, and the Sadya ang MassKara with Mayor Bing National Fireworks Display, which features 10 manufacturers from around the country for a four-day competition at 7 p.m. from Oct. 19 to 22.
What makes coming to the MassKara worth one’s time?
Tajanlangit said a CNN report once rated the festival among its 12 best things in the Philippines while the National Geographic Traveler called it one of the 12 “must-do” events in the world for October.