The spirited air that permeated the grounds of the Manila Carnivals was certainly not provided by just the merry revelers, but by the inspiring music composed and performed by talented Filipino performers. Several recordings were made with lively Carnival themes—from melodic paeans to the Carnival royalties to ragtag dance music so popular in the Jazz Age that was the 1930s.
The rarest recording was made by the “Nightingale of Philippine Zarzuela”, Maria Evangelista Carpena (22 October 1886 - 8 March 1915), acknowledged today as the country’s first recording artist. The Laguna born-soprano started as a church choir soloist and rose to become a successful star of the Tagalog zarzuela stage. Under the tutelage of Don Severino Reyes, she performed coveted roles in many zarzuelas like “Minda Mora” and "Walang Sugat”, both in 1902.
Hailed as the country’s best, she recorded with Victor Recording Company starting in 1908, interpreting such classic songs as “Ang Maya”, “Ang Geisha”, and “Ang Babaing Nauulol”. She also recorded duets with Victorino Carrion, often accompanied by Antonio Molina and his orchestra. Carpena died due to complications resulting from appendicitis on 8 March 1915.
The record shown here, with the title “La Reina del Carnaval de Filipinas” – a valse--was made for Odeon Record International Talking Machine. In this disc, “Srta. Carpena” sings a song tribute accompanied only by a piano. The flipside is entitled “Mucho Bueno”, a duet by Antonia Bautista and Sr. Pontefe. The record carries the seal of the Philippine Government and was recorded in Manila.
“La Reina del Carnaval del Filipinas” was the work of the famed composer, Jose A. Estella, who was a master of classical music and the Tagalog zarzuela. He had earlier composed “Ang Maya”, recorded by Maria Carpena. Born in 1870, he was a child prodigy at 10 and even performed for the Spanish royal family. He recorded the same song for Victor Record on 21 June 1912, and two years later, he recorded with his orchestra, a more contemporary “Manila Carnival Rag”, under the same label. Estella died in 1945; a son, Ramon Estella would become a successful award-winning film director and painter.
A later 78 rpm recording featuring Carnival music was made by a certain C. Gachalian for the prestigious Columbia Record in the U.S. Entitled “Carnaval del Manila”—a ‘marcha en Tagalog’, a march music, accompanied with a guitar. The flipside is the local version of “Honey Boy” by one C. Cristobal. This recording dates to the early Commonwealth years.
(Thank you, Arch. Edward de los Santos, for your permission to use pictures of your rare Manila Carnival record collection).