Sunday, January 8, 2012


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).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

198. Carnival's Radio Night: THE SEARCH FOR MISS RADIO

The Radio as a new communication medium officially came to the Philippines in 1922 when a test broadcast was made by a Mrs. Redgrave from Nichols Air Field using a 5-watt transmitter. Early broadcasting was a strictly an American affair until the 1930s when local songs and program, started to be heard from KZIB, KZRH and KZRG Stations. Radio took off quickly by leaps and bounds, with many Filipino homes tuning into entertainment programs and listen to the musical comic sketches of Dely Atay-Atayan and Andoy Balun-balunan, the classic standards of the Mystery Singer Cecil Lloyd, the operatic songs of Atang de la Rama, as well as sound effects laden-radio dramas and variety shows.

No wonder then that when the 1936 Manila Carnival was inaugurated, the crowds were treated not just to the usual sidelights of masquerade parties, university nights, amusement rides and contests but to a whole new event—the Radio Night. A radio tower was installed in the carnival grounds from which songs and performances were broadcasted. It was capped with the selection of a “Miss Radio”, chosen from a field of female announcers and radio personalities that included the most popular names of the airwaves.

The first winner, Miss Radio of 1936, was actually a married woman of Pangasinense-Swedish parentage--Januaria Constantino Keller (b. 1918)—a skilled modiste who moonlit as a singer at the station owned by the Jewish businessman Isaac Beck. Husband Ramon Novales was her accompanist. She sang kundimans and Tagalog love songs and she was soon attracting the attention of local production outfits like the Excelsior Studios, who also wanted to screen-test her. Januaria, now known as Carmen Rosales, at first, resisted, as she claimed to have no talent for acting, but she went along anyway—and passed her test. Carmen joined an audition for the movie “Mahiwagang Binibini” and was picked to play a small role in support o the lead star, Atang de la Rama.

It was her second movie, "Arimunding-Munding," that finally launched her to full stardom. Carmen’s team-up with Rogelio de la Rosa would prove to be one of the most formidable and most successful love teams in the history of Philippine cinema. The reclusive legend died at the age 74 on Dec. 11, l991.

Competing in the same Miss Radio quest were two well-known beauties from artistic families: Milagros Mat Castro and Lina Flor. Milagros was the daughter of Remigio Mat Castro who had already made a name for himself as a writer, producer and director of radio shows. While her sister Luz Mat Castro sang kundiman songs, Milagros performed literary declamations, all done under the watchful eye of their father.

Lina Flor (b. l914/ d. 1976) made her mark in radio by writing soap operas, but she also wrote insightful articles for the Manila Times and The Daily Mirror, where she was a popular columnist. She enjoyed a long career, writing both in English and Filipino, that would last for nearly 50 years.

Miss Radio 1937 was a Pampanga belle named Elisa “Ely” Manalo who dabbled in radio and movies. Ely had the distinction of reigning also as Miss Luzon in the court of that year’s Miss Philippines winner, Maria Carmen Zaldarriaga. That year's Radio Night was to be the last, although the popularity of the medium continued to soar.

The golden age of Philippine radio would peak in the 50s, with almost every home having their own Bakelite or plastic transistor radios—but by then, the Manila Carnivals were already just distant memories of our colonial past.

Monday, January 2, 2012

197. Carnival Beauties: MANOLITA C. VILLAESCUSA, 1927 Miss Zamboanga

ZAMBOANGUEÑA HERMOSA. Manolita Villaescusa y Camins, the second Miss Zamboanga, was a popular hometown beauty whose Spanish ancestry is evident in her strong mestiza features.

Zamboanga made a strong showing in the 1st National Beauty Contest for Miss Philippines when local lass, Carmen Fargas, almost won the title, after tying with Miss Batangas, Anita Noble. So close was the race that after a second voting, it was decided that Carmen, too, deserved a crown, so a new title--Miss Pearl of the Orient Seas--was awarded to the comely mestiza.

The local Zamboanga government stuck to the winning formula in fielding their next Miss Zamboanga—another pedigreed Filipina-Spanish mestiza by the name of Manolita Villaescusa y Camins. Her mother was Valeria Fuentebella Camins, who traced her ancestry to one Francisco Camins who served in the Spanish Navy stationed in Zamboanga. Another relative would be a future governor of Zamboanga (1931-34), Carlos Hernandez Camins.

Coming on the heels of Carmen’s victory, Manolita went to Manila to join other provincial delegates and was quickly installed as one of the favorites for the crown. She failed to clinch a place in the finals, however, but went back home to Zamboanga where she was feted and was asked to participate in that year’s Rizal Day festivities, along with former Misses Zamboanga. She later married an Antonio.