I can imagine that this doesn’t apply to many Filipinos of a different social class and generation from mine. But for a particular sector who, in the 1990s, was enamored by American pop and rap, who were at an age in which they needed a sense of identity in the context of this country, there was Francis Magalona.
And this is not to say that he began in my consciousness as a rapper. If memory serves, he was singing and dancing on That’s Entertainment, acting in Bagets 2, and rapping the top 10 song countdown on Lovli-Ness, before he became the Master Rapper of this country. In fact, when he broke out as a rapper in the album Yo! and the song “Mga Kababayan”, it seemed to me like the most natural progression, for someone like FrancisM who seemed more intelligent than many of his generation, and who really did have something to say that was different and new. At least to my 14-year old ears, and my 17-year old brother’s, and I guess to many friends I’ve met since then, who now mourn with me and cry the tears we would normally only have for loved ones.
Because FrancisM’s presence in our lives through most of the 90’s, was extraordinary, and the love, I realize now, has been consistently fueled since “Mga Kababayan”. Then, he didn’t only make batik the coolest thing we could wear, he also became a symbol of Pinoy pride. We loved him for being such, in the way that we love the bigger symbols of nation: the Philippine flag, the color of our skin, the here and now and the future. FrancisM spoke of all of these, with a maturity that did begin with “Mga Kababayan”, where he talked of the universals yes, of unity and country, but also through which he did freestyle rap in concerts like Gary Valenciano’s Major Impact, and talked about the coup d’ etats and the “quicksand” that is paying the national debt post-EDSA 1986.
It was in these instances that FrancisM would prove that he was more political – and therefore more rebellious – than most artists of his generation, and even of more generations to come. In fact, FranciM’s brand of rap, his music, his poetics, his concerns, were uniquely his own, because he was consistent even as he matured. In truth, all he became was more brave and daring after “Mga Kababayan”. Then, he began to talk about drug addiction as a universal which touches every person from any social class (“Mga Praning”), about peace and human rights (“Ito Ang Gusto Ko!”), about the dynamics of Pinoy elections (“Halalan”), about copying the foreign (Tayo’y Mga Pinoy). It is difficult to forget EDSA Dos, and how, on that first day, it was his song “Magna Cum Nakaw” that rang true for all of us who were angry that the second envelope wasn’t opened, but who were also discontent about the truth that the politics wasn’t about to change.
And FrancisM wasn’t about to stop. When he took on hosting chores for Eat Bulaga, it was clear that he had become his most mature and confident, allowing for his image to become that of an everyday staple: him fooling around with the funniest on television, him in drag singing girly-songs, him on a reality-show type of challenge taking on the chores of his wife in their eight-children household. Here too, we would see him as family man, and as survivor of the ailment that would take his life, doing a final performance with co-survivor and friend Ely Buendia, in what was the most touching and powerful remembrance that while life is volatile and fleeting, it can also absolutely be empowered in the face of that which we can’t control.
And so now that FrancisM is gone, it is as if I am being reminded of all these, and of what life was like having his music in my head. And of what it now has become, given his passing. It is difficult not to cry, not just because I have loved this man who was technically a stranger, but because this stranger has made himself mine, through his songs and the nation he was proud of and so loved. Which I have learned to do as well. And in that sense I also can’t help but mourn for this nation, for having lost this modern-day hero, with the daring and bravery – and strength – that has become so rare for the artists of these shores.