KRITIKA KULTURA LECTURE SERIES
SONGS FOR THE MASSES
Humor in Max Surban's Folk Ballads
lecture presented by Jose S. Buenconsejo, Ph.D.
last February 12, 2019 at the Ateneo De Manila University, Faura AVR
About the Lecture:
A growing scholarly literature on the relationship of music to politics in the Philippines has underscored the importance of song performativity as a mass medium. In this paper, I explore what is it in most of Surban’s songs that have struck a resonant chord in the lives of the poor and marginalized Filipinos. A key to understanding this is to look into Max Surban’s songs as satirical social commentaries that his listeners can relate to in their everyday social experience of poverty and deprivation. Surban’s voice in most of his songs, non-sentimental and true to the folk tradition (kanta) from which it comes from, narrates the material conditions of individuals as social types (and not sentimental individuals in mainstream theater). Thus, his songs create what is akin to Bertolt Brecht’s "alienation" effect that enables a critical contemplation on the harsh conditions that the poor are in. Humor is an important palliative ingredient in the reception of Surban’s songs as "novelty." I argue that this masks the social pain that could have led, along with critical reflection, to a positive and enduring social transformation.