Yoyoy Villame: National Artist for Music and Literature

By Lourd de Veyra – I WAS in college when I learned that Gary Granada counted Yoyoy Villame as one of his major influences, and I thought he was being ironic. As a Gary G., I wondered how a serious, socially committed singer-songwriter could look up to the man who composed “Butse Kik.”

Later on I would finally understand: everything.

* * *

An outrage that Yoyoy Villame’s death last May was met only with passing mention in the evening news, squeezed alongside Kuya Cesar’s.

It’s like the news editors thought, “Hey, that announcer who talks slow and the man who sang “Butse Kik” die on the same day. Let’s lump them together.” But that’s typical of Filipino media to conveniently pigeonhole people.

But to say that Yoyoy Villame is a novelty performer is like saying Kafka is just a horror writer or that Martin Scorsese makes gangster films.

* * *

Nietzsche: “Laughter is an indication of an emotion that has already died.” Which is why it is believed that true comedy is a product of pain. And that the best comics are people who have gone through life’s darker avenues and have returned to tell us about it, with a punch line. I shall spare you the biographical details of Yoyoy’s life that may have anything to do with anguish, but all you have to know is that he once worked as jeepney driver and he definitely did not attend Ateneo or La Salle.

True, Yoyoy does write funny stuff but it is the kind of humor that has complex levels. Good comedy is always visceral as it is intellectual. Just because it can makes us laugh does not mean it should not be taken seriously. There is a major difference between “serious” and “solemn.” The films of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and The Simpsons are serious. Some Pinoy independent films are dead-solemn in their intent but should never be taken seriously.

And anyone who can make us chuckle, tap our feet, and engage certain parts of our brain is a serious artist. Yoyoy’s profound contribution to Philippine culture is already secured, if only for that song that compresses three hundred years of Philippine history into one pathologically infectious ditty, or “Mag-Exercise Tayo,” which could have prevented the obesity plague if we had only heeded its message. This aerobic call-to-arms occupies a warm, sweaty place in my childhood memory— everyday at the public elementary school I attended (named after a president of the Philippine Republic famous for owning a golden urinola) students were required to mass calisthenics Cultural Revolution-era China-style, to the rhythms of Yoyoy’s distinctive tremolo booming from loudspeakers.

Yoyoy’s bizarre imagination soars in “Hayop na Combo,” an excursion into pure surrealism. It’s a tale of a lazy and inept small-town band whose musicians have been replaced by animals. And the intensity rivals anything that Breton or Magritte has conceived of:

“Nag-rak en roll ang mga daga/ Nag-chacha ang mga palaka/ Nagalit ang kabayong bakla/ Sa kalabaw na tumutula.// Palakpakan ang surot at ipis/ sa gagambang nag-flying trapeze.”

The man also manages to say everything by not saying anything at all, as in the genius wordplay of pieces like “Butse Kik” and “Granada.” “Butse Kik’s” jabberwocky is so inspired people still think it’s a Chinese song. As for “Granada” — when was the last time your average novelty composer spoofed a Spanish standard and turned it into a brilliantly absurd litany of dangerous weapons?

* * *

Writer and official Sago screamer Bert Sulat explains the greatness of Yoyoy: “Because he connected to the masses by just being himself, while subtly injecting nuggets of wisdom into our senses.”

Ricky Torre, a Yoyoy fan and a writer for the Philippines Free Press, observes: “Yoyoy is a chronicler of the times he lived in. He’s a natural poet with an improvisational flair. As a modern troubadour with a rock and roll heart, he conveys both the old and the new. There’s almost a Chaplinesque pathos to his humor, which is actually a trademark of all great comedians. But as a balladeer, a very rare side of him, he can be a real heartbreaker.”

Literature professor and professional drinker Vincent Eviota believes that Yoyoy’s genius can be summed up in these lines: “Kaya buhat noon ako’y na-broken heart/ Ako’y nagpalamig sa may boulevard/ Nakita ko sila sa isang nite klab/ Si mestiza ko at tatay ko ay love na love… These are from “Wag Diyan,” a sordid tale of passion and jealousy ending with the narrator’s girlfriend running away with his father who has a big penis.

* * *

If Yoyoy lived in France and Jack Lang were minister of culture, he would be knighted into the Order of Arts and Letters and a day would be officially named after him. But what do we know? ‘Pinas lang naman tayo, eh, a Third-World country venerating charlatans and scandal-prone celebrities. And maybe Yoyoy was just a novelty singer.

– via abashet

Note: This story was published in a 2007 issue of BURN magazine. The author, Lourd de Veyra is a Palanca award-winning poet and essayist. He is also the frontman of the band called Radioactive Sago Project and a co-host of NU107’s Rock Ed Radio program, Sundays @8pm.

Find more like this: Arts


  1. […] on I would finally understand: everything. (more…) Philippines News : Read the rest of this article […]

  2. Tom says:

    I miss that guy. :-(

  3. Rollycb - california says:

    you heard Pia Cayetano and miguel zubiri at senate? anong ginagawa ng 2 kumag na ito nakatunganga na lang sa mga kasamahan nila?

    good job jamby madrigal!!! sabihin mo sa mga hinayupak na militar na yan that they are loyal to GMA not to the constitution.

  4. Rollycb - california says:

    paano kaya kung ang judges sa boxing ni pacquiao ay sina garciliano, abalos at first gentleman???sigurado talo si pacquiao hahaha.

  5. Rollycb - california says:

    dapat talaga atin yang spratly, pamana sana sa atin eh ibenenta ni nanay gloria dahil maluho si tatay first gentleman. bat kasi di pa natuluyan noong muntik ng mamatay hahahaha.

  6. rollycb-California says:

    The favoring of Supreme court on Neri’s petition is a serious issue. Parang sinabi ng Supreme court na INUTIL ang senate? NASAAN ang katarungan sa Pilipinas? Mismo ang Supreme court ay nakakawalang TIWALA?
    SUPREME COURT simplified its decision like: HUWAG MONG SABIHIN ANG PINAGUSAPAN NYO ni Arroyo kahit na TOTOO.
    MGA KABABAYAN KO gumising kayo sa katotohanan.

  7. rollycb-California says:

    Cabinet officials, provide solution to rice crisis. Tell your boss MADAM GLORIA to fight corruption.

    Mr. house speaker I always see your face going with Gloria wherever she goes praying in front of wooden images, is that your work Mr. Nograles???? Filipinos are paying your salary!!!!

  8. rollycb-California says:

    Mr. Yap, tanga ka ba? bakit Catholic church ang ginamit mong mag distribute ng bigas? Lalong mawawala ang bigas niyan…..Paano ang mga kababayan naming Muslim, other religions…kumakain din kami ng bigas, huwag naman ganyan…

    MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Agriculture has tapped the Catholic Church in the distribution of government-subsidized rice, assuring it a weekly allocation of at least 50,000 sacks for the poor in various parishes in Metro Manila.

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