By Fausto Trillo
The audience at a Butuan mall watching the finals of “Tawag ng Tanghalan” season 3 roared with cheers when Elaine Duran, Butuan’s own contender was declared the grand champion of the singing competition on “It’s Showtime.”
Some people remarked she is the first Butuanon to gain national recognition. They are wrong, dead wrong. They have no sense of history. Long before Elaine, there were already acclaimed Butuanon/Caraganon divas who captured both the “masa” and discriminating crowd.
Elaine got away being the most popular because of TV exposure compared to the previous divas who catered to the sectoral market but equally as good and awed.
The first diva was Susan Fuentes, considered legendary in Visayan classic songs heard on early morning and late night radio shows and guested occasionally on TV variety shows way back in the ’70s and ’80s.
Many considered Susan, dubbed the Visayan Queen of Songs, in the league of Pilita Corrales, Dulce Amor, both of Cebu and even Nora Aunor. Today, Susan is forgotten by Butuanons but gratefully her songs are still aired once in a while. No Butuanon songstress can match her record.
In recent times, two Caraganons also before Elaine made waves with their songs and music and their achievement are extraordinary.
One is Grace Nono, who hails from Bunawan, Agusan del Sur. An academe-based and member of a neo-ethnic music band, she came up with a collector’s music album inspired of her tribal connection and the majesty of the place around her, particularly the Agusan River.
Nono’s music is a voice and sensibility of one who is proud of her roots. She is more than just an entertainer and hailed in the category of “world music”—singing songs on environment and respect of homegrown culture.
Nono is now based in New York and has a doctorate in music in the State University. But her songs are regularly played by artists and discriminating music lovers.
Another diva from Agusan del Sur is Bayang Barrios, a favorite of the select crowd, people’s organizations and hometown concerts. Bayang is also a stage actress, having performed with the Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta), a top-rated Manila-based theater company.
Like Grace, Bayang sings original progressive songs attuned to human aspirations, and unlike pop singers who sing songs copied from Hollywood. In the end, that separate them from all the rest, TV or no TV.