Masskara Festival is one of the most awaited festivals in the Philippines, and one of the most attended, with thousands of local and foreign tourists alike observing it every year. It is a month-long celebration with highlights of street dancing happening on the 3rd week of October around 16-19 (whichever falls on a Sunday). This is something I couldn’t forget because my birthday falls on the 17th of October and Bacolod City is a city close to my heart after my hometown since I’ve spent few years of my early childhood growing up here. However, for this year 2017, the Local Government of Bacolod City approved on the ordinance setting the fourth Sunday of October as the permanent schedule of the highlights Masskara Festival.
The MassKara Festival is an annual festival with highlights of street dancing on the 3rd week marking Bacolod City’s Charter anniversary. The Festival is truly dynamic and has been evolving year after year depending on its theme with its concepts getting influenced by the Carnival of Venice and the Rio Carnival. Earlier masks were hand-painted and adorned with feathers, flowers and native beads, while contemporary masks feature plastic beads and sequins. Each mask is created uniquely which reflects the talent, creativity, and ingenuity of the Filipino people.
In 2014, MassKara Festival ranked 25th among the listed 29 most colorful festivals and celebrations around the world by www.placestoseeinyourlifetime.com as well as the only festival in the Philippines acknowledged by the international news channel CNN as “one of the 12 best things in the Philippines.” It was indeed World Class!
Every festival has its own story so it would be interesting to dig up a little history on how as beautiful and colorful like Masskara Festival started.
The first festival took place way back in 1980 during a period of deep crisis where 2 tragedies struck at once. First, we need to understand that the province relied on sugar cane as its primary agricultural crop, making it as the backbone of their economy. However, the introduction of sugar substitutes such as high fructose corn syrup in the United States lowered the demand of sugar causing its prices to deflate which eventually resulted the sugar industry to collapse. On that same year, April 22, an inter-island vessel MV Don Juan carrying many Negrenses, including those belonging to prominent families in Bacolod City, collided with the tanker Tacloban City and sank. Around 700 lives were lost in the tragedy.
Known as the “City of Smiles”, the city’s artists, local government and civic groups collaborated to create something they could smile about and came up with a festival to lift themselves out of despair, thus, the birth of Masskara Festival. Its name came from “mass”, Spanish for many, and “cara”, the word for face; the festival is a noisy, busy, joyful, colorful mix of parading street dancers and musicians, all wearing bright masks with big smiles, hence, the festival of smile. Masskara is a declaration by the people of the city that no matter how tough and bad the times were, Bacolod City is going to pull through, survive, and in the end, triumph.
Things to Do
Masskara Festival is a month long celebrated with its kick-off usually starting at the first week of October. However, if you want to make the most out of it maximizing for a short period of time, then might as well have your visit on it 3rd week (or for this year 4th week) where most of the major activities happen including MassKara Queen beauty pageant, Water Float Parade, Electric Masskara Competition, Puppet Show Parade, Street and EDM parties. On that note, you don’t wanna miss the highlight which features a street dance competition where people from all walks of life troop to the streets to see masked dancers gyrating to the rhythm of Latin musical beats in a display of mastery, gaiety, coordination and stamina. Other minor activities include carnivals, drum and bugle corps competitions, food festivals, sports events, musical concerts, agriculture-trade fairs and garden shows.
Just Keep posted and I’ll be happy for update this article once the Schedule of Activities will be officially released.
Planning of Activities and Tips
- Plan Ahead – Like what you’d always do in all your travels, always have the initiative to plan ahead of time. Book your flight (or ship) and hotel rooms in advance even if it’s still months before. Flights will be most likely expensive than usual and accommodation will surely be jam-packed during the festival period. Not only that it makes your trip more convenient once everything’s been laid down ahead but will also help you save time, effort and money as prices will surge at its highest demand during the festival season. Go check online for peso fare flights and discounted hotel accommodations.
- Find Out in Advance – In relation to planning ahead, you might also want to layout your itinerary in accordance to the Schedule of Activities. This one could be crucial as this will affect your overall experience during the festival. I suggest that you include weather forecasting as well as checking your location of your hotel is in relation to the activities. You would want to be at the venue early, so you can get a good observation spot. Check the schedule of activities leading up to the main highlights so you don’t miss anything interesting. Must-see events include MassKara Queen Beauty Pageant, Giant Puppets Parade and Competition, Food Festival, Light Show, Electric DanssKara, and the popular MassKara Street Dance Contest. For access to some exciting street dance action, the front of Bacolod City Hall offers an excellent vantage point because it is one of the main judging areas. Great viewing spots also include the front of Rizal Elementary School (Araneta-Libertad Street) or in front of Lopue’s (Araneta-San Sebastian Street) – as long as you beat everyone to it.
- Weather Proofing – Rain or Shine, the show must go on so as you. Don’t let the weather spoil the fun, go weather proofing, after all nothing beats being prepared. As I mention earlier, always check the weather. Wear light clothing and always carry a bottle of water as this would be convenient in case you can’t leave your observation spot to find a food stall, besides you wouldn’t want to suffer from heat stroke being on the streets for hours. Rain is a possibility but scorching heat is even more likely so might as well bring an umbrella or a hat and make sure to use sunscreen. Also wear comfortable shoes since you’ll be walking a lot.
- Go Behind the Scene – The MassKara street dance contest usually starts at 2PM. It is the perfect opportunity for photo enthusiasts and if you are one, you should get there at least an hour early. The moments prior to the start of the competition are sure to satisfy your photojournalistic inclinations. Go behind the scenes while performers are still preparing and practicing for their performance. I guarantee you’d learn a thing or two when you get to chat with them plus you get to have your exclusive shot or video that can be a way more genuine compared to during the performance. Watching the street dance is one thing but being interacting with performers is another. It just makes your experience much more meaningful by getting a touch of immersion of their culture.
- Don’t Forget to Take Pictures (or Video) – Whether you have full body DLSR, a smartphone or a GoPro, always make it a point to take your shot. This event is worth the documentation not only for your Instagram but for memories worth reminiscing. Just make sure you have any waterproofing material just in case it rains.
- Safety First – Always be aware of the risk and have the mental alertness to get rid of them. Health risks includes heat stress, heat stroke and food poisoning. Go weather proofing and be conscious of the food you eat since there would be an array of street foods to satisfy the hungry stomachs of spectators. Orient yourself where the first aid stations are situated in the area during the festival. As much as possible, don’t bring a big bag. There are so many people on the streets that aside from being uncomfortable carrying a bag, you’d subject yourself to pick-pocketers and thefts that will take advantage of the event. If you have to, use a sling bag or a utility vest and be mindful of your valuables. Other risks include accidents, stampede and worst-case scenario would be bombing so always be vigilant.
- Explore! Explore! Explore! And Have Fun! Don’t waste your nights and mornings! Tour The Ruins, Mambukal, Campuestuhan among the many others while in Bacolod. You might want to extend your stay for a few days after the festival. At night, the stretch along Lacson Street comes alive as one big party place where revelers roam to sample the best Ilonggo food and dance to the beat of music by live bands. For the party animals, you shouldn’t miss the 3 major parties during Masskara Festival namely MassKara Love Dance, MassKara Invasion and MassKaraland. All these 3 will give you a vibe of Tomorrowland on our very City of Smiles.
Don’t forget to have a food trip as Bacolod offers a wide array of local delicacies and gastronomic delights. Among my personal favorites are the special chicken inasal (barbeque) of Manokan Country, Kansi (beef sour soup) from Kansi House and Fresh Talaba (Oyster). Local delicacies such as Barquillos, Piaya, Bahi-bahi and Napoleones can be found in Sugarlandia ni Tia Dami and Pendy’s. They’re best for souvenirs too.
It’s a pleasure for me to write and share about my personal experience with MassKara Festival. It means a lot to me and I’d be glad to help people who are planning their own personal trip and have their own share of meaningful experience of the said festival. My most recent experience was when I get the privilege to cover the highlight of the event as a photography enthusiast back in 2013 and have my work published in Business Week Mindanao, thanks to sir Dante Sudaria. I personally find the history even more inspiring of how the people came up with the idea of a smiling mask to literally cover a face mourning for sorrow and how this helped encourage them as a community to rise up amidst the tragedy and eventually being successful at it. Now Masskara Festival is a celebration that doesn’t only commemorates an eventful past but also something that brought happiness not only to Filipinos but for the rest of the world. This only shows the resiliency that is within us as Filipino people that foster unity as a nation.
Few months from now, it would be the time of the year again, when the streets of Bacolod City will once again come alive with the colors and sounds of people celebrating the Masskara Festival. I sincerely wish for the travelers that you may find the experience as meaningful as I did not only for parties that I know would be incredibly awesome but as well make a deeper sense when you get yourself immersed with the people and their culture. If there is one thing more than the Masskara Festival that I could say is that Bacolod City never failed to live to its name as the “City of Smiles” not because you’ll find yourself lost in an ocean of creatively designed smiling mask but because Bacolodnon locals are truly smiling and friendly in nature.
©ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2017
PINAY VOYAGER | GRACE GIFT T. CHUA
PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY JEFFREY PONCE