The death of Francis Magalona, or Francis M., last March 6 from leukemia took the whole nation by surprise. At the time of his death, he was scheduled for a stem cell transplant.
His passing left a void in Philippine music that will not easily be filled.
The early part of his career was not without controversy, but Magalona rose above this and eventually established a reputation as one of the most intelligent and talented persons to break into the Philippine music scene in recent history — not to mention one of only a few who infused relevance into their work.
Though he was born into a family that is among the elite of Negros Occidental, he dedicated his work to tackling issues that affect the Filipino masses.
He started out with his rap performances in several variety shows in the late 1980s, but it was his 1990 album Yo! that firmly established his reputation as a rapper.
Yo! included the nationalistic “Mga Kababayan”, which asserts Filipino national identity. What he started with “Mga Kababayan” he followed with such hits from subsequent albums as “Man from Manila” and his adaptation of Heber Bartolome’s “Tayo’y mga Pinoy”.
In his later songs he would take up more and more issues which included corruption in government, the lack of real independence and economic progress, soaring prices of basic goods and services, hunger and poverty, corporate greed, landlessness and land-grabbing, conflict and disunity.
It is not just in the content of his work that he is to be admired, however. The aesthetic quality of his work shows that art and politics can mix and mix well, unlike what the local counterparts of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound insist on saying.
In a post on his blog (www.magalona.com) on Nov. 20, 2008, he was calling on everyone to “defend the Filipino nation and our people…by taking patriotism to the streets, to the youth, to the men and women who care.” Here was an artist who was taking up the challenge of being also a patriot — and not only in word but also in deed.
Magalona’s death is a big loss to Philippine music — and to the struggle for a better Philippines. But he will live on through his songs and our rightful response to these.
Francis M. is dead, long live Francis M.