O Senyor, Tagbalay

Once upon a time in Negros Occidental, it was unthinkable to come up to one’s front door and knock. Instead, with lilting cadence and reverent attitude, the visitor lowered his voice and said the magic word, “Tagbalay”.

Hereabouts, the traditional “da-igon”, or Christmas caroling, begins with the song, “O Senyor, Tagbalay”. The song portrays the journey of Jose and Maria as they moved from house to house, asking its master “senyor” for space to prepare for the birth of Christ.

The narrative is timeless. And because its universal message of love must remain relevant, the Negros Season of Culture asked Mojo Nova, a homegrown band…what if the beat is updated? Tim de la Rama (drums), Joanne Bernal (vocals and percussions), Hans Samson (guitar), and Van Luceñara (keys) whipped up a contemporary arrangement that speaks to the growing audience of the day.

Negros Season of Culture celebrates homegrown treasures, including musical talent. Mojo Nova’s Tim de la Rama (drums and vocals), Joanne Bernal (lead vocals and percussions), Hans Samson (guitar and vocals), and Van Luceñara (keys and vocals) add new sway to the Hiligaynon Christmas carol, O Senyor, Tagbalay. On that note, the NSC team plucks “kasimanwa” heartstrings, bringing good tidings and warm thoughts of home.

Joanne shares, “We did a combination of kundiman, rnb, and hip-hop. I started my vocal training in kundiman and we wanted to incorporate it at the beginning and at the end of the song. And since our best suits are R&B and hip-hop, it wasn't hard to add those flavors to the mix. We started with electronic drums and old-school 80s keyboard sound, then added electronic bass and guitar. To make it feel more Christmasy, syncopated sleigh bells were chimed in.”

Against this backdrop of Yuletide bliss and youthful artistry, the NSC sorts though the year about to end, celebrating the stories told and the kindred spirits who gave life to them. Along the way, and because the NSC is a global messaging platform, Negrenses from different parts of the world popped in to add good tidings.
Stars “parols”, fashioned from bamboo frames and colored paper, are an iconic representation of Pinoy Christmas. And when the pre-dawn carolers make the rounds into villages, the stars guide them to homes, just as the star of Bethlehem once did to the crib in the manger, just as the Negros band Mojo Nova brings all Negrenses the world over, in step with an updated rendition of the Hiligaynon Christmas carol, O Senyor, Tagbalay.

The lyrics of “O Senyor, Tagbalay” has had versions and revisions. Here’s one we’d like to share with you.

O senyor, tagbalay, lunsay nga dungganon
Bisan pa mahamook ang inyo katulugon
Pagmata kamo anay kag kami ang gawahon
Mag-asawang pobre nga yari sa silong
Kay ako si Jose nga taga Galilea
Ang akon kaupod mahal kong asawa,
Kon pagahingalanan amo si Maria
Sa mga paglakat kabudlay nga sobra
Sa banwa sang Nazareth kami ang gumikan
Ang lugar nga ini amon ginkadtuan
Kaming mag-tiayon nga may kasablagan
Sa mga paglakat kami nagab-ihan
O Senyor, tagbalay, inyo kami hangpon
Bisan si Maria lang inyo pasakaon
Kay ako sing akon yari lang sa silong
Magbatas sang tun-og ining lawas nakon
Ang sabat sang tagbalay padayon lang kamo
Kay dira sa unhan may kamalig didto
Tindog na O Maria dali-a sa paglakat
Malapit na ang kwadra basi ta madangat
Gilayon sumubong bituon nga kometa
Amo ang nag-ubay sang paglakat nila
Gumu-om and langit madulom nga wala’y mas-a
Ang mabuot nga asno ang nasakyan niya
Anay sang umabot ang tungang gab-i
Amo ang pagkatawo Mesiyas nga putli
Sa Belen duawon sang mga angeles
Ginsimba, ginadayaw sang mga pastores

O dungga man ninyo ang makaluluoy
Nga yari sa idalom nga nagapasilong
Nagabatas sang tun-og ining lawas nakon
Magahulat sang inyo maayong kabubut-on
Salamat, salamat mga kautoran
Kag kabay pa ang Diyos kamo kaluoyan
Paalam, paalam sa inyo nga tanan
Kag kami na karon ang magataliwan

And on that note, greetings from us at NSC
May the Lord keep you and grant you glee
2021’s done, thank God it’s finally over
Catch 2022, we’ve plenty stories to cover!

These bells jingle with rustic chime. Carolers use them to help every crescendo in their songs. But not just carolers. The DIY tambourines are the go-to musical instrument of street children making their way through cars singing Christmas songs for spare change. Because creativity favors all. The Negrense band Mojo Nova chimes Negrenses into the Yuletide spirit with their take on the Hiligaynon Christmas carol, O Senyor, Tagbalay.

As gifts trickle in, Santa takes centerstage in Negros homes. This time of year, the living room comes alive. For while there may be modern gadgets tucked in every bedroom of the house, there’s only one Christmas tree in the home. Even deep in the night, Juan takes a peak at the cards on the gifts under the tree. Can’t wait for Christmas morn? Stay up with the Mojo Nova band as they render the Hiligaynon Christmas carol, O Senyor, Tagbalay, a new feel.

The Old World charm of Plantation interior design, a celebration of harvest carved in wood, grace many Negrense heritage houses. They provide constant and detailed reminders of life in the countryside. These are spruced up at Christmas time to give jolly welcome to family members coming home for lots of hugs, lots of gifts, and lots of food. And homegrown music, from the Mojo Nova band, the Hiligaynon Christmas carol, O Senyor, Tagbalay.

“Kumukuti-kutitap, bumubusi-busilak”, thus every Christmas tree twinkles, reflecting its romantic glimmer on sentimental eyes, tugging at Negrense hearts, those at home and those who long for home. As if lights strung round the tree connect all to Negros. And even if not physically, surely virtually with the Mojo Nova band’s rendition of a Hiligaynon Christmas carol, O Senyor, Tagbalay.

This is Christmas in Negros. Antebellum houses strewn with star “parols” and twinkling lights, the aroma of roasted ham wafting out of the kitchen, a voice inviting “Dali na, manyapon na kita,” calling all to dine as one. These customs live on, like the Hiligaynon Christmas carol, O Senyor, Tagbalay, its ageless message now reissued by the Negros band Mojo Nova to bring a new generation around every family’s table of plenty.

Text by: Alan S. Gensoli
Photos & Video by: GrilledCheese Studios

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