THIS year’s MassKara Festival pays tribute to the 50th year of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) as a regional group.

Likewise, the theme of this year’s festival is the city’s way of showing its support to the National Government as the Philippines plays host to Asean’s 50th anniversary.

I have blogged about the destinations in the Asean, and recently, I touched a bit on our culture. Last month, I was in Singapore for a short trip and in Indonesia, visiting two cities in Sumatra and two more in Java.

Last year, I also traveled to Brunei. Out of the 10 countries of the Asean, Myanmar is the remaining member-country which I haven’t set foot yet.

Throughout my travels, it is interesting to note the cultures of the various civilizations that have developed within the Asean territories and how we are interrelated by history, tradition and culture.

Indeed, there were distinctions but there are more similarities that we can even imagine. For example, listening to the MassKara 2017 music, which was composed, arranged and produced by Bacolod-born music artist and leading proponent of Philippine jazz, Roberto “Bob” Aves, in collaboration with Gerry Grey, I can identify some ethnic and traditional sounds of local tribes in the Philippines. But then again, they also sounded like Indonesian and Malay music and a little bit akin to the tribal songs I heard in Kerala, India.

The music is translated into dances. In fact, almost 50 choreographers, who are joining this year's MassKara Festival street and arena dance competitions, underwent a two-day creative workshop conducted by Raymund “Rama” Marcaida. He is a protégé of Ligaya Amilbangsa, the 2015 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for the preservation and promotion of Pang-alay – a dance common to Asian countries. He also studied in Bali, Indonesia to learn their dances and culture.

But more than just the music, Bacolod also prepares itself towards developing into a city that can parallel other Asean cities. First, it is producing people that are also making waves in the international scene.

In Brunei, our hosts were Architects Hernando “Nonoy” Hautea Jr. and Prospero “Poks” Grajo, products of La Consolacion College-Bacolod. And even the MassKara Festival 2017 logo maker is an international digital artist.

Mark Lester Jarmin hails from Barangay Banago in Bacolod, and specializes in character mascot design, cartoon logo identities, and web and print illustrations. His creations have been published by dozens of websites and international companies.

The logo, which shows a mascot, has the colorful vibe that represents Bacolod City. On its headdress have elements of the flags of the Asean members, signifying the festival’s highlight on our involvement in this regional community.

Apart from the similarities and connections of our cultures, I am amazed by how our Asean neighbors have retained their cultural heritage, whether it is incorporated in their modern architecture, used in their day-to-day clothing, included in their modern cuisines, or integrated in their pop music and contemporary dances.

Thailand’s traditional dances and martial arts are constantly promoted as part of their tourism strategy.

Indonesia’s textiles – the woven songket and the wax-resist dyed batik – are used in special occasions and even in everyday wear.

As Bacolod celebrates the MassKara Festival on its 38th year now, it has grown as a crowd-drawer and a global showcase. The festival is an avenue not only of fun and entertainment but also of education and cultural promotion.

We hope that the MassKara Festivals in years to come will continue to highlight the beauty of our traditional and ethnic performing and visual arts and how we can blend such into our modern era. It’s our way of telling the world that Bacolod is a City of Southeast Asia.

All photos are by this author. Claire Marie Algarme blogs at Follow her as @firsttimetravel on Twitter and Instagram and like her Facebook page First-time Travels blog.