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The Sounds Of The Philippines

The Sounds Of The Philippines

It’s no understatement to say that Filipinos have a special place in their heart for music. In the 1970s, Filipino inventor and patent holder Roberto del Rosario built upon the original design made by the Japanese and came up with the modern karaoke sing-along system. Soon enough, the KTV (karaoke television) craze spread like wildfire across the country, and anywhere on the globe where Filipinos live.

Today’s karaoke machines no longer feature a coin slot and a hand crank for you to build your playlist with. We have fully digital karaoke machines in lounge bars, the Magic Sing DVD player and its offshoot competitors, as well as the “portable” karaoke systems that are rented out to homes where family occasions and drinking parties are held. Music is a multimillion dollar industry, for Filipinos absolutely love to sing.

The Roots Of Local Music

The local music industry arguably started out with the traditional kundiman, the Philippine version of the serenade. It’s the quintessential Filipino love song: think Romeo standing under Juliet’s window in the Capulet stronghold, then place a straw hat on his head, sandals on his feet, and a guitar in his hands. That’s the way the old folks won the hearts of their lady loves way back in the time of the Spaniards. Kundimans were very poetic, very cheesy, and very flattering. This was the song you sang to make a woman say yes to marriage.

filipino musiciansBut the kundiman was not just a love song. It was also a song that expressed one’s love of country in the most emotive way possible, without letting the Spanish overmasters know that the locals were already planning to declare independence from the Spanish Crown.

The Birth of Original Pilipino Music (OPM)

By the 1970s and 1980s, Philippine music entered a new phase. This was the golden age of OPM, when pop singers and doo-wop groups were king. Songs by Nora Aunor, Rico Puno, Hotdog, APO Hiking Society, Basil Valdez, Rey Valera, Kuh Ledesma, Hagibis, and Sharon Cuneta dominated the airwaves. These were mostly pop songs and love songs. Some had fast, catchy tunes while others sounded like a moderate kundiman.

But OPM songs all shared one thing in common—they were sung in the national language, Pilipno or Tagalog or Filipino. These songs brought the appreciation of the native tongue to the masses, who spoke different dialects based on where they came from.   They made it possible for people to entertain themselves as they commuted to work, washed clothes, and rested at night.

Twists On The Traditional

By the 1990s, pop/rock bands like Eraserheads, Rivermaya, Imago, and Mojo Fly were in vogue. They replaced the solo singers of OPM with their quirky hits, most of which were still written in Tagalog. Pop music was still going strong, although heavy metal, rock, and punk were also beginning to share the limelight.

The current Filipino music scene is now more open to outside influences, as songs in various local dialects and foreign languages have made it to the mainstream.  Music fans and listeners might not understand a word of Korean, but it doesn’t stop them from flocking en masse to the concerts of their favourite K-pop groups.

A new form of Filipino music is also taking shape. Known as fliptop, it is the modern musical take on the balagtasan, a traditional poetry match where the participants try to outdo one another by making barbed remarks and funny jokes in verse. This is the Filipino version of oration, but spoken in rhymes.

Fliptop is a lot like rap or hip hop, but live fliptop battles are more than just singing competitions. The participants go back and forth, engaging each other in witty dialogue to see who has the fastest tongue and quickest mind. Raymond Abracosa, better known as Abra, is probably the first fliptop artist to break into the mainstream scene.

The next time you’re in the Philippines, try to listen to the radio and find out about the latest hit song in the charts. Sing a few lines of a Tagalog song with a Filipino and you will certainly endear yourself to him or her for the rest of your stay in the country.


(Picture Credit – ManilaClubbing.com)