Sing a song if you dare!
by Ronnie Hoyle

IF MUSIC be the food of love, never ask a Filipino to sing at suppertime: some of them could curdle the milk in your cocoa or make the carabao keel over and go dry with fright.

It is true, however, that Filipinos love music, and some of them are very accomplished musicians on the guitar – thousands of which they make in the country to a high standard on Bohol and in Cebu for export - even if they sometimes cannot read a note of music…they may be able to copy other people who sing but singing lessons are not always their strong point. It goes off the normal musical scale very often.

Filipinos like to sing LOUD: the LOUDER the better.
Perhaps this is why they tend to shout at each other in normal conversations: they seem to be deaf, which is probably why almost every question asked is greeted with two or three ‘Huh? Huh?’ before the question is even finished and it has to be repeated before there is an answer.

Deafness certainly spills over into their discos, which knock the decibel meter off the counter and send shock waves through nearly every village from the discos on the basketball courts almost every week. Even the snakes are driven away by the primal base beat which rattles the earth for a few miles around like a continuous miniature seismic wave from an earthquake. Even the beat of the canned music is tribal and sounds like a hangover from punk bands The Clash or the Sex Pistols, although locally it is called Pinoy Rock.

Sleep is not on the agenda for anyone living or staying near the basketball court on a Saturday night until the national anthem is played around two or three o’clock in the morning and all the beer has gone…and the dawn Sunday morning Mass is sparsely attended. It gets worse if two or three ‘private’ karaoke’s locally are in competition with each other.

If you go to one of these local discos, even the jumping up and down type of ‘dancing’ is reminiscent of tribal stomping around the camp fire, and if you are one of those visitors who came to go diving early in the morning, you had better find a resort which is at least five miles away…six if it is near any outside karaoke bar.

Karaoke is again sung loud – or should it be screamed? Sometimes it is more like a sick carabao or a pig protesting in its death throes as someone cuts its’ throat: Filipinos claim that visitors must not object to being kept awake and beating at the walls while other people enjoy themselves singing karaoke…this is a ‘Filipino custom.’
Even the police in some localities agree that it is hard to do anything about it…well; sometimes they are the ones singing and they don’t like arresting themselves!

Although some Filipinos can sing and have achieved international recognition, most only believe that they can sing and are therefore entitled to ‘entertain’ everyone else with karaoke, especially when the machine claims at the end of their rendition that they have scored 94-plus points and should be a professional singer…and they believe it!

Point out that karaoke – a combination of two Japanese words, karappo (empty) and okesutura (orchestra) - was not invented until the late 1970’s when a Kōbe music bar introduced taped orchestral music after the booked band failed to turn up and the patrons were asked to take turns and sing the words for themselves, or that the first karaoke machines were not on sale in Japan until the late 1980’s and arrived in the Philippines years later – when even a majority of Philippine villages did not have electricity – and you are likely to get a hard blank jaw-dropping look or an argument.

Loud in most normal situations – and louder and wilder still when they are frequently drunk – it seems to reach a peak out in the countryside, if the story told by one American who was married to a Bohol country-born girl is anything to go by.

One day he decided to take his wife back for a surprise visit to her family, who lived in countryside among the Chocolate Hills. Arriving at the little hut where the family lived, one of her elder sisters was ecstatic…even more so when her brother-in-law produced a box with presents for everyone.

The sister rushed excitedly out of the hut and stood on a precipice facing the far off hills. There was not a living soul in sight and all that existed was the dense greenery of trees as far as the eye could see.
She was loud normally, even when ‘speaking’ to another person from a distance of a only few feet, but this time the sister put her hands around her lips and let out a cacophony of screams that were so loud that they would have put a Swiss yodeller to shame…and could easily have curdled the blood of a vampire living five miles away: no need for the jungle drums or the cell phone.

It was just over an hour later that a procession of other relatives marched up the hill to her hut from their own homes some four miles away: they had trekked through dense jungle to hold out their hands and demand ‘their’ presents and to beg their ‘rich relative’ from ‘Merry-car’ to share out some money, thanks to the call in the hills which had announced his long-awaited arrival back.

Election time is also the period when Filipinos get louder: travelling loudspeakers blare out the candidate’s message in every barrio, particularly in the last week before an election - the one who shouts the loudest, and boasts the most (and pays out the most illegal vote-for-me money), is more likely to be elected – so even opposing local municipality candidates fight a duel of words on the highway whenever they meet.

But if the insults get too personal or too hot to handle – watch out: when the shouting gets out of hand it can quickly turn to violence and guns are frequently produced: a hundred-plus people can die nationwide before the elections are over – including local mayors and councillors - during the run-up to polling day in the Philippines: this year (2007), only 75 political murders were reported one week before the election, a low number compared to past elections.

It is even illegal - even if it is impossible to control - to sell alcohol to Filipinos for 24 hours before voting in an effort to avoid confrontation and more ‘political’ assassinations as the shouting grows louder.

Stridency is also used in any argument by a Filipino: the louder one shouts the more dominant and more intimidating and aggressive they are, the more in control of the situation – and the more right - they feel, so little disagreements often blow up into full-scale shouting and screaming matches between the opponents, with each side in turn gathering its’ group of shouting and screaming supporters…even if the row is just between husband and wife.

Love of loudness even extends to the new craze most people have of being able to buy cheaply-made motorcycles: they illegally cut off or replace the mufflers to make them sound even louder, believing that this actually makes the motorbikes more powerful, and the men more macho, than they are. The fact that many pillion passengers end up with needless and severe calf burns and scars – most of them women - is just something you have to cope with.

If you want relative silence in the Philippines, it seems that you have to dip into the underwater world and go diving…but even there it is not guaranteed: watch out for the dynamite explosions on the reef where many people go ‘fishing’ for their supper before heading for the karaoke.
Oh, yes: Filipinos love being loud!