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
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
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
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
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!
Kilroy Was Here © 2006