Music and Madness

By Carmen Denia, Yale-NUS ’17 – See bio

One of the things I really enjoy when I come back to the Philippines is car rides with my aunt. We sit back, crank up the radio, and let the legendary Manila traffic inch forward, carrying us along with the honking jeepneys and killer buses. In the Philippines, music on the radio is a curious thing. Call us crazy, but I grew up thinking that The Carpenters and Boyzone were from the same era because music in the Philippines isn’t a generational concept. When you say 80’s, it isn’t meant to demarcate an age of music, but usually to help someone remember the words. Here, you learn as a child the opening lines of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You together with the familiar beat of Baby One More Time. There is nothing odd about knowing the complete lyrics to both Maroon 5’s Payphone and Denver’s 1971 classic Country Roads.

And I know it isn’t just my family that celebrates both Usher and Pizzicato Five, or Alicia Keys, Los del Rio, and S Club with Arrowsmith because in the malls, when a popular Air Supply tune plays,

“Even the nights are beeettuur.”

The customers and sales assistants often sing along. (It’s not the mad musical that it sounds like. It’s far more amusing and far less frightening.) My favourite part is when the music is paused mid-line because the lady overhead requests, “The sales assistant for Nautica, please proceed to counter eight…” and there is always that one guy caught unaware who still finishes the rest of Shania Twain’s hit:

“You’re still the one I kiiiiiss goodnight.”

The return of the piped music usually saves him and his choral background from further embarrassment. The next Bee Gees song draws them in to sing with more gusto.

People like to generalise that Filipinos are great singers. It’s not always like that. One need only hear drunken, partying neighbours blaring out their karaoke renditions of Sinatra’s My Way or myself in the shower to know better, but I’d put down the stereotype of musical prowess to lots of practice while singing in shops, in the car, in the house, or even on the streets. It’s something I miss when I’m in Singapore since spontaneously humming on the bus causes most people to sit away from me – which is not altogether a bad thing when you’re carrying lots of bags.

If you ask me why we’re like this as a nation, I suppose I’d say it’s the effect of a society which really values music that old tunes still rule the airways, even on the same stations that feature the US Top 40 Countdown. Maybe it’s just the Filipino penchant for nostalgia as we tend to associate songs with moments in our lives or our family history. Or maybe it’s just because the 60’s to 90’s were a more innocent age. The lyrics from those times and even before, in their cheesy fervour, were often honest, heartfelt, and real (no Auto-Tune!). The songs usually felt purer and full of hope. A still-developing country with people undergoing rough times can always look back at these songs to get that sense of good things to come.

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