Karaoke is made up form the Japanese words ‘kara’, meaning empty, and ‘okesutora’, orchestra. Together they translate as ‘empty orchestra’. Don’t let this fool you, Karaoke was very much a Filipino invention. In the 1960s Filipino entertainers arrived in Japan with their ‘minus-one’ tapes. These held recorded instrumental versions of popular songs by Frank Sinatra, The Beatles and other current celebrities, they would use these as backing music for their performances. While Karaoke has become popular around the world, it is nowhere as popular, surely, as in the Philippines.
Most westerners dread the thought of a KTV bar opening up under their bedroom window. The music, always played at full distortion and volume, will barely drown out the too often atrocious singing that too many Red Horse beers and Tanduay rums produce. No matter where you go in the Pinas, there will be a KTV machine cranking it out. Most homes will have a KTV set-up of some degree with many rivaling commercial equipment in power and performance.
Filipinos Love To Sing… In Groups
Filipinos love to sing, especially in groups. In fact they prefer to do everything in company. There are many excellent singers in the country, natural talent is widespread, but there are also too many who should take up chess for their entertainment and the sanity of everyone else in the barangay.
Don’t get me wrong, I love karaoke. I recall one memorable night, among many, at the little spit and sawdust place at the back of Bogo market. Mike, the giant from New Jersey, Viv, my Kiwi mate and I, did a rendition of ‘YMCA’ that is still being talked about. We followed it up with ‘I Will Survive’ and ‘ Born To be Wild’ and brought the house down. Our loving asawas thought we were fantastic, as did everyone else in a three mile radius.
Anyone Can be A Diva For Five Pesos
The first time I went to Manila, back in 1988, I recall walking past a KTV Bar in Ermita and asking the pretty pinays on the door what went on inside. One told me it was for Japanese and not for Kanos. I went in anyway and found the place wall to wall with drunken Japanese salarymen, singing their hearts out and spending far too much money for my budget. Back then KTV wasn’t as all pervasive as it is today, but then technology has brought singing stardom within reach of even the poorest of pinoys. For five pesos anyone, anywhere, can sing a song.
Singing is huge in the Philippines. Every wannabe politician must be able to sing, otherwise what would they do to impress the crowds at political rallies? Every major public event can quickly turn into an impromptu singing performance by senators, congressmen and women, mayors and whoever else.
A final word of advice. Never, ever criticise a Filipino’s singing. Most Filipino men who sing badly will be drunk and possibly armed. Apart from it being bad manners, no matter how dreadful their rendition of ‘My Way’ may be, clap politely and compliment them on their great singing.
Perry Gamsby, D.Lit, MA(Writing), Dip.Bus, Dip. Mktg is a writer and lecturer who lives with his Cebuana wife and five Aus-Fil daughters in Western Sydney. The author of a series of best-selling ‘self-help’ books for expats and those married to Filipinas, he is also a Master of Filipino Martial Arts and a former World Stickfighting Champion who has lived, worked and vacationed in the Philippines since 1988. Perry and his family return to the Philippines on a yearly basis. You can read more of his writing on Philippines topics at www.streetwisephilippines.biz
This article and website sponsored by Down Under Visa, Australian Registered Migration Agents in Manila – The Australian Partner Visa Specialists