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I was recently doing some research into the history of Asian-Pacific Islander performers on Broadway and I found something very interesting, many of them were Filipino. The more I thought about it, it occurred to me how many Filipino performers and musicians I had worked with myself.
It's no secret that the island nations of the Philippines has had quite an impact when it comes to Broadway. From performers such as Jose Illana, Kay Trinidad and the iconic Lea Salonga to Tony winning Producer Jhett Tolentino to the successful musical Here Lies Love, you can find Pinoy Pride in every facet of the Broadway community. The recent Broadway production of The King and I had 14 Filipino performers.
So I had to ask, what is it about this country that has produced so much success here in New York? Well, not surprisingly, it all has to do with the Filipino culture itself. Music is deeply embedded in Filipino culture and traditions.
The Archipelago Files did a great piece looking into this very subject. Here is what they found:
1) Most celebrations and events in the Philippines often involve singing.
Whether it's a family event event like a birthday party or a national holiday like Independence Day, you'll see Filipinos singing. The karaoke machine is as ubiquitous as air. A get together is never complete without a round of belting it out with the karaoke machine.
Even gloomy and sad events like funerals can't escape the karaoke machine. To an outsider, singing Frank Sinatra's My Way at a funeral is weird and bizarre. But in the Philippines, it's slowly turning into a part of the culture. What does this have to do with the common belief that Filipinos are good singers? Simple - practice and exposure. The more you sing, the more you get better at it.
2) The proliferation of singing contests.
This is another phenomenon that exposes Filipinos to music and singing. When a barangay gathers for a fiesta, there's a singing contest. When a company celebrates its founding anniversary, there's a singing contest pitting the employees against each other. Festivals held all over the country also often feature singing contests - individual and band contests. This is not to mention the presence of several musical shows in Philippine television.
3) Singing in public is culturally acceptable in most parts of the Philippines.
What this does is instill confidence in people who love and enjoy singing. The more they do it, the more they hone their skills without having to worry about public backlash. Singing in public is even being encouraged. Many malls in the country have karaoke stands where people can just grab the mike, choose a tune, and sing in front of a crowd for free. In fact, a lot of these random mall performances have gone viral online with some of the performers getting enough attention that they've been offered recording contracts or stints on television.
4) Filipinos use singing as a form of escape from problems.
As was mentioned earlier, singing through karaoke machines during funerals is a widespread practice in the country. This is testament to the fact that whether they are doing well or they are going through some troubles, Filipinos don't lose their love for music one bit.
The tagayan culture in the country also often involve guitars and no holds barred singing. If you are having a rough time with life, your barkada will be there singing you Parokya Ni Edgar tunes over bottles of San Miguel gin or Red Horse beer. You will have no choice but join in on the fun. You do these sessions a lot and sooner or later you'll have pipes worthy of an audience. It's worth mentioning as well that these tagayan sessions often start early - mostly in high school.
5) Singing is the most accessible form of entertainment in the Philippines.
The Philippines is a third world country. You know what this means - a huge chunk of the population don't have much. Most can't avoid movie tickets. Most can't afford traveling at their free time. Music is cheap and singing is usually free. A karaoke song will only cost them 5 pesos. As always, this setup exposes Filipinos to music.
I'm sure there are plenty of more reasons than this but it's a good start in explaining how important music is in the Philippines.
Given the amount of talent that I keep seeing coming from this country, I have no doubt that Pinoy Pride will be alive and well on Broadway stages for years tocome.