Philippines’ musicians sing their way out of poverty

June 24, 2012

Philippines’ musicians sing their way out of poverty
24-Jun-12, 2:08 PM | Cecil Morella, Agence France-Presse

MANILA – On a mock-up stage in a Philippine music studio, single mom Joanna Talibong is singing for her life.

The former church-choir girl is nervous and struggling to stay on key as she battles through more than a dozen takes of the syrupy Olivia Newton-John ballad “Suddenly.”

If she and keyboard-playing friend Jason Panggoy can get their video-demo right, they stand a chance of securing a series of gigs in South Korea that would enable them to start a long journey out of crushing poverty.

“I did not finish college, so I don’t have many job options… overseas I can earn a lot more,” the carpenter’s daughter tells AFP during a break from singing at the studio in a rundown quarter of Manila.

Roughly nine million Filipinos, or 10 percent of the population, work overseas because there are so few job opportunities in their largely impoverished homeland.

While many toil as largely anonymous maids, sailors, construction workers, and laborers in foreign countries, tens of thousands also stand under spotlights entertaining crowds as singers and musicians.

From high-class hotel bars in the Middle East to Las Vegas casinos, ex-pat pubs in Asia and luxury cruise liners sailing the Caribbean, Filipinos are often found performing near-perfect cover versions of almost any genre.

Talibong is desperate to join them, or she will be forced back to a bar in a small northern Philippine city where for the past three months she and Panggoy have played to tobacco traders and travelling salesmen for $3.50 a night.

Adding to her problems is her nine-month-old son, who has a clubbed foot and lives with his grandparents while Talibong pursues her musical career.

Her manager has lined up a six-month booking for Talibong and Panggoy at bars in South Korea that would pay them each $800 a month, and she knows exactly where her first pay cheques would be be spent.

“My priority is an operation for my son’s clubbed foot. That’s really my goal. That’s what’s pushing me to work really hard,” says Talibong, who is just 21 years old.

But first the duo’s demo tape — which also includes a Taylor Swift and Matchbox 20 numbers — must pass muster with the artist review board in Seoul, a review process that takes about a month.

Their manager, Wilma Ipil, who has been sending an average of two bands to South Korea every month since 2008, concedes the duo may not get the gig, amid growing competition from other Filipino talents trying to make it overseas.

“Previously, even inexperienced musicians got hired,” says Ipil, who sang in Hong Kong, Thailand, and China herself before going into band management.

“But now, with the wealth of talent available, promoters have become more discriminating.”

Nevertheless, the demand for Filipino performers overseas is enormous, according to Jackson Gan, the head of the music studio where Talibong is recording her demo.

“Our only competition is ourselves. The whole world knows that if you have a low budget but need quality, you get Filipino talent,” says Gan, who also acts as an agent for other export acts.

Gan estimates between 25,000 and 30,000 Filipino musicians and singers play in 3,000 clubs, hotels, cruise ships, and restaurants around the world at any one time. The pay generally ranges from $800-1,500 a month, according to Gan.

He says even Malaysian, Indonesian, Australian, and Chinese bands tend to recruit Filipina lead singers.

Gan attributes the success of Filipino performers overseas to the deep roles music and dance have in local culture.

Singing contests are often the highlights of village fairs and beauty contests, while song and dance are a staple of the most popular national television game shows.

Karaoke is one of the country’s most loved forms of entertainment, with guests at weddings and birthday parties expected to be able to belt out songs behind a microphone to entertain their hosts.

Karaoke is also a mainstay at bars, restaurants, and shopping centers.

“Some of my singers were discovered at karaoke joints,” says Gan, a 20-year veteran of the business, whose scouting regimen sees him serving as judge at singing contests in remote villages across the country.

Gan says Philippine musicians are also well-known for their warm audience rapport, a reflection of a general easygoing nature for which Filipinos are famous.

“That is a very important part of the music. It’s not just plain singing,” he says.

However Gan says most performers have a short shelf-life overseas, particularly the female lead singers who often have to end their foreign sojourns when they have babies or for other family reasons.

And although many can copy perfectly the world’s most popular songs, few cover band members will ever get a recording contract.

But there are some inspirational success stories for those who continue to dream of making it big.

The most famous is Arnel Pineda, who for many years fronted Filipino bands in Manila bars and in Hong Kong.

His big break came in 2007 when members of US rock group Journey were looking for a new lead singer and saw clips of him singing the band’s songs on YouTube.

Pineda was hired soon after an audition in the United States, and his first album fronting the band debuted in the top 10 of the American Billboard Charts. Pineda and Journey continue to perform at sold-out concerts around the world.


Dahilan kung bakit bawasan ang remittances – dahil ina abuso ng govt

June 24, 2012

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Grassroots NGO lists 5 reasons vs $1-billion Philippine loan to IMF

Kampanya Para sa Makataong Pamumuhay (KAMP) lists five arguments against the $1 billion Philippine loan to the International Monetary Fund (IMF):

1. Filipinos need that money.

Many don’t live a life of dignity. Of the 90 million Filipinos, 60 million remain poor, 30 million live on less than $1 a day, 22 million go hungry, at least 12 million are without jobs, and at least 2.5 million are homeless in Metro Manila alone.

2. The amount can be spent on more pressing needs.

One billion dollars can build 105,000 socialized housing units at P400,000 per unit, hire 350,000 health workers receiving P10,000 a month for one year, and provide 700,000 elderly people a monthly pension of P5,000 for one year.

3. Filipinos were not consulted on this loan.

According to Central Bank Vice-Governor Diwa Gunigundo, the Philippines can afford to give out loans because it has a huge gross international reserve (GIR), currently at US$77 Billion, and the country has finished its debt payments to IMF since 2006. He also said the GIR cannot be used for purposes other than being a reserve, even funding government programs.

So what’s the Aquino policy on reserves? Who decides on what to do with the money? Why were the Filipino people not consulted on this critical decision? Not even indirectly through the budget process.

4. Filipinos are victims of IMF policies.

Many Filipinos have remained poor because of stringent IMF conditions when it lent (not gave) money to the Philippines. It required the deregulation and privatization of key industries at the expense of basic social services, and the liberalization of Philippine economy that allowed the massive exploitation of the country’s natural resources with little return to its citizens in terms of social protection programs. These policies have resulted in a stunted Philippine economy with huge under- and unemployment rates.

The country remains in deep debt, with P357 billion of the country’s P1.8 trillion 2012 budget allocated to debt servicing. Filipinos are thus asking, why is the victim supporting its tormentor?

5. The IMF-supported profit-driven system is a failure.

The collapse of the US and European economies shows that the economic system that puts profit above people and planet is a failure. And the affected citizens, through Occupy movements in the US and Indignants protest actions in Europe, are already looking for alternatives. So why is the Philippine government supporting the purveyor of the system that has failed us and even themselves?

What is KAMP?

The Kampanya para sa Makataong Pamumuhay (KAMP) is a network of grassroots organizations advocating for a rights-based approach to social protection, particularly for decent and affordable housing, food security, employment guarantees, universal health care, education for all, and pension for the elderly and persons with disability. KAMP leads in the formation of the Asia-wide Network for Transformative Social Protection (NTSP), which now has campaign partners in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India, advocating for a life of dignity for all.

Ana Maria R. Nemenzo, KAMP lead convenor, 0918 903 8687
Wilson Fortaleza, KAMP coordinator, 0905 373 2185 and 0922 526 1138


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