January 16, 2004


Everyone's writing about karaoke: Veronica, Michelle (twice!), Barbara, and Leny (three times!). We should have had a karaoke blog party!

I have never done solo karaoke. Really. The closest I ever got to actually singing was when my brother and I (in the privacy of my folks' bedroom) would sing along tunelessly to America's "I Need You" as videoke played on the local cable station. (They always have some random woman -- either an Asian woman on the beach, or an Eastern European woman wandering around old buildings -- in these videos.) Then there was Nerissa and Lito's karaoke party last year, but only Zack, Richard and Robyn had the guts -- or the temerity =) -- to dare sing solo. (Oh wait, Lucy sang "Tomorrow" from Annie, complete with arm gestures.) And that's it. You will never see me sing solo. Ever.

So I'll cop out by quoting something, though it's not about karaoke, from anthropologist Fenella Cannell, in her essay on Bicolanos in "The Power of Appearances" (in Vince Rafael's Discrepant Histories, but you'll do better to read her entire ethnography Power and Intimacy in the Christian Philippines), where she writes, contra simple Bhabhaesque mimicry, "...the apparent 'imitation' of American forms actually constituted a subtle and ironic exploration of the possibility of accessing the power of the imagined American world, through self-transformation."

There is a particular elan about carrying off well a song in this foreign language, especially solo. It is, it appears, a small act of triumph; a small act of possession of this culture which largely excludes the poor. At the same time, there is a kind of nostalgia which attaches to it when sung in this context; not the nostalgia for an autumn leaf in a place on the other side of the world which evades the imagination [in reference to the song "Autumn Leaves"], but a nostalgia for the fragility of this act of possession, perhaps of any acts of possession; the difficulty of appropriating fragments of this culture as your own.
This reminds me of a Tagalog phrase I haven't heard in years: "plakadong-plakado." It's somewhat "obsolete" because there are probably few people in the Philippines nowadays who would play a "plaka," i.e., a vinyl record, but the point should be clear -- it refers to the capacity to, okay, "mimic" the studio sound of a record, or at least to replicate it in a live setting.

There's a nice use of it here, in a review of a Freestyle concert:

They did covers of Incognito, Mike Francis, Monica, Des'ree, Monday Michiru, Eric Gadd, Will Smith, Michael Jackson, George Michael and Next. And no matter whose songs they did – you could actually close your eyes and not know the difference. It was, in local parlance: plakadong-plakado.
One could argue that it's not necessarily mimicry -- perhaps that would even be reading too much into it -- but technical mastery that is strived for and applauded. Those videoke machines that give out points reserve the highest scores for people who can hit the same notes unerringly.

Ramble: Do Filipinos hear and listen differently? When Filipino musicians are hired overseas, is it not because of this plakado quality, the capacity to sing faultlessly in English, a language that they can speak better than the people of their host countries? (Damn, this ties up really well into long-simmering ideas for future research -- I just need to get the turn-of-the-century colonial topics and 9/11 stuff out of the way...)

Posted by the wily filipino at January 16, 2004 07:59 AM

it is true we filipinos gauge our singers by how well they can pull off ala whitney or mariah or whoever foreign act. it's really annoying to listen to our very good singers do a very "soul' or "blues" twist to their songs. sometimes it's even funny the way they try to embelish the songs reminiscent of destiny's child oohh-ohhh-oooww-ooow, and on and on and on. i watched this video clip of ariel rivera and regine velasquez singing joey albert's "tell me" ay susmariosep. i wanted so badly to wring regine's neck! sobrang arte! she ruined a perfectly good song!

Posted by: jop on January 16, 2004 07:59 PM
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