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Not a fan of videoke? Then sing along to Salinawit

February 2, 2012 1:16pm
In crammed shantytowns, in rural villages cast out of maps, in typical neighborhoods where secrets are out in the open, and even in the most isolated military camps in Mindanao, a videoke machine has taken the place of an altar.
It is not a status symbol to worship, rather it is more like the essence that breathes life to the function of Philippine society; without the singing, the country would not just be dull, it would be dead. As a foreigner once told me, we Filipinos are born with microphones in our mouths.

On a New Year’s Eve celebration, my friends invited me to a neighbor’s home, where the makeshift garage had been transformed into a club with twinkling colored light bulbs, endless San Miguel beer, and pork barbeque. The videoke machine stood in the middle, and whoever had the microphone to sing along with it was the star of the gathering.
The evening was a long concert of pop songs – from the likes of Madonna to the aches of Rico Puno. The singers followed the lyrics on the screen that guides the melody, often incongruous with repetitive shots of a car race somewhere, a tropical island of lovely sunsets, or blond couples walking on cobblestone streets. There would be someone pushing the buttons of the numbers to the songs of the album, pretty much like the jukebox of the old days.
This description fits many others, I am certain, across the archipelago where the sound barrier breaks with all the love songs ever written for Filipinos to croon. Singing has become indispensable; it cuts through the class pyramid from rich to poor. It is a collective national therapy that might have prevented outright revolutions. The only difference would be the kinds of song they sing and how they sing it.
Sometimes you think you’ve learned the songs by heart, mushy as they were, because they have been hammered into your head until the wee hours of the morning when the last drunk has not yet had his fill of singing his heart out. The merrymakers also have to outlive the occasion for what it’s worth; renting a videoke machine could go up to as much as 800 pesos a night, the equivalent of two days’ minimum wage.
I had entertained this theory that singing lounges are made for politicians and their ilk as well; they sing as an act of confession, letting it all out in jazz or ballads as if seeking absolution, so that in the morning they can go back to doing what they normally do – and we all know what that would be.

Sa himig ng "Secret Love" on Salinawit night, Conspiracy Garden Cafe, February 25, 2009. Cooky Chua, vocals. Ferdie Borja, piano. Video by Jed Guinto.
The intelligentsia may have found some kind of a compromise at the Conspiracy bar where, once a month, there is the Salinawit, an adaptation of the “oldies, goldies, and moldies” into Filipino. Who would do this better than Pete Lacaba, one of our best writers who himself has crossed genres from being a journalist to writing novels and movie screenplays and poetry. He has translated 123 songs collected into a notebook that sells for 320 pesos at the bar.
Pete goes on stage to sing his musical parody, as one would sing in a shower when no one is listening. He tells his audience good-naturedly that he’s got the AIM bug – Ayaw Iwanan ang Mike – which basically means he has caught on to the social disease that has afflicted millions of Filipinos, the one true thing that binds us as a nation. 
Here, there is no machine. It is the pianist who guides the singers, who learned to hit the keys by ouido, who can play Tschaikovky’s Symphony Number 6 as if he were on a solo performance in a concert hall.
On one Salinawit night, Freddie Borja plays to the divas, and if all the videokes in the country would be as great an accompaniment as he is, we could hum to a better melody.
The divas start with B for Bayang Barrios, C for Cookie Chua, and D for Dulce. They let their long hair down, literally, playing to the audience with their puns and ribbing around and exchanging ‘I love you’s to cushion some off-hand remarks. They are used to the crowd, the same gang of leftists, intellectuals, academics, and the usual habitués who would not miss a single Tuesday night of the month at the Conspiracy Bar on Visayas Avenue in Quezon City.
There have been other nights with other celebrities: Jim Paredes, Hajji Alejandro, Ricky Davao, Cesar Montano, atbp. They have done their bit on stage, for the camaraderie of intimacy among people who also want their time on stage for the “Open Mike.”
Tonight Bayang pirouettes on stage when she sings in her nasal voice the Tagalog version of Jack Jones’ ‘Siya’ (‘She’) wearing a floor-length electric pleated black skirt with a waistband of seashells. Cookie is haunting in her sultry self with ‘Kapag May Bahag-hari’ (‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’), sipping a glass of brandy in between. And Dulce knocks us out with her quivering soprano of ‘Saan Nagsimula,’ the Love Story theme song, giving us the powerful finale in English.  
We could call that a night, but wait. For another number, a petite woman was asked to sing on stage, a singer we might vaguely recall by the name of Susan Fuentes. The song she sings is worth the wait, worthy than all the standard videoke songs combined, and straying out of the Salinawit. She sings ‘Usahay,’ a love song in Visayan, and even if I don’t understand a word of it, it’s that song that could well be a lullaby when the night is over.  – YA, GMA News
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