OPM is alive!
Gusto kong sabihin nang simpleng-simple kung papaanong buhay ang OPM. Ang original Pinoy music, ang musikerong Pinoy, ang tugtugang Pinoy. Gusto kong ihagis lang, maglista ng mga pangalan ng mga musikerong patuloy na nagsusulat ng mga kantang original, mula kay Cynthia Alexander hanggang kay KC Concepcion, mula kay Barbie Almalbis hanggang kay Kitchie Nadal. Gusto kong basta ilista ang mga bandang gumagawa ng original na kanta, mga musikerong nag-gi-gig mula 70’s Bistro at Conspiracy sa Quezon City hanggang sa 19 East sa Las Piñas, umiikot sa mga probinsya para mag-promote ng CD, nagma-mall-show, nagtiya-tiyaga sa kakarampot na panahong nabibigay sa kanila ng iilang TV show, nagtiya-tiyagang kumanta kasama ang mga non-singers pero big stars ng bawat panahon. Gusto kong sabihin lang na kapag nakikinig ako ng radyo napapatigil ako sa boses ni Eric Santos, at memorized ko ang album ni Cathy Go, at gustong-gusto ko ang Q-York, at kanina lang may nag-revive na pala ng “Kay Palad Mo” na mabilis kong na-recognize bilang original na kinanta ni Lilet nung bata pa ‘ko.
But that seems to be a secondary task to what has been raised by my friend Leloy Claudio in this same space, and the contingent bigger discussion about popular culture and its criticism being dead. Leloy was siding with Don Jaucian who said OPM’s been dead since the Eheads (complete with an Ely Buendia cartoon!), since the audience hasn’t demanded original music. Leloy thinks OPM is dead because government institutions and recording companies aren’t supporting it more.
They’re both wrong of course. And the one who talks about high art and low art, the one who even imagines that both Leloy and Jaucian are going against the status quo? He’s the biggest wrong of all. And I’m letting the wrong grammar slip, too.
The anti-revival, the search for the risky
The problem with Jaucian’s piece is that it says OPM is dead because local acts are “upstaged by Korean girlbands, cover albums, and bossa nova.” And certainly, if you zero in on these things, it will seem to loom large and problematic for OPM. If you check the landscape of original Pilipino music though you would know that there is more to it than any of these three things, and for every cover album you hold up, there will be a CD of a local artist that will be otherwise, that is not any of these things that spell OPM’s death, according to Jaucian.
And nope, I don’t speak just of indie acts that get record deals (or not), and because I don’t want to work with a list, the better question really is this: what is wrong with cover albums? What is wrong with revivals, when those songs that are revived are original Pinoy music, too? This is what Noel Cabangon did in 2009, and that was a fantastic album. I think too that the APO tribute album, as was the Hotdog one, were great CDs. And yes, Daniel Padilla has done it recently, and actually astig yung pa-cute reconfiguration ng “Ako’y Iyo at Ika’y Akin Lamang” in his hands.
This is the thing: why can we not give value to these versions of old songs, which can only be reconfigurations of the original? Certainly we listen enough to these songs, go back to the originals if we must, to realize that these are totally different versions? It goes without saying that the revival is not plakado, that it is “new” even when all it’s about is who’s doing the latest incarnation. I’d like to think we know talent enough to see that there are many things that come into play in giving old songs to new voices and new hands. That is, we let new creativities come into play.
This is also the kind of attitude I have towards, for example, someone like Paolo Santos, even as what he has revived aren’t Pinoy songs. To me, Santos’ existence as an OPM artist is an important one, precisely because it forced us to look at talent. How talented are your singers and your musicians, that they can take an old song from elsewhere and make it new in these shores? “Moonlight Over Paris” “Out Of My League” “Tracks of My Tears” are new in Santos’ hands, and to me those are valuable pieces that prove original Pinoy talent, full stop. And if you trust in this talent you will find and appreciate that it evolves: Santos’ last CD, all covers, yes, but he is more daring in the song choices, and outdoes himself in the guitar-playing. His all-original CD? I’ve memorized that, too.
As I apparently always will know “Ako’y Iyo at Ika’y Akin Lamang” and “Hinahanap-hanap Kita.” I realize this given Padilla, and I do not cringe. Nor do I see it as a sad state of affairs. I’d like to think this means that the good songs are being handed down from one generation of music fans to the next, and if there’s a wish to be made, it’s that credit is given back to the original artists if they even want it, if they even own these songs.
To say of course that Padilla is the biggest record-seller of the year, is Jaucian getting ahead of himself. To say that those who make a living out of doing revivals of old Pinoy songs (I wonder what he thinks of Santos), to say that they are not legitimate artists of the music industry? That is a limited view of the creativity that goes into making songs. It is also the most unfair statement to make about any cultural worker.
Meanwhile, to say that “commercial viability means being comfortable” and “risk is career suicide” just seems old don’t you think? Ah but we hate revivals. We do not repeat ourselves. And in fact, the landscape of popular culture is so so different, that the next task really is to define our terms, and look at the real enemy here. And nope it’s not the status quo of OPM insiders pulling rank, as Leloy would like to think.
Who’s to blame for the state of OPM?
Leloy’s focus is clear: look at the structures that impinge upon the creation of original music, find fault there. He was in fact responding, more than anything else, to two reactions against Jaucian’s piece, one angry, one matter-of-fact, both as simplistic as what they were responding to. Rain Contreras focuses on gigs, says that going to gigs will tell you that OPM is alive and well. Carlo Casas says that too, but also asserts that there is social media and online tools and there is no excuse for not doing music. Leloy called these two out on what they said, but also on being part of what he sees as the status quo, pulling ranks against Jaucian.
Ah, the tricky thing with the status quo, vis a vis Pinoy music in particular, contemporary Pinoy popular culture in general? You need to have a sense of who exactly holds the power here, and where lies the status quo, and contingent to that who holds the market captive, who defines commercial viability. But that seems to be getting ahead of the story.
The story being that Leloy assessed the reaction to Jaucian’s piece by generalizing. Which is fine, except that I don’t know that Casas and Contreras were speaking for the local music industry as a whole, and neither is there a clear indication that this music industry has agreed with them. The idea as such of “insiders” defending OPM is a strange one, because the next question then would be: who are these people exactly? And where is this “inside” that musicians are part of?
Is it in the gig scene, one that is alive and now in movies like “Ang Nawawala”? Is it made up of the musicians who get record deals and product endorsements? Is it those who get gigs abroad and Facebook about it? Those that travel the Philippines and Instagram it? Those that live off putting out their music on soundcloud and rock that, too? Those that come out on television and the movies, but by the way, also have CDs to their names? That one who fills the Araneta Coliseum to the rafters, no matter how talentless she is? The man who makes a living out of novelty songs? The one who does covers, and does it well? The people who put up Pinoytuner and Radio Republic? The dwindling recording companies that still invest in local artists?
Sino yung insiders? At papaano sila status quo?
In fact there is no doubt that none of those I’ve mentioned above are the status quo, and a better sense of cultural production in current times would tell you exactly that. All of those people exist as reactions to, products of, precisely the struggle for original Pinoy music and talent to survive in the face of the real enemies of its creativity and production. All of them, and probably many other music workers I’ve missed, are far from being the status quo for music in these shores. And here really is where Leloy misses it by a long shot.
The status quo in these times is one that’s in the hands of the great power that is television, and nope, not as it is imagined to be about the variety show, or wrongly mentioned to still be about “Wowowee” (Willing Willie na kasi). Instead, TV is but the tip of a cultural system reconfigured in the hands of very few media conglomerates, one that has come to invest in its own talents, can make stars from the ground up, so to speak, and as such will milk each talent all their worth. There was a time when being an actress on TV was about a soap opera and/or sitcom, but those stars also do hosting on Sunday variety shows now, as they will do movies, and if by any chance they can carry a tune, then why not a CD. They will appear on the local channel, but also in the cable affiliates, as they will be on the covers of the magazines under the publishing arm. They will have concerts, no matter that they are talentless.
All these productions happen under the label of one cultural empire, and this cultural empire is the status quo of popular cultural production in these shores.
It is against this status quo that OPM exists, regardless of whether it’s an indie or commercial artist, no matter if they only stick to soundcloud and gigs. The system is so powerful and autonomous, and obviously only out to make money for its own talents and ergo for itself, that it has also redefined the notion of commercial versus indie in pop culture, even more so for music. Commercial music is performed on TV, is played on radio, gets the platinum awards. It becomes a theme song for a movie, it is on the one local music channel, it gets media mileage. All you need to do is compare say, Yeng Constantino and Angeline Quinto to the rest of the musicians who get record deals. The two go to town with it and you will know their songs even if you don’t want to hear it. Someone like Sarah Geronimo for example is a rare thing, where an outside management coordinates with the machinery of a given cultural empire. She, by the way, is the only one with a solo variety show at this point and sings mostly OPM, has as guests every OPM stalwart you can imagine, i.e., Pilita Corales, Chad Borja, Richard Reynoso and having them sing their original songs.
But the “Sarah G Live!” equation is a rare exception. For the most part we are left with celebrities instead of singers / actors / actresses. For the most part we are under the spell of a culture industry as played by the media empire. Leloy says, “the possibilities for a genuinely democratic musical space were greater when both the burgis and the working class could simultaneously shout “Diba? T*ng*na!’” Actually, that is exactly what this current landscape of popular culture has allowed: ever since the soap opera “Pangako Sa’yo” in the early 2000s, it became clear that the captive TV audience cut across social classes, from the yaya to the donya in one household, the tindera sa palengke to the academic. And there have been countless soaps since then, movies, too. I daresay popular culture began bringing us all together when we could all recognize Richard Gomez in that Bench ad wearing briefs and doing some rowing.
You want a democratic musical space? Ikaw ang mag-umpisang makinig sa pinapakinggan ng masa. Ikaw ang umunawa kung bakit gusto nila ang mga kanta ni Willie, at ni Angeline, at ni Jovit. Ikaw ang manood ng local TV, bumili ng local CDs, makinig ng local radio. Working with the premise that this is all crap, or will mean stooping down to a certain level, is a refusal at engagement. It is also absolutely elitist.
That is not a problem with culture. That is your problem as one who fancies yourself a pop culture critic.
There are two things that need to be said about iwriteasiwrite's defense of Leloy and Jaucian, and the declaration that pop culture is dead in light of the response to the latter two. One, he is wrong for reasons that are already here, for reasons that are about imagining that these two were going against a status quo. Two, that whole theory about high art and low art? Isn’t easy to apply to the popular cultural landscape in these shores anymore. Not in the past decade, not given the media empire as all-powerful, and certainly not given the fact of the creativity that happens outside of it, extraneous to its system, sometimes working within it, too.
He says, “In other words, anything that attempts to prick the standard prevailing opinion is seen as an attack on ‘Pinoyness’ and as a result shouted down from on high (or from down low) and summarily dismissed.” The thing is, Jaucian and Leloy didn’t “prick prevailing opinion.” They stated the obvious: OPM is dead because the audience doesn’t demand better, OPM is dead because government doesn’t support it. Matagal na nating alam ‘yan, matagal na nating sinasabi. Matagal na nating alam that audience and government do not spell the death of culture, and certainly not the death of music.
So that in the end, what they fail to acknowledge in their grand revival of old issues is this: as old as those issues are, people in the music industry have worked just as long and hard to respond to it. Right there, is OPM. – GMA News
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