Tuesday ∗ 28 Aug 2012

Notes on OPM: Re-considering pop

The question of supporting Original Pilipino Music (OPM) is one that isn’t simple anymore, not in these times when cultural systems are so intricately intertwined, and television networks and cultural empires are kings. In this series I look at contemporary Pinoy music’s production(s) and unpack the contradictions and discriminations inherent in, and the context(s) crucial to, the fight for OPM as we know it.

It is often said: Original Pilipino Music (OPM) needs more support because it is suffering in the face of piracy, good songs don’t get radio airplay, great CDs don’t sell well in record bars. We talk about globalization and the cheaper foreign CDs it brings, we talk about colonial mentality and the preference for what isn’t local it continues to wreak.

Except that when we say OPM has no chance of winning against the big bad foreign artists, that isn’t really true. Since Sarah Geronimo’s recent CD came out, it’s been in the Top 10 Best Selling Albums list in most local record bars, battling it out with Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, and J Lo, recently even topping those lists. 

It is in instances of success such as this one with Sarah’s One Heart (Viva Records) album that it becomes obvious the discriminations inherent in the fight for OPM dominance. Because it begs the question: why are we not considering Sarah’s success, OPM’s success? And no, Sarah is not the only Pinoy artist on those charts, and no, I believe it would be unfair to think all these CDs as nothing but music unworthy of our attention.

Because in fact One Heart is everything we imagine an OPM album should be: filled with all-original Filipino music created and sung by Filipino artists, produced by a homegrown recording company. In fact, One Heart’s first two singles “Sino Nga Ba Siya?” and “Kung Siya Ang Mahal” are beautiful heart wrenching pop songs, about betrayal and lost love, reminiscent of old school Roselle Nava and Rachel Alejandro.  Both by Vehnee Saturno, it would be unfair to think these songs simply cliché, especially since these aren’t.

Go beyond the idea of pop being uncreative, of both these songs being reminscent of past OPM songs sung by women, and much might be said about the fact that in Sarah’s hands love lost isn’t cloying in its self-pity, but is actually powerful in its insistence on honesty. Imagine the countless young Pinay girls who look up to Sarah and find an amount of power in a line that says “sa akin ay mabuti pa ang mag-isa” vis a vis the fact of infidelity. I can only wish pop OPM had given me that too when I was younger.

This isn’t to say that all the songs here are powerful, or that they aren’t embroiled in the cliché and expected. But much might be said about the fact that many of them are new songs, i.e., done particularly for One Heart, with a number of English songs. It’s in these songs though that creativity is lacking, where English skills become an obvious deterrent in creating more significant songs.

Two English songs stand out though. Also by Saturno, “One Heart” is Pinoy pop song in English as we like it, where hope is borne not just of lyrics but also of a melody that’s made for it. Sarah’s lyricism here is also one that must be praised, if only because it drips with a real sense of hope. But probably the best English song here is Louie Ocampo’s “I Miss You” which was surprising in its anti-pop melody, only made more haunting by Sarah’s quiet pained singing.

One Heart’s “Handang Umibig Muli” by Raffy Calicdan and Amber Davis, works as a techno dance song, which OPM is rarely able to do with success (not since Viktoria and Rachel Alejandro). But the real gem here is “Bata” by Darwin Hernandez which Sarah sings with Kean Cipriano, and which has all the elements of a slow rock hit that deals with new love as uniquely as it has a boy’s raspy voice and a girl’s kilig.

Now this album wouldn’t be complete without its revivals, and here it’s a set of well-chosen original Filipino songs – Agot Isidro’s “Sa Isip Ko”, Louie Heredia’s “Nag-iisang Ikaw,” Jay-R’s “Bakit Pa Ba?” and Janno Gibbs’ “Fallin’” – not at all about being un-original by reviving foreign songs.

So by all counts, given who sings here, who the composers and musicians are, who produced the album, One Heart is original Pilipino music as we would want to define it. The question really is why we refuse to see it as such when we discuss the crisis that is OPM. What informs this refusal to acknowledge pop albums like Sarah’s as the success of OPM as well? What do we gain by asserting the crisis of OPM without considering the locally produced CDs that actually succeed at battling it out with foreign artists?

What if we acknowledge the success of OPM albums such as Sarah’s? Does that mean there is no crisis for the rest of OPM? The answer of course is not at all, but the only way to begin a relevant discussion of OPM is if we start to consider albums like One Heart as a crucial part of it. Maybe the first step is to respond to these questions: what do we think of Pinoy pop really, and why has there been a tendency to ignore its successes? More importantly, why is it silenced in the task of discussing OPM? Then ask the same questions about Pinoy novelty (i.e., Willie Revillame albums).

Yes, these are hard questions. Not unlike Sarah’s love songs in One Heart, the way to creating a powerful argument for original Pilipino music has to begin with a great amount of honesty.

Note: this series was previously published in the now dead Pulse.ph in the stretch of June to August of 2011. the premise of this series meanwhile was and is that OPM is alive and now more complex than we’d like to think. as i wait for my editor Aldus to send me his edited versions, am putting this up, with all mistakes mine.

Posted in: arts and culture, kultura, tugtugan

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