On Original Pilipino Music

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Don Jaucian is disheartened, pointing us to the grave of Original Pilipino Music.  On the other hand, Carlo Casas is pissed, telling us that OPM is alive and well (nevermind that Don’s “an idiot”).  Three or four tweets later, I find that whatever my thoughts here are better off blogged… at least kicking off from where Rain Contreras started.

Picking up from a conversation I had with Nan Santamaria: without going through a long laundry list of bands and performers, I think Don’s argument should be taken from the position he takes at the very beginning of the article.  OPM is not defined as anything proudly Philippine made, as with the logos found in everything from tubs of Star margarine to bottles of Silver Swan soy sauce.  “Original Pilipino Music” was a tag used by the Philippine recording industry to promote their products.  When the “Manila Sound” faded into the background in the 1970s, record labels used the OPM tag to create that commercial category of tapes and vinyls and CDs of everything from ASIN to APO to Jessa Zaragoza to Nonoy Zuniga.  That was OPM.

Yet the debate is not about that definition.  Definitions change with time, and “OPM” – as a definition – is no exception.  To not acknowledge that this trademark or brand has changed over the years to encompass a wide breadth of artists, styles, genres, and niches: everything from the ASF Dancers to Wolfgang.  Thanks to indie records and digital downloads, OPM is no longer dependent on whether or not someone signs on to STAR Records.  OPM is no longer dependent on the whims and demands of record executives.  What we hear on the radio and see at the shelves of Odyssey, maybe.  What we enjoy in Saguijo or download on Bandcamp, no.

A key point that we can take away from all of this is that the nuances of OPM are too broad and too far-reaching for us to ignore in favor only of our tastes.  Whether we like it or not, people like Daniel Padilla and P-Pop acts (whatever the heck that is), the “fossilized” roster of ASAP mainstays like Martin Nievera and Gary Valenciano, and talent contest winners like Jovit Baldivino and Marcelito Pomoy breathe life for record producers and labels.  They are a slice of that big pie called “Original Pilipino Music” that happens to be more well-funded than indie labels, the slice that has more mall tours, TV shows, and concerts abroad.  And I don’t know if this is a fault or an advantage or both, but they breathe the necessary sales needed for our record industry to survive.

And then we have the “indie” bands and performers where – I think – so much of this friction is coming from.  They don’t have many mall tours, TV shows are very rare blessings, and concerts abroad are dreams: what they “lack” in laminated plaques presented by Kuya Germs, they have in fans who flock to their gigs in everywhere from multi-purpose halls to bars.  Everything from RomCom to Ang Bandang Shirley to Cambio to Imago is a slice – probably smaller – of that bigger pie called “Original Pilipino Music.”  The ones who fuel this industry with the necessary creativity and passion that our musical history needs to thrive.

And even the music of the masa is part of OPM.  Oh sure, we can thumb our noses down on the next compositions of Lito Camo and Joey de Leon, but they have the songs that the vast majority of our people enjoy.  They’re the ones who, unlike many of us here, do not have the privilege of listening to OPM beyond tigli-limang piso videoke and Willie Revillame CDs.  Those who don’t have the means for the fare and the round of beers at Freedom Bar or Route 196, who would probably like the things we listen to if they have more access to it.   Do we exclude Fliptop and Bagtikan battle rap sessions and novelty songs from the big OPM playlist?  I don’t think so.  (This is for another blog entry altogether, but for anyone who says that Filipino poetry is dead and relegated to a workshop setting: I give you Gloc-9, I give you Roberto Boy Paoz, I give you Mike Kosa.)

Is OPM dead?  No, it’s not: OPM – that all-encompassing term for music played by and from the Filipino people – is here to stay.  But let this not be a recommendation for stagnation or complacency.  Just because our definition for OPM has widened doesn’t mean that things should remain as they are.  If our tastes do not appeal for the same crooning on TV every Sunday afternoon, then we should support the music we like.  Creativity and passion needs money to thrive, and a well-funded machine needs all the creativity it can get to churn out more products worthy of what we think is OPM.

Some two years ago, I wrote this piece as a reaction to President Aquino’s call to implement Executive Order 255:

I am an avid listener of Pilipino music; if need be, I am here to spread the message and to spread the word about the beauty of our music, and the skill of our artists and the Pilipino music industry in general.  However, our personal tastes and preferences to music are mere suggestions to others who also have their preferences and are willing to listen.  I believe that revitalizing OPM could only happen when it has a strong foundation; if the government would invest in its own radio stations and play OPM.  Especially if it’s the first patron of the industry.  With quality radio stations, with state-of-the-art equipment and experts in operations, we can effectively share to the public the beauty of our songs, and talent of our singers, composers, and lyricists in the music industry; whether they’re just starting out or are legends in the field.

I think it rings true (so to speak) today.  And if anything, that is what we should be debating on.

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