The Soundtrack You Can’t Turn Off

Posted: October 12, 2010 in Life in the Philippines
Tags: , , ,

No matter where you go, you can't escape the music. (Bonus points if you can ID all seven recording "artists.")

There are two things you can’t escape in Manila: heat and pop music. Like the heat, pop is the Snuggie you can’t take off, the constant, stultifying presence defeating any attempts at resistance or cogitation. Malls, restaurants, hotel patios, jeepneys, even trikes–anywhere it’s possible to pipe a radio signal, mp3, or CD (and with Filipino ingenuity, that really does mean anywhere). The chorus to this ditty is that if you are in public, you will be hearing pop music. And probably 80’s. (As a sort of sidenote [if you will], what’s also interesting here are the typical volumes that all and sundry are subjected to: we’re not talking about background music, but foreground music–which is odd because in conversation, Filipinos are generally much more soft-spoken than Westerners.)

Of course while (as noted previously) the 80’s are a dominant presence, a cultural touchstone (or cultural cheeseblock, depending on your proclivities), current top-40 hits stretch their tendrils of inanity throughout life here as well. I’ve had Justin Bieber serenade me while buying mangoes on the street, tried to keep a Poker Face while inhaling diesel exhaust on a jeepney, TIK TOKed with cab drivers, and of course partied in the U.S.A. . . . in Manila.

Now don’t get me wrong: I like lip-syncing to Mariah Carey as much as the next guy. I forget the verses and belt out the chorus to “Don’t Stop Believing” just like you do. But with the constant hum in a city that is already noisy, I sometimes yearn for silence, the impossible dream. Even in our relatively quiet apartment, there are still the backup vocals of the neighbor’s  roosters, the heartfelt yearnings from a nearby karaoke bar, and random firecrackers from festive Filipinos. So every now and then I put on my own Clair de Lune, Kind of Blue, or Bach Prelude and add our songs to the Manila mix tape.


  1. Lester says:

    Lots of Filipinos hate the music I listen to, although probably not as much as I hate listening to “doot doot doot! Love Radio! Doot doot doot! Love Radio!” or the woman who opens her radio show with “magandangmagandangmagandangmagandangmagandangmagandangmagandangmagandangmagandang hapon!”

    Advice: Try to find a taxi with a YES FM sticker in their window. The music isn’t great, but at least it’s not Love Radio.

    • freeisaverb says:

      I know exactly which radio bit you’re talking about. It drives me only slightly less crazy than the creepy little kid laughing and then saying, “EN-ER-GY!” But I have to give Filipino radio stations credit for their amazing ability to get things in your head. I think those sound bites will follow me for many years to come.

  2. David says:

    Why should I change my name, he’s the one who sucks.

    • freeisaverb says:

      I’ll be honest with you, I love his music. I do. I’m a Michael Bolton fan. For my money, I don’t know if it gets any better than when he sings “When a Man Loves a Woman”.

  3. Liza says:

    Manila sounds like China on steroids. I thought it was funny (in a kind of annoying way) that they pipe music into the public parks (loud, traditional Chinese music), and the American desire for “peace and quiet” just didn’t translate. But that didn’t compare to what you’re describing!

  4. Jennifer Rolander says:

    Love this new post guys. Sounds like there is just too much sound. I guess they did not put earplugs on the list of items to take with you. It really is amazing the things we do take for granted at home-things like silence. Hope you two are able to find your own piece of it somewhere and sometime soon, although I have to selfishly admit that I would be in heaven being in a place that plays 80’s music all the time. It is my favorite type of music since that is what I grew up with in junior high and high school.

    On another note, Raymond and I are thinking about you often and were so excited to receive your note in the mail-it was an absolute treat! We miss you, love you and send our prayers to you and hope you are healthy and happy. You both are an inspiration-keep up the AMAZING work!

    Jennifer and Raymond

    • freeisaverb says:

      Thanks for the post, Jennifer and Raymond! The only place we’ve found here that is truly quiet (until you get outside Manila, of course) is the cemetery. Morbid, I know, but it was actually really peaceful, both because of the lack of music/noise and the total emptiness of the place. It does give me a little bit of comfort on a regular basis to know that at least a couple of my friends back home would love the constant stream of 80’s pop music; for that reason I think of you often!

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