I recently traveled to the Philippines to perform best-man duty at a wedding, and to write about Manila's mall-based urbanism. But I stuck around longer so I could get a better feel for Filipino culture: what about the food? The literature? The music?
As for the food, visitors can't possibly avoid it, and in great quantities. And if you're headed there, I hope you're not vegetarian. Literarily speaking, Miguel Syjuco's thrilling debut novel Illustrado started what I hope will become a full-blown movement of international Filipino writing. Lovers of the country's cinema will all recommend Kidlat Tahimik's Perfumed Nightmare. And if you want to know about Filipino music, you need only learn one name: the Eraserheads.
Or, more accurately, the ERASƎRHEADS, the modern Filipino rock band that, from what I can tell, has some kind of connection or another to every other modern Filipino rock band. Since their formation in 1989, the Eraserheads have, throughout the usual churn of break-ups and reunions, proven to be one of the most powerful forces in what Filipinos call OPM, or Original Philippine Music.
The fact that music actually composed in the Philippines goes even there under a subcultural-sounding abbreviation speaks, in a way, to the instinctive disdain many Filipinos have for things identifiably of their homeland, especially those in a non-English native language like Tagalog.
Though the Philippines bursts with musical talent — department stores there have karaoke machines scattered around for use by anyone who feels a song coming on — it usually gets used in covering English-language songs. Witness, to name one famous example, the surprising rise of Arnel Pineda, who, by dint of his sheer hits-of-the-80s-singing mastery, came to the States in 2007 to take over as the frontman of no less an American institution than Journey.
But the young Eraserheads found that they couldn't hack it on the Philippines robust cover-band circuit, so they had no option but to succeed on their original material — including non-English-language original material, no less. You can get acquainted with it by listening to this 90-minute Eraserheads mixtape. Given that the band released two new tracks after a decade of recording silence just six months ago, now's a good time to become a fan.