Filipino singers are known for some of the best covers of songs by American and other international artists and bands—ranging from Whitney Houston and Lady Gaga to The Beatles and Journey.
But why, in all these years, has Filipino musical talent not been harnessed to foster original Filipino music? I still remember OPM (Original Pilipino Music) from decades ago, a “movement” in the Philippines that promoted appreciation of local compositions. Unfortunately, the OPM movement didn’t quite fan out to the international scene.
Is that about to change? Make way for Filipino World Music, courtesy of Raq Filipina.
Raq describes her music as a unique mix of Filipino roots with Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, Caribbean and chill electronic sounds. Her songs, written in Tagalog, convey simple everyday life in her native Philippines, while incorporating many social issues involving the environment, poverty and homelessness. What elevates her music to world-class status is its distinct jazz rhythm, so expertly enhanced with a lot of percussion sounds from bongos, congas, timbales and cajon.
Now a resident of Oakland, California, Raq grew up in a family of musicians in San Juan, Metro Manila, singing and dancing since she was a young girl. At age six, she “began selling fruits and vegetables in the sidewalk market to earn pocket money, sparking an intimacy with her community, the busy streets and meandering eskinitas, the people and sights and smells of her barangay, that continues to shape her compositions today. She “narrates” this childhood experience in her song “Batang-bata” (Very young).
After she arrived in the U.S. as a young adult, legendary world music producer Greg Landau asked her to work on a new project combining music of the Philippine islands with eclectic rhythms and a touch of electronica. The result of this collaboration is Raq’s first music CD, “Filipino Roots.” She also has a collection of music videos filmed entirely in the Philippines.
Raq composed all the songs in her debut album, except for one, “Dandansoy,” which is a popular traditional folk song from the Visayas region in the Philippines. She is very serious with her music but takes some time playing with them in performance and in writing, as is the case with one song entitled “Lebawala.” Even Tagalog speakers will not understand the lyrics because the words are written backwards. “Lebawala” is “bale wala” (of no value) written backwards.
In the last year, she has performed in live shows throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, including her latest appearance last February 21 in San Jose as part of the San Jose Jazz Winter Fest 2014. This was the second time that Raq was invited by San Jose Jazz, proof that her music, indeed, has become mainstream.
To learn more about Raq’s music, visit her website at www.raqfilipina.com.
Rene Astudillo is the executive director of the Lupus Foundation of Northern California and former executive director of the Asian American Journalists Association. He is the author of a cookbook, My Bay Kitchen, and a news satire, “The Adobo Chronicles,” both of which are spin offs from his blogs of the same title.