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The Politics of Rock ‘n Roll Language

By Leo Lomboy
First Posted 12:27:00 06/12/2007

Filed Under: Culture (general), Language, Music

One balmy May night, the four members of the Filipino-American band, The Happy Analogues were sitting on the floor in their New Jersey recording studio, with guitars and music sheets on their laps, when the news was delivered to them by one member of their street team: Their debut album, ?Lilacs and Politics,? has gone global with Apple?s iTunes music store. It can now be purchased all over the world via the program.

For the band, the news was the cue to finally embark on their journey to try and make it to the American mainstream. It was the signal that it?s time to play in mainstream American venues besides their local Filipino-owned clubs. But as certain as they are about the direction to take, the band is apprehensive about some criticisms they received after releasing their debut.

Some Filipino nationalist groups and supporters think that ?Lilacs and Politics? doesn?t represent Filipinos at all - in fact, it?s devoid of anything Pinoy.

Unlike many Fil-Am acts that usually record and release albums with a mixed number of English and Filipino songs, the Analogues came up with an all English release ? a strange move for a band whose members were all born in the Philippines and still use Filipino as their primary language in their homes.

?The record was not a deliberate attempt to shun the Filipino language or anything Pinoy. But it was a deliberate attempt to win the American mainstream,? says Ronnie Lao, the bassist and manager of the band.

He has a good point - the band is based here in the States and has a shot at the elusive mainstream with an all-English set. But aren?t they risking alienation from their Pinoy-bred followers by not including any songs in the native language?

?We have released songs in Filipino before we did our debut album. We even have a song about my native Kamuning called ?Happening sa Kamuning,? and one of our biggest songs to date is a love single called ?Alaala,? which was part of the FIl-Am rock compilation, ?Rock in the Box? released in 2006. With those, we don?t think that we would lose any support from our Filipino-speaking fans,? explains Ted Reyes, one of the group?s main songwriters.

Rock and Roll fans have a history of being possessive of their favorite artists. They have this strange notion that they own their artists and, in most cases, refuse to share them with the rest of the populace.

Take the Eraserheads when they made it big in the Philippine mainstream in 1993. After being underground for many years, their ardent underground supporters accused them of selling out. The same happened to Nirvana - when they revolutionized music in the 90?s, they were also accused of betraying the underground.

Yet it?s an altogether different case with Filipino-American bands. Most of the time, when they start up, their core group of supporters are the Pinoy-bred immigrants longing for a taste and feel of anything Pinoy. They get that with Filipino songs with Pinoy sentimentality.

These bands cannot ignore the existence of American-born Fil-Ams either. Hence they include English songs in their lineup.
?You have to play for both sides, Philippine-born and American-born. But we figured that making the debut album all English will serve that purpose better since not all of them understand Filipino, yet all of them understand English. It?s killing many birds with one stone and that includes all English-speaking people,? says Rich Saguirre, Analogue?s drummer.

No Fil-Am album has generated such controversy about the language of songs like Lilacs. Perhaps it is the timing of its release, when the whole US is caught up in the immigration reform bill in the Senate and debate over a proposed bill to officially proclaim English as the national language, eliminating the official use a secondary language like Spanish in the country.

Yet music is said to be a universal language. Whether the language of its lyrics determine nationalism is very much open to debate.

Fact is that The Happy Analogues made their debut in English to reach as many people as they can. But is it Pinoy enough to represent Filipinos worldwide? Maybe not. Is it good enough to cross over toi the mainstream? Probably yes.

Paul Zurita, the band?s guitarist and other main songwriter sums it up:? It doesn?t matter if an album by a Fil-Am band is not Pinoy enough. The mere fact that the artists are Pinoy is reason enough to be proud.?

Lilacs and Politics is now available on Itunes Music Store, www.CDbaby.net, www.soulworksrecords.com and www.poptimesmagazine.com
Visit their site at www.thehappyanalogues.com

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