I STARTED listening to Korean pop way before it became huge in the Philippines (hashtag hipster). Back then, one of the most common questions I got was, “Bakit ka nakikinig d’yan e hindi mo naman ‘yan naiintindihan?”
It was a valid question — a little antagonistic, but valid nonetheless.
I no longer remember what my go-to answer was, but I think it had something to do with Meteor Garden. I was a kid when I started singing along to songs in Mandarin. Shortly before I got into K-Pop, I was also already fangirling over Japanese boy bands. The language barrier was simply never an issue for me.
Fortunately a lot has changed since then. With the advent of streaming services and social media, people are now more open to enjoying music in other languages. I can even explore music not only from other Asian countries but also from outside Metro Manila.
Below are some of my favorite Filipino songs written in languages** that I barely understand. Some of them still include lines in English and Tagalog, and almost all of them sound like regular pop songs from the West. Whether Pinoy music has a distinct sonic identity or not is a completely different discussion, so, yeah — let’s talk about that some other time.
Fin and Fil’s “puydi ba” is the reason why I wrote this post in the first place. I was playing a random Spotify chillax playlist earlier and I had to stop doing what I was doing just so I could save this song. I didn’t understand a word but, girl, kinilig ako? Hahaha.
Balay ni Mayang
I first heard of Martina San Diego and Kyle Wong’s “Balay ni Mayang” in a BNT Production video. Did this song actually achieve mainstream success, or is BNT Aye just way cooler than I initially thought? (At talagang nanonood ako ng BNT, ano?)
“On Potok” is one of the few songs on this list that isn’t from the Visayas. Talahib wrote this song about the Dumagat tribe of Sierra Madre and, like many indigenous groups, the Dumagat has a long-running struggle for land and ancestral domain.
Many of Route 83’s songs, including “Kahangturan,” remind me of the works of Mura Masa and other European electronica artists. This song is a decent upbeat bop, though I don’t think I would say the same if it was written in English.
The arrangement of Tony Alfonso and Kaye Dinauto’s “Intergalactic Gugma” sounds eerily similar to Owl City’s “Fireflies’.” The song got my attention mainly because of the title and the lyrics and pretty much the entire outer space shtick.
Baga Ka’g Face
Among all the electronica songs on this list, Malaya Macaraeg’s “Baga Ka’g Face” is the catchiest for me. The beats drop right when I except them to, and the title gets repeated in a way that begs me to sing along to it, even if I have no idea what it’s saying.
Whatever happened to Karencitta after that “I’m quitting music” brouhaha? Too bad, I really like her song “Cebuana.” I don’t get the line about “Cebuanang padala” though — is it satire? Is there more to it than just being a clever pun? Hmm.
Fred Engay & Mei Teves’ “Mauli” is the token Bikol song on this list. It’s a simple ballad with straightforward lyrics — there’s nothing special about it, really. Or am I just being overly critical because I can actually understand the lyrics?
Maldita’s “Porque” is one of the OGs, isn’t it? The song became viral in ’11, and the band even recorded a Tagalog translation and performed it in ASAP and SOP. I still listen to the original Chavacano version to this day.
Davey Langit’s “Idjay” sounds like Wordplay-era Jason Mraz, so it’s right up my alley. Only the chorus is in Ilocano though — the verses are all in Tagalog — but I like the song enough so I had to include it on this list.
*I used to be certain that saying Filipino instead of Tagalog is better (or at least it’s technically correct), but then I read that the “Filipino” language is really just fortified Tagalog so calling it “Filipino” raises issues re: oversimplification and erasures, so, um, here’s a run-on-sentence-slash-disclaimer saying that I am not sure which word to use and that I still need to read more about the topic. Phew.
**I am certain that Bisaya, Bikol, and Ilocano are languages, not dialects. Right?