Philippine bands coming to a bar near you
Published: 4th Nov 2010 23:30:59
Wearing sparkly black outfits, Beth and Grace are belting out a Lady Gaga hit in a windowless room at the back of a restaurant in Manila.
The room has been decorated to look like a nightclub, but it is not yet midday and the only people in the audience are the venue's owner, Jackson Gan, and a cameraman.
The girls hope they will soon be far away from the Philippines. A hotel in Bahrain is interested in hiring their band, Fire and Rain, and they are making the video to try to seal the deal.
"It's a good opportunity for us," says Beth. "I don't know much about Bahrain, but I've heard it's a nice place."
"Actually, I would go anywhere," she adds after a moment's thought.
Beth and Grace are just the latest singers to take advantage of the international demand for cheap house bands.
It is a market which, according to Mr Gan, Filipinos are uniquely placed to fill.
They speak good English, they are prepared to work for what - by international standards - is a fairly cheap wage, and they are versatile in what they can sing, he says.
Mr Gan's company, First Champion, sends hundreds of bands abroad every month, and there are several other Manila-based recruiters like him.
Five years ago, the largest market was definitely Japan. But demand there has been declining, while it is still growing in the Middle East.
Groups are also sent to China, Russia and even as far away as Brazil, although the most popular destination is the United States or a season on a Caribbean cruise ship.
According to government figures, about 3,000 Filipino performing artists were officially hired overseas in 2009, but in reality there are likely to be far more than that working in hotel lobbies, bars and shopping centres around the world.
It is not hard to find where the recruitment companies get their bands. Every evening, the bars of Manila Bay are full of groups singing their hearts out.
I know I will never be famous. I just want to do this while I'm still young enough”
On our visit to Calle Cinco bar, an eight-member band named Soundwave is the first act of the night. They sing a mixture of current chart hits, although they can apparently sing soul, jazz and hard rock as well.
Laurie, one of the lead singers, says she gets paid just 300 pesos ($6; £4) a night to sing at Calle Cinco - so it is not hard to see why a foreign job looks so attractive.
"Abroad we'd get $500 (£315) a month as a minimum, but here we get just enough for food and transport. How can you live like that?" she says.
Musicians and singers are just a tiny part of a huge exodus of Filipinos who find they can earn far more overseas than they ever would at home.
About nine million Filipinos work abroad - and the money they send back to the Philippines makes up more than 12% of the country's GDP.
The head of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Jennifer Manalili, says these overseas workers are the "heroes of the Philippine economy".
Of course, unlike many other overseas jobs, the music industry also offers the slight possibility of being "discovered" - with all the fame and fortune that entails.
In the Philippines, where singing comes second nature - even the president was persuaded to sing on the night of his inauguration - artists who make it big abroad are hero-worshipped back home.
The ultimate story for many low-budget singers is that of Arnel Pineda, who used to work in a cover band singing tracks popularised by the US band Journey.
The members of Journey were so impressed with Pineda's performance, which they noticed in a video on Youtube, that when a space came up for a lead singer, they asked him to join them.
But in the bars of Manila Bay, most singers and musicians are under no illusions about their prospects.
"I know I will never be famous," says Laurie. "I just want to do this while I'm still young enough, then I'll go back to my home province and maybe open up a business."
In fact, unlike those in the West, these bands do not cultivate a unique image or specialise in a particular style of music. Most see their careers in terms of hard economics.
They may have originally formed as groups of friends growing up together in the countryside, but the final make-up of the groups that go abroad is determined by people like Mr Gan, to fit the requirements of a particular client.
Smaller hotels and bars want two or three-member bands, singing to synthesised music, while shopping malls and larger hotels tend to want bigger bands with a rhythm section, as well as vocalists.
Soundwave, for example, have been told they need a ninth member if they have a chance of being booked by a hotel in Dubai.
But they are willing to accept this - in fact they are willing to go anywhere and sing anything - so they can earn enough money for their families back home.
At 00:35:56 in ScotlandWith an international museum, a new train station, a marina and an enormous park all in the pipeline, there is no end to the ambition in the masterplan city planners have drawn up for the Dundee waterfront. They are even looking at building an urban beach which doubles as an ice rink.
At 00:34:35 in ScotlandThe Scottish government has announced a women-only Scottish cabinet event to debate issues related to the independence referendum.
At 00:32:30 in HeadlinesTeachers are warning that CCTV safety cameras are being misused by senior staff as a way of spying on lessons.
At 00:22:37 in TechnologyStick a bunch of people in a room with pizza, caffeine and a whole load of kit, wait 24 hours and something interesting emerges.
At 00:17:52 in HeadlinesHigh temperatures, poor ventilation and lack of drinking water in schools can make the menopause particularly tough for teachers, a conference will hear.
At 00:16:23 in HealthThe demand for bigger buttocks in Venezuela means some women will even have banned injections to achieve them, putting their health at risk.
At 00:10:58 in WorldOrdering a cup of tea in Paris is a bit like asking for pastis in a British pub. You probably won't get what you came for.
At 00:07:26 in HeadlinesThe Archbishop of Canterbury will highlight the suffering of people facing conflict around the world during his Easter sermon.
At 23:43:47 in EnglandPolice have launched a murder inquiry after a 27-year-old man who was injured in fight outside a West Midlands pub, died in hospital.
At 23:05:03 in HeadlinesIran has condemned a US decision to seize a Manhattan skyscraper belonging to a non-profit organisation with alleged links to the Tehran government.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2010. Philippine bands coming to a bar near you [Online] (Updated 4th Nov 2010)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/105365/Philippine-bands-coming-to-a-bar-near-you [Accessed 20th Apr 2014]
News In Other Categories
Stick a bunch of people in a room with pizza, caffeine and a whole load of kit, wait 24 hours and something interesting emerges.
Broadcaster STV has become the latest company to leave the CBI after the employers' body formally backed the campaign against Scottish independence.
Olympic champions Helen Glover and Heather Stanning powered to victory in the women's pair at the British rowing trials at Caversham.
Three men in their 20s have been arrested in connection with a hijacking in Newtownabbey, County Antrim.
Two men have been seriously injured in a crash involving a motorcycle and a truck towing a boat in Ceredigion.
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com