OPM of the Masses

Brownbeat Allstars at Radio Republic's Instagig at B-Side

Brownbeat Allstars at Radio Republic’s Instagig at B-Side

Why on earth would an aged, old hippy from England set about writing a piece about Filipino music? My honest answer is I have no idea other than lately I’ve been inspired.

It was Karl Marx that said “religion was the opium of the masses”. Well, I’m sure as hell not getting into that debate. It’s James, the blogger from England that is saying “OPM is the driving force behind musical change”. I am more than happy to get into that debate. Something has happened; the doors have been kicked open and so many good bands, musicians and talent have broken through.

Just a few years ago, I would not have said it was not possible. 8 years on from my first visit here, I’m discovering some great sounds, good music with originality something that I had previously been hard pushed to find.

There has grown a thriving alternative music scene that would not have got a look in just a few years ago. What’s changed? Well, possibly a young population of educated, internet savvy music lovers who, due to the internet, had broadened its horizons, is what has changed. Some of this change has come about because of an Original Pilipino Music movement that has forced the industry to rethink and real talent is pouring out.

Good music and especially anything original was suppressed by a stale, money and fame-oriented entertainment industry which had sold its soul to the corporate contract. If any of them cared about being innovative, then they would get little backing and would have to sacrifice their art for exposure.

Sadly, there were many around that were only interested in fame and would play the industries game. Why would the TV companies whom are not known for bold visions take a gamble on anything new when the cover singers were a safer bet?
It was all about getting the contract from big companies to endorse their products and in return, they would promote their gigs. Established artists lived forever being signed up right, left and centre for endorsements, and the people knew only them and showed little desire for change.

Unlike other countries, artists could not rely on album sales as the mainstay of their income. From what I’m told, CDs were not big sellers here. To make a good living as an artist, you needed to do shows, and more so, endorsements. As in all things, that usually spells the death of art.
It became tiresome watching endless pre-pubescent little wannabes with little talent manufactured by TV companies and record labels that had no idea. The end product that was nothing worthwhile was being heard, nobody was brave enough to give any of the newer upcoming bands exposure and the business was dominated by agents who were only interested in turning out starlets like sausages for the consumption of a populace that was so used to it; they ate up all they were served.

Throughout that time, waiting in the wings was a whole crop of talented musicians who was getting no support and to become known would have to sell their soul to mediocrity for the chance to appear on TV to an unappreciative audience that was only interested in faces that sing covers, usually badly. From established artists to the new wannabes, TV would turn out endless dross.

Now I confess that I’m no expert and I’m even speculating a little, but my guess is that there was an audience growing that had grown up with the internet. They were discovering international music that was out of the box. At the same time, the OPM scene was being born.

To say it was born over recent years isn’t quite accurate. There was an old wave of Filipino artists from the 70s to the mid 90s that was tagged as OPM but many of the names associated as OPM artists was little more than American sound-alikes who rarely sang or wrote anything that could be defined as Filipino yet strangely they fell into the genre described as OPM.

Over recent times, the OPM definition progressed to mean Filipino artists that write their own material and not covering western songs which in the past had been much of what the old wave artists did. The emphasis seemed to shift to meaning more about Filipinos writing original compositions. It could be in English on occasion, it would matter not; it was original and written by a Filipino. The concept was embraced by some aspects of the music establishment and the door opened for a wave of fresh new talent that could write, and in effect, this produced innovation. From rock to reggae, from folk to hip hop, a whole wave of new music came to the fore.

Ang Bandang Shirley at Radio Republic's Instagig

Ang Bandang Shirley at Radio Republic’s Instagig

Ok, much of it was still unoriginal in style, and it would be hard to define any of it being particularly unique or having a Filipino sound, but music here has always had outside influences and that’s no different to many musical cultures throughout the world. Some of the hip hop that has risen over recent years most definitely does have a style which could be described as uniquely Filipino. However it’s defined, the result is a new wave of fresh artists with much originality, innovation which meant throwing off the copy culture of old.

OPM has been around a long time and much of the early music was perfectly credible. However, the stale industry helped to degenerate the form and they held a lot of power. It seemed OPM was music by nationality only and became a pointless flag waving exercise which in reality only served to degenerate the musical culture. It feels to me that the new wave of OPM has finally conquered and some great music is now being aired.

Aspects of OPM can be a little disingenuous and now it seems the old enemies of musical culture are now waving the OPM flag and it seems sometimes that every radio station seems to be claiming the mantle of being the original OPM station. From some of those making that claim, it’s a little laughable and the term is now being used like a brand which isn’t good in my opinion. It’s in danger of losing its meaning. Some radio stations are claiming to be the fathers of OPM, but actually have been musical culture assassins. Some have been true to their course, such as RadioRepublic.PH. In its early days, they have featured old and new wave OPM but seem to have got on course with establishing the truer definition of OPM.

For me, personally I don’t care if music is Filipino or foreign. The only definition I care about is good music, no matter where it was from. Due to the nature of the music industry in the Philippines previously, it was often not good music at all. The good thing about the new wave of OPM music that has been let off its leash is its quality. Some class acts have broken through. They may not aspire to be international megastars but no matter. Music here now has become Filipino again and the old elite have had to adapt or die. The new music is much more the OPM of the masses. It has allowed those that play for the love of music to step into the limelight and the ones that seek fame only are still there but less significant.

I’ve been enjoying this musical journey so much that I’m going to showcase some of it from time to time. I will be adding music of interest from Filipino artists on this blog. The music industry of the Philippines has done a great disservice to musical culture in the past. It’s great to see the quality begin to shine through.


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Filed under Culture, Impressions, Manila, Philippine Music, Philippines

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