In 2007, the rock band Journey got a new lease on life when they discovered Arnel Pineda, a talented Filipino singer with pipes made for power ballads.
countrymen were thrilled that Journey chose a cover band performer from the
Philippines as their new lead singer. But it shouldn’t have been all that
surprising, considering the
art of vocal mimicry is a national pastime in the Southeast Asian country.
It is an
understatement to say that Filipinos love karaoke. Almost every Philippine home has a karaoke machine
or a Magic Sing microphone
– a digital mic that turns your television into a karaoke machine. It’s
almost always a feature at birthday
and holiday parties. And scores of bars and restaurants offer karaoke or
videoke (a more competitive version that scores singers and records their
When it comes to karaoke bars in the
Philippines, there’s a wide spectrum. There are wholesome “family KTV’s” (KTV standing
for Karaoke Television) which cater to all ages, serve food and have private
rooms where you can sing with your friends. Then there are regular karaoke bars
– laid back places to have a few drinks before embarrassing yourself publicly —
that have karaoke machines or a live band to back up your vocals. “Nightclubs” are
basically strip clubs with karaoke, exotic dancing and back rooms that often
feature more than just singing. At these clubs -- which range in levels of
taste -- men often pay the women who work there to sit with them in the main
popularity also extends past city centres. When Seoul-based writer (and friend of
Travelwise) Hannah Bae
travelled to a remote part of Sorsogon province to visit a friend’s family, she
found the villages have a profound love for karaoke too. “[E]ven though the
area was plagued by frequent brownouts, the family living in the [bamboo] hut
had a karaoke machine, because it’s just that beloved in the Philippines,” Bae
said. “My friend’s little nephews were obsessed with the Michael Jackson songs,
which had videos of him dancing in the background of the karaoke selections.”
The world’s first karaoke machine, the Juke-8,
was built by Japanese inventor and musician Daisuke Inoue in 1971. But it is
Filipino inventor Roberto del Rosario who holds the machine’s patent. He
developed the Karaoke Sing-Along System in 1975.
singing has become a central part of pop culture in the Philippines. Singing is the focus of several
modern reality shows and game shows, and even Filipino celebrities like boxer Manny
Pacquiao enjoy singing publicly. On the American late-night show Jimmy Kimmel Live, for
instance, Pacquiao created a viral hit when he
performed a duet of John Lennon’s Imagine with actor Will Ferrell.
playful pastime also has some dark history. In the past decade, at least half a dozen people have
been murdered after singing Frank Sinatra’s My Way in Philippine karaoke bars. The My Way Killings were reported on heavily last year in the
international press and have caused many bars to ban the song altogether. Did emotions run high because someone sang out of tune? Or
are bar fights inevitable and My Way just happens to be a very common karaoke song?
Whatever the assailants’ motives, the incidents remind us to take extra
precaution when imbibing in an unfamiliar place.
most part, though, karaoke is a family-friendly activity throughout the
Philippines. Perhaps the best way to enjoy this tradition is in a Philippine
home, but if you don’t know any
locals yet, here are a few places to sing the night away in Manila, the
Rock out to
Andy Samberg’s Saturday Night Live hit, I’m on a Boat, as you sail to any of Superferry’s 18
destinations in the Philippines. In addition to videoke, the
ferry’s amenities include meals, drinks, wi-fi, Wii games and book rentals.
If you’re travelling
with kids, karaoke restaurants located in malls tend to be family-friendly joints. Red Box, in Manila’s Eastwood Mall, has
individual rooms and is open all day. The lunch-time
special includes a buffet
meal and a room for 199 Philippine pesos.
World Music Room Family KTV
Also catering to all ages, World Music Room, in Manila’s Promenade Mall, hosts a variety of events, from family
reunions to corporate parties.
Music 21 Plaza
Music 21 is another popular “family KTV”in
the capital of the Philippines. The Pasay City branch has the current distinction
of having more check-ins on Foursquare than any other karaoke bar in Manila.
The Music Bar at the Hyatt Hotel
Yes, even some hotels house karaoke bars in
Manila. This upscale karaoke
bar is just one of the Hyatt’s draws. Its Casino Manila is the biggest hotel
gaming site in the Philippines.
Travelwise is a BBC Travel column
that goes behind the travel stories to answer common questions, satisfy
uncommon curiosities and uncover some of the mystery surrounding travel. If you
have a burning travel question, contact Travelwise.