On one side, as far as the eye can see, the sunlight is playing through emerald rice fields, where the seemingly eternal peace is sometimes disrupted by the rhythmically bobbing conical hats. Elsewhere along the horizon, the waves of the blue sea gently rock a small boat as it has so many others over the centuries. We, eventually, find ourselves somewhere closer to the sea. Eyes tightly closed, we greedily take in the fresh ocean air – such a rare pleasure here. We feel the sun burning our skin and the salty sweat finding its way down our faces…
when a sudden noise breaks the tranquility.
Music gets louder nearby, and we can hear some very gentle voices. We look at each other and curiously move towards the melody calls.
After a while, we are greeted by sincere smiles and hear what sounds like an insistently repeated invitation to come in. Bemused, we don’t even feel it when some Filipinos’ hands take ours and lead us to a small hut. Today the village is celebrating a birthday. Our curiosity about the source of the music is soon satisfied when we see a small karaoke box practically enshrined in one corner of the house. Several locals are gathered around it and getting more and more engrossed in the notes. Moments later, we have plates shoved into our hands and an older voice invites us to taste the festive lunch. Together with Robertas, I do everything according to the instructions – we want to avoid any faux pas. The atmosphere is so warm and inviting that, despite our poor ability to sing, we bravely take the microphones and sing SU GIMIMO DIENA (that means “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” in Lithuanian), with everyone listening to our off-key howling. Even so, broad smiles and loud applause accompany our Lithuanian musical greetings.
It is our very first encounter with the land of singing souls.
At first, after moving to the Philippines, all the different melodies that seemed to be everywhere around us felt really strange. Weeks turned into months, and we finally found ourselves becoming familiar with the Filipinos’ world of tunes. It didn’t matter if we were standing in the elevator, lounging on a boat, or waiting for lunch in a coffee shop, there was always some real macho guy with wide shoulders waiting to surprise us with their beautiful singing voice. During those moments, we still didn’t know if it was better to join in or pretend nothing was happening, but we no longer found it strange, at least.
It didn’t matter if we were standing in the elevator, lounging on a boat, or waiting for lunch in a coffee shop, there was always some real macho guy with wide shoulders waiting to surprise us with their beautiful singing voice.
The melodies never really stop. Filipinos sing when they are having fun, when they are having trouble, or simply feeling sad. It is like being married to song when you swear – forever – in misery and joy.
Soon, Robertas and I started catching each other unconsciously singing as well, making jokes about becoming more and more Filipino. It didn’t even matter we were still way behind the local people and their singing ability. Most importantly, those songs allowed us to express emotion, be happy, and go back to the place where there are emerald rice fields on one side and the sea is waving at you on the other.
These days, we’ve gotten so used to the singing here that it’s easy to almost forget it even exists. Just recently, however, someone gave us a very stark reminder—a taxi driver, of all people. It was late at night; Robertas and I were really tired and hoping to just get home through the sea of cars as soon as possible. The mood in the cab was very volatile, and it didn’t take very long for the initial spark to set things off between the two of us. Suddenly, we started tearing into each other without hesitation. Our tones were getting harsher and the mood gloomier. But when we least expected it, something abruptly snapped us out of our flaring tempers. The taxi driver had started to hum a tune we didn’t recognize, but the louder he got, the more fixated on him we became. That made us stop talking entirely. And it was at that moment we remembered the power of music here. Needless to say, when we finally got home, we both had smiles on our faces that night.
The land of singing souls will always pull you back.