Turning Filipino cosmopolitanism inward
The other day, I emerged from my favorite ukay-ukay outlet at the Circle Mall in Marikina Heights with a pair of preloved, old-fashioned, wired stereo headphones. I did some serious testing of my find last night. As I was browsing YouTube, I chanced upon a duet rendition of the song “Don’t Cry Joni,” by a young man and a young woman.
This song is a sentimental, mellifluous old favorite you would likely hear over Philippine radio any day of the week, and twice on Sundays. It was a remarkable rendition of the song by what I thought were Filipinos. But they had strange-sounding names. The guy was Lalchhanchhuaha and the girl Zualbawihi. The video was uploaded in 2017, and was running 22 million views and 5,000 comments.
I found the answer to my puzzle in one of the recent comments on the video. Allan de Vera explains, “Now Filipino viewers here are very confused. The song is an old time favorite in the Philippines and the two singers look like them. However, the singers are Mizos from Northeast India. The singers don’t resemble the [typical] Indian because their region was integrated by the British with Greater India… I think the majority of viewers here are from the Philippines.”
The Mizo singers sang in excellent English, sans the thick accent associated with South Asian speakers. But what amazed me was what I thought to be the unusual resonance of the singers and the song to Filipinos. Known worldwide to be excellent singers, I thought Filipinos are more likely to impress other peoples rather than the other way around. I was observing a display of innate inclusiveness and cosmopolitanism of the Filipino that many Filipinos, including myself, may have been unaware of.
The Filipino audience reaction also showed a time dimension. Marilyn Flores says, “My English teacher recommended [to] me to see this. And oh, gosh, golly, so this is what people listened to back then. It’s nice.” Young people are also learning to appreciate the songs of their parents and grandparents. Many of the comments talked about children remembering their parents through the song, expressing deep sentiments in such a public space as YouTube, impelled only by powerful memories evoked by a song.
Lalchhanchhuaha and Zualbawihi are prolific singers, and already have many YouTube videos. I viewed their videos in which they sang in their native language, and soon I was transported to sites on Mizo-land. This is Mizoram, a state of India sandwiched between Bangladesh and Myanmar, the odd location due to Bangladesh having carved itself out of India as part of Pakistan during the partition in 1947. It became East Pakistan, eventually gaining independence as Bangladesh in 1971.
Funny how we are goaded to learn more about our world from the slightest curiosities that are triggered in us by our daily lives. Most Americans did not know where Pearl Harbor was when it was attacked by the Japanese in 1941. Many Filipinos now know where Riyadh, Christchurch, Flores, Almaty and Dublin are because of OFWs.
Filipino viewers apparently connect to these singers by their looks and talent alone, with no intervention of religion or race. If they knew more about the Mizos, the connection would be stronger. Mizos, from the Indian state Mizoram, are a
multiethnic people who actually have among the highest literacy rates (92 percent by 2011) in India. They speak English and are mostly Christian, because they have been educated as hill tribes by Christian (mostly Protestant) missionaries, like many of our own Cordillera peoples.
In fact, Mizos are highly modernized, but if you look into the native costumes and headgear of Mizos, you will mistake them for Ifugao, Kalinga or Igorot from the Cordilleras. Their dances are so similar to the outstretched, rhythmic movements of the Cordillera dances. And they also have their own version of the bamboo dance we call the tinikling.
So, it comes full circle. Cordillera ukay-ukay merchants sold me a Korean headphone (hardware) that brought me through cyberspace to excellent singers from the uncannily Filipino-looking Mizo people in India (peopleware). It couldn’t have happened without that most pervasive of all cultural brews, an American song (software) titled “Don’t Cry Joni.” It’s an increasingly culturally interconnected plug-and-play world.
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