How Musicians in the Philippines Are Surviving the Pandemic

How Musicians in the Philippines Are Surviving the Pandemic
Photo Credit: SilaOjie

What you need to know

During the pandemic, musicians in the Philippines who depend on live performances for their livelihoods are struggling, but some say they are writing more songs and engaging more with their fans.

Manila, Philippines — Like millions of other artists who rely on live performances for their income, Filipino musician Andrian “Ojie” Cubillas, the former frontman of the band Nairud Sa Wabad, had to fall back on working remotely not long after the Philippines banned large gatherings.

The pandemic has brought radical change to his usual music routine with his four-man band SilaOjie, which was formed in May 2018. Cubillas took the Philippines by storm by winning ABS-CBN’s Tawag Ng Tanghalan, an amateur singing competition show similar to The Voice. His rendition of Asin’s “Himig ng Pag-Ibig” that secured his first place finish has been viewed over 12 million times on YouTube.

But this success has not insulated from the effects of Covid-19 on his career, which he describes as “very huge.”

When the lockdowns began in March 2020, Cubillas and his bandmates were anxious about what was going to happen, especially to the families that they provide for. “Impas na ni” (“We’re dead”), he told his band.

But the 32-year-old singer from the province of Davao del Norte, known for his debonair stage performances, remains positive despite the pandemic’s toll. “I was also really proud of the band because they took hold of opportunities that came,” he told The News Lens in an interview. Cubillas said that his bandmates sold food and other basic necessities online. One member launched his own clothing line.

For Cubillas’s band, it was like losing a job, and landing a dream. “Positivities were popping after all that has happened,” is how he describes their pandemic period. For one, it gave them the chance to write more music.

But it also has a boon in other ways. For musicians who don’t receive frequent of appearances on national TV but have a sizable following on social media, the lockdowns have allowed them to get closer to their fans, with songs addressed to the moment. General Santos City’s pride Kuerdas band has written new songs such as Stay-At-Home, Pandemyang Panahon, and Matatapos Din 'To, all of which are related to Covid-19.

But just like any other musicians who have been hit hard by the pandemic, the band had also lost their main source of income. Kuerdas’s Jay Son Ugbaniel, popularly known as Angkol Onyok, said that the band has “experienced all uncertainties” with unpayable monthly bills and a lack of food to put on the table.

They too have had to resort to online selling. Ugbaniel said they sold chili garlic, homemade ice cream, and band merchandise just to make ends meet.

Fortunately, Kuerdas had experience with relying on crowdfunding before the pandemic. They agreed that this will be used for the band’s recording, hospitalization, and emergency cases. “This Trust Fund had helped us heaps during the pandemic. It was divided equally among members as their initial capital outlay,” Ugbaniel told The News Lens.

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Photo Credit: Kuerdas
A scene during a live performance by Kuerdas.

In the face of terror that Covid-19 has brought to the Philippines, Ugbaniel is still positive that there will be a breaking point in the creative industry when artists and musicians will be deemed essential. For now, he has asked everyone in the music scene to never give up their passion, and “find alternative ways to keep going.”

Cubillas, on the other hand, with his driving desire to create something that will inspire people to keep moving forward, said that “amid all these dreadful days, the magic comes in.” He believes that the pandemic is not fatally debilitating to the music industry. Instead, it has been a time for honing skills to create and develop a multitude of passions outside of music.

“There is hope everywhere. No matter how hard it is to find, sometimes, but it is there. There are positivities everywhere that can inspire us to stand strong,” Cubillas said. “Let’s keep finding ways to move on. Let’s keep doing music. And while waiting for the physical stage to be available, let’s see each other in an online gig.”

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

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