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Underground MNL steps into the foreground

Serefamus, Bawal Clan and Hernandez Brothers join Japanese performers in showing aspects of Japanese and Philippine culture often overlooked by mainstream outlets.


W hen you Google “the Philippines,” among the first things you will see is a photo of a beach. Follow the links that succeed it and you’ll likely encounter bits about its jeepneys, its local wildlife, and its notoriously happy-go-lucky people.  But, there is more to the country than that.

Beyond the umbrella of mainstream attention, there’s a hip-hop scene in the country flourishing in various corners of the web. At its dive bars and music lounges, there is also a longstanding affinity for rock. And even after decades of wide-scale Westernization, its various iterations of ethnic music continue to survive thanks to a new generation of artists. These too are part of the nation’s identity and come March 23, in front of locals and people from Japan, they will be put on the spotlight.

It will happen at Underground MNL: JPN X PH Vol. 3. To be held at the Studio Makati, the event is an intercultural affair between Filipinos and Japanese nationals. Conceptualized by Takeshi Fukui and Junichi “Jack” Fukui (unrelated,) it will feature performers from both the Philippines and Japan. According to Nikki Santos-Ocampo, also an organizer of the event, it was designed to be a “friendship party.” But, because of its chosen performers–people who represent aspects of their culture not always focused upon by mainstream sources–it will also be a deeper look into the identity of both nations.

“Culture is born out of innovations and paradigm shifts,” Santos-Ocampo said.” [It] isn’t just what you study in textbooks. One should not ignore the significance of the contemporary. Parties, gigs, and informal events are just as essential in defining this culture as much as academic studies do.” And they intend to prove that come the 23rd.

With its gates opening at 7pm, and its tickets for sale at the venue itself for 150 php, JPN X PH will feature at least 8 performers selected to cover three categories: ethnic, rock and hip-hop. From the Filipino side, they’ll have the Hernandez Brothers, who dub themselves as a “psychotropical drum and percussion duo,” Serefamus, a band which uses its angsty rock music to tackle a myriad of subjects, and Bawal Clan, a collective that seeks to show how talented Filipinos can be in hip-hop. As for the Japanese delegation, there will be five acts: the theatrical Kabuki Man will be there along with On Base, Karen Emi and the MJ Performance Company. Takeshi will also be there to do a martial arts demo. Meanwhile, Kuya Omu-rice, which serves Japanese omelet rice in Manila’s streets, will also have a stall at the event according to the group’s Facebook page.

“This is important because Filipinos aren’t often given an opportunity to really showcase our contemporary culture,” Santos-Ocampo said. And, according to her, the performers are not the only ones who will get to do that at the party. “People are highly encouraged to dress in either ethnic wear such as kimono and malong, or interpret their best street style that shows which country you’re from,” she said. “Dual citizens can get very creative.”

Through the years, the relationship between Japan and the Philippines have been, to say the least, colorful. In as early as the 16th century, Japanese traders have been settling in Luzon leading to strong ties that even saw some Japanese nationals supporting the Philippine uprising against Spain. During World War II, however, relations between the two countries soured when Japanese forces invaded the Philippines to prevent it from being used by the United States as a base of operations against the land of the rising sun.

These days, however, Philippine-Japanese relations are on a more amicable footing. Japan, after all, has become one of the largest markets for tourism in the Philippines. In a report by BusinessMirror earlier this month, it was revealed that 631,801 Japanese tourists visited the country in 2018. In the same report, the Department of Tourism said that such numbers are expected to increase by 27 percent. And because of such realities, Santos-Ocampo believes that events like JPN X PH remain important.

“Needless to say the Philippines has a complicated past with Japan, yet it hasn’t stopped Filipinos from loving pop and contemporary Japanese culture,” she said. And given recent tourism figures, it also clear that it hasn’t stopped the Japanese from being interested in the Philippines and its many attractions.

In 2017, the Philippine Star reported that according to Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon Jr., the Japanese market is mainly attracted to the Philippine beaches. But, again, there is more to the country than that. And if all goes well for Underground MNL on the 23rd, then perhaps they’ll find other reasons to continue visiting the country.

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