Beijing Beat blog with Mark Godfrey

Beijing Beat

Why Filipino Bar Bands Rule in China

Dec 15

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12/15/2008 5:25 AM  RssIcon

Filipino musicians are multilingual musical bridges for hoteliers and bars in China

I understand why Filipino musicians are so in demand as minstrels for hire in hotels and bars around China. International hotels like them because Chinese audiences and western musicians don’t always gel well: Chinese performers, I've seen are usually shy in front of expatriate audiences, who in turn often don’t know if they're supposed to boo a bad performance and usually can't communicate with performers they like.

Those thoughts were confirmed for me during a chat with Alvaro Rottenberg, general manager of the Kempinski in Shenyang, an auto-making city in China’s north. Rottenberg hires a Filipino band to entertain a mostly Chinese clientele at the hotel Paulaner-themed bar. Another Filipino band plays five sets a night in an Irish-themed bar at the Holiday Inn down the road in this BMW-making town, which freezes to -25C on December nights.

Bar bands from the tropical Philippines - also staples in Dubai hotels - look Asian, speak English and understand what westerners like to hear. In China they’re also usually able to sing a bunch of Chinese songs that sound passable enough to please Chinese customers. Why not Chinese musicians? Because they don’t have enough of an English-language repertoire, says Rottenberg. Filipinos by comparison are often praised as human jukeboxes, capable of switching from Green Day to Glen Campbell, as the clientele requires. Granted they've usually got the words filed away in plastic-sheet binders, which they flip through as the night and the requests progress.

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