We are in living in a new era of boy bands. Following the international success of K-pop, groups are debuting all over Southeast Asia with hopes of becoming the next big thing. The newest from the Philippines is ALAMAT, whose nine members sing about the utterly relatable heartbreak of being ghosted — in seven regional languages.
“Why did you just leave? You could have informed me. I could have prepared,” the debut single “kbye” goes in the language Tagalog, followed by verses in Ilocano, Kapampangan, Bicolano, Waray-Waray, Hiligaynon, and Visayan. The song instantly went viral when it dropped on Valentine’s Day for seamlessly integrating Filipino culture in a hip-hop track.
“Kbye” also incorporates sounds from the ancient instrument kulintang and ones inspired by tinikling, a traditional folk dance that involves the tapping and sliding of bamboo poles on the ground and against each other.
ALAMAT’s Creative Director Jason Paul Laxamana said this is all part of their goal to represent the Philippines in the group’s music. The Philippines is a multicultural and multilingual country — with over 100 languages and dialects — but this is rarely reflected in national media, which is dominated by the Tagalog language spoken in Manila and other parts of Luzon island. The band’s members, Taneo, Mo, Jao, Kin, Tomas, R-Ji, Valfer, Gami, and Alas, come from different parts of the country, and many of them have been longing for better representation of their mother tongues.
“For many years, especially in [the island of] Luzon, Visayan or the Visayan accent, has often been used as a device for comedy. In our own little way, through the music of ALAMAT, we seek to contribute in reversing this…portrayal of not just Visayans but ‘probinsyanos’ (people from the countryside) in general,” Alas, the lead rapper of the group, who has roots in the islands of Visayas and Mindanao, told VICE. “Seeing ‘kbye’ reach a large number of people gives me the feeling that we are on the right track.”
The song’s music video also includes homages to Filipino culture, like native prints in their streetwear. It starts with the band sitting and leaning on a jeepney, and includes scenes of the members dancing in front of a neon baybayin (pre-Hispanic Philippine script) sign and a backdrop made to look like the Capiz shell windows common in traditional Filipino architecture.
ALAMAT means “myth” or “legend” in English. It could also refer to a person who has become a master of their craft. The band chose the name “Magiliw” for their official fandom, which means “to be friendly, affectionate or full of kindness and love.” Their mascot, Aki Alamid, is based on the Asian palm civet cat found in Southeast Asia.
“From a young age, Filipinos are bombarded with entertainment that mostly celebrates the superiority of foreign cultures (such as American, European, Korean, Japanese), over the local. As a result, Filipinos are conditioned to equate the local and indigenous with inferiority,” Laxamana told VICE.
“We’d like to bring along bits and pieces of our heritage in our fashion, choreography, and music videos. The idea is that when the Filipino people, especially the youth, see our culture being used in modern entertainment, they’d feel a sense of prestige towards their own culture.”
The “kbye” music video now has over 400,000 views on YouTube and P-pop, the Philippines’ answer to K-pop, continues to grow.
“I’m proud and honored at the same time because we are accomplishing what we’ve intended to accomplish through our music,” Kin, ALAMAT’s lead vocalist, told VICE. “While we feel good that some foreigners are taking notice of our work, it’s really our countrymen whom we wish to form a connection with, because one of our wishes is for Filipinos from all walks of life to sing and dance to our music and, by doing so, learn to love their identity and heritage more.”
Apart from ALAMAT, several other P-pop acts have debuted recently, like boy band BGYO and girl group BINI. Then there’s SB19, a five-member Filipino idol group trained by a Korean entertainment company, and the first Southeast Asian act to rank in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Social 50 year-end list.