Fans crammed into Conspiracy Bar in Quezon City on Saturday to hear and witness the final set of Cynthia Alexander. The songwriterâwhose intense prose-poetry set in alternative melodies has earnedÂ followers from the music, art, and literary communitiesâis set to leave the Philippines this Wednesday, migrating to Seattle, Washington, with her family.
But itâs not farewell, she insists.
âIt’s not goodbye, goodbye Philippines; Pilipino tayo,â she said. âWe are such a sentimental lot. And like Iâve been telling my audience, Iâll be back next year because this is my home.â
This is not the first time sheâll be living in Seattle. Two years ago, she stayed there for six months; to her memory, nobody noticed. But last week, after a Yahoo article headlined that sheâs leaving the country due to lack of support, Filipino music fans were abuzz with concern for the state of OPM.
Alexander agrees that the local music scene is becoming more discouraging. Piracy is rampant and remains the No. 1 enemy of the music industry. And yet the watchdogs set up to protect local artists hardly seem to beÂ putting up a fight.
Worse yet, unthinking policies are actually keeping independent artists like Alexander from promoting herself.
âYou know the OMB, the optical media boardâitâs a government office, right? I myself canât even print my own CDs. I have to get a license to print myself. So when I go to the CD duplicator (they say) âIâm sorry maâam I canât print you anymore dahil hinahabol kami ng OMB dahil wala ka raw license.’ License to what? ‘Maâam wala kang license to print your own music.â I think thereâs something wrong there. The OMB was created to combat piracy. But you think we pirate ourselves? Weâre just small fish trying to survive.â
At first she tried her luck with a major music label she opts not to name. She brought 30 songs for their first meeting and while she was told they sounded fresh, she was instructed to come back the week after with something that sounded like Alanis Morisette.
âI was heartbroken,â she recalls. âItâs just the way it is. I suppose that opened my eyes.â
To prove that she can be original and marketable, she managed to sign with another label. But after the release of her first album, Insomnia and Other Lullabyes, in 1996, she felt she was not getting the support needed to get her music out. After six months, she signed a release from them and was told sheâll never have a second album.
And so Alexander decided to just do it herself.
âIâve written without anyoneâs dictation. I didnât study music. But I did the best with the tools that I have and I think thatâs the message. I make do with what I have, which is a very Filipino thing. In the most difficult situation, you build something out of very meager tools, resources, and youâre able to come up with something.â
The result was Rippingyarns. Released in 2000, it won nine major awards including Best Album and Best Producer in the Katha Music Awards. She has released two albums since, Cometâs Tail (2005) and Walk Down the Road (2009), and built a solid and loyal fan base.
She believes that if Filipino independent music got the same attention as the indie film community, then, maybe, it would have a fighting chance again.
âYou know, itâs hard. You think about artistry: Is it just the production of work? But we are people! We have to eat. When it becomes sustainableâthat which you produce is giving you enough back so you can eat and raise your familyâthen I think maybe somehow there is progress.â
Until then she will explore other options. Alexander acquired an artist visa to the US.
âI write music here and I write music there. So when the album comes out, of course Iâll release it here. I canât rip the Philippines off my heart. Taga-dito ako.â â With interview by Juan Carlo Gotinga.
Find out more about Filipino musicians who move abroad in the upcoming feature of Journo on July 3, 2012 (Tuesday) on TV5 after Pilipinas News.