Filipinos overseas share how they get through their quarantine days with music

Filipinos overseas share how they get through their quarantine days with music

COVID-19 has put the whole world on lockdown in the past couple of months and while some of us are staying safe in our homes, many Filipinos are overseas and away from their families.

I lived in Singapore as a preschool teacher for four years before moving back to the Philippines to start Bandwagon PH and I know what it's like to be far away from home. Fortunately, at that time, we didn't have to deal with a virus, but I did struggle with missing home a lot. Aside from getting my Filipino food fix (thanks to my housemates who could whip up staples like sinigang and adobo), I also looked forward to catching gigs by the Filipino artists who visited the city. I wasn't alone in using music as a way to cope with homesickness, I often caught up with friends from the Filipino community at these shows - we've seen Urbandub, She's Only Sixteeen, Bamboo, Cheats, BP Valenzuela, Typecast - we even got an Eraserheads reunion concert in 2013.

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In these trying and uncertain times, it seems it's even more difficult to live in a foreign country away from one's loved ones. We speak to Filipinos overseas about how music is helping ease their worries and the Filipino acts that bring them closer to home. 


Louise, Nurse

Where in the world are you? England, United Kingdom

How long has it been since you went home to the Philippines?

Almost one year. I’ve been in the UK since August 2018 and I've only been home once when my little sister graduated college last June 2019. 

Tell us about yourself.

I've been a registered nurse for six years. Before I worked overseas, I was a nurse at Makati Medical Center for three years and seven months. I have been assigned mostly in the dialysis unit where I attended to countless patients of different ages including my own grandmother back then. 

Music brings us closer to home, how does music help you through the COVID-19 crisis?

A few days after the lockdown was imposed in the UK, I had to undergo self-quarantine when I started manifesting symptoms of the virus. I was exposed to an asymptomatic patient who, later on, was identified positive of the virus. I was afraid especially I was away from my family and I thought that all I had to do was recover from it no matter what. Part of the things I did while on self-quarantine was to listen to worship songs to keep me still. All I knew was I had to give myself a positive mindset that I wouldn’t be affected by the virus and listening to songs like 'Cornerstone' by Hillsong Worship and 'Oceans (Where My Feet Fail)' by Hillsong United helped me a lot. A week later I felt better and got back to work in the hospital.

Who do you listen to when you feel homesick?

I like to listen to Ben&Ben’s songs when I miss home. It reminds me of my significant other who’s a seafarer right now en route to Europe. Ben&Ben’s songs like 'Leaves' remind me to keep moving forward and hope that every tomorrow would be better for me and for my family as long as I keep going. 


Ida, English Teacher

Where in the world are you? Japan

How long has it been since you went home to the Philippines?  The last time I was in the Philippines was 8 months ago. It was my mom's and my brother's birthdays!

Tell us about yourself. 

I am a teacher assistant in a small town in Japan called Sakai where I teach English to gradeschoolers. My best friend says I had prepared for life in Japan ever since I was young, and she's not wrong. I like the food, the culture, anime, and I even took Japanese Studies in college. Now, not only do I work here, but my (Japanese-Filipino) husband and I will be spending the rest of our lives here!

Music brings us closer to home. How does music help you through your quarantined days? 

Music has always calmed me down, quarantined or not! 

I love piano, too, so on particularly stressful situations, I listen to Jim Brickman's By Heart album. My dad really likes The Beatles and we listened to them a lot when I was growing up, so I always remember my family when I hear a Beatles song. I really like 'Here Comes the Sun.'

Who do you listen to when you feel homesick?

I was a teen in the 90s so it's old school Eraserheads and Rivermaya for me! My favorite Eheads song is, of course, 'Ang Huling El Bimbo,' though 'Overdrive' is my ultimate bgm (background music) when traveling in the Philippines! As for Rivermaya, 'Bring Me Down' is my all-time favorite, with '214' a close second. 

Parokya ni Edgar always reminds me of inuman/jamming sessions with my musician friends from high school, but aside from the '90s bands, I also have a lot of memories associated with foreign alternative bands of the day, like Matchbox 20 and Third Eye Blind.


Toni Florentino, Preschool Teacher

Where in the world are you? Singapore

How long has it been since you went home to the Philippines? The last time I was in the Philippines was in August.

Tell us about yourself. 

I'm a preschool teacher by day, who basically spends the rest of it listening to music and practicing yoga. I've been living in Singapore for 8 years, but I'd like to think that I'm still very grounded by my Filipino roots and acknowledge that I would always bring it with me wherever I am in this world. Although I love what I do and grateful for the comforts of living in this city, I spend the rest of my non-working days either wishing or actually being in an island somewhere doing spontaneous and adventurous things or simply lazing around on the beach!

Music brings us closer to home, how does music help you through your quarantined days?

I listen to a wide range of music. My record collection includes Kendrick Lamar, Oasis, Phoenix, and Carly Simon. That's how eccentric it is!

I feel that I'm more of a ma-lyrics type of person more than anything. I like wordplays in songs and sometimes the stories behind why the artists wrote them. So, during these quarantined days, I found myself listening to songs with particular lines that describe how I feel, has comforting words, or somewhat has a humor side to all of this. I realized that those songs, in a particular order, are Mac Miller's 'Come Back to Earth', Bob Marley's 'Waiting in Vain', and Gilbert O. Sullivan's 'Alone Again (Naturally)'. Mac Miller perfectly coined how I feel in his line "Don't you know that sunshine don't feel right when you're inside all day". Bob Marley comforts me when he says "In life I know, there's lots of grief, but your love is my relief". Gilbert O. Sullivan allows me to get distracted for a while and laugh at the inside joke of being truly and indeed "Alone again, naturally". However, there is one music that encompasses all those things for me - which is Filipino music. When you listen to Filipino music abroad nobody else around you understands it, it's somewhat isolating in a sense and yet it makes you feel connected at the same time. I feel like that's exactly why the 'With A Smile' tribute video was such a cryfest hit, especially with OFWs! It's because even if the words are in English, only Filipinos (wherever they may be!) would truly understand the story it tells.

Who do you listen to when you feel homesick?

My forever go-to band when I feel homesick are the Eraserheads. There's a reason why Filipinos would almost always sing at least one Eheads song in karaoke or spontaneously play it with a guitar in your typical bahay-inuman session, whether in the Philippines or abroad. Like what I said, it's because Eheads told stories that mostly only Filipinos would truly understand and they obviously did it in such a novelty way that their songs became “Filipino classics”.

One of my favorite genius wordplay in their lyrics is "Hika ang inabot ko ng pilitin sumabay sayo hanggang kanto ng isipan mong parang sweepstakes ang hirap manalo!". Who else would understand that analogy? Only someone who has the schema of walking around our streets, maybe trying to catch that UP-ikot jeepney with someone, and the cultural context of sweepstakes itself! Their song can instantly teleport you home and remind you of all those experiences they casually sing about - which were your experiences too! Diba? *Insert that line in 'Walang Hiyang Pare Ko'*


Feeling down? Here's a list of songs from Filipino artists (and causes you can support) to lift your spirits this quarantine season


Kiko, English Teacher

Where in the world are you? Japan

How long has it been since you went home to the Philippines? It's been a little over a year now.

Tell us about yourself. 

I've been working in Tokyo for over a year now, but before that, I worked in Singapore for 6 years. I enjoy working abroad because of the opportunity to experience different things and to interact with diverse people. And I really like traveling.

I also like watching movies and eating out with friends. I'm usually the quiet one in the group who's more of the listener than the talker.

Music brings us closer to home. How does music help you through your quarantined days? 

It's never easy when you're alone and far away from family. Tokyo has been under a State of Emergency for over two weeks now and the feeling of anxiety has slowly been creeping in. I find that listening to music helps a lot to calm my nerves and go on with my daily tasks.

Who do you listen to when you feel homesick?

I mostly listen to the Philippines Top 50 playlist on Spotify to hear the latest songs in the country but I am a big fan of Ben&Ben's overall sound. I particularly liked 'War' and 'Leaves' but really, their first album is a definite must-have. Recently, I've been listening to '90s and early '00s singers like Alanis' Jagged Little Pill and Usher's Confessions. When feeling nostalgic, I listen to songs from '90s bands like 'Umaaraw, Umuulan' by Rivermaya, 'Maniwala Ka Sana' by Parokya ni Edgar, and 'Spoliarium' by the Eraserheads.


Juan-e, photographer

Where in the world are you? Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

How long has it been since you went home to the Philippines? 5 months

Tell us about yourself. 

I'm an optimist who's always distracted and loves to learn new things. I also love taking photos (and now short video clips). 

Music brings us closer to home, how does music help you through your quarantined days?

Even before the MCO here, I always needed my music to help me when doing my chores here at home. Making the bed, vacuuming the house, and washing dishes while bobbing your head and moving your shoulders is so much more fun with a nice soundtrack. 

Who do you listen to when you feel homesick?

System of a Down! Nothing like a good groovy headbanging session to feel better. I like to listen to Sugarfree.


Larisse, Commercial Director

Where in the world are you? Singapore – the smallest state in Southeast Asia and a country that is just 3+ hours away from home!

How long has it been since you went home to the Philippines? It has only been three months – but it feels like forever! I'm just glad that my job requires me to roam around the region, which means I get to fly back home at least once or twice every quarter. But even after seven years of living overseas, I still get homesick! 

Tell us about yourself. 

I’m a Manila-girl turned Southeast Asian wanderer which is probably the reason why I am still single at thirty! Being the eldest in a middle-class family comes with its perks and its drawbacks but one thing is for certain, it taught me how to be independent and resilient. At present, I work as a Commercial Director for a Singapore-based strategic brand consulting firm, but occasionally I still frolic in the arts & music scene!

Music brings us closer to home, how does music help you throughout your quarantined days?

I’d be lying if I said that I’m coping just fine with the coronavirus loneliness, living far away in distance is already challenging to begin with. Music, my ever-dependable companion, is the only witness to all the ups and the downs of my independence – from running errands solo, preparing my own meals while nursing a fever, and celebrating a closed deal over dinner or drinks by myself – there’s always a music assemblage to keep me company in every occasion.

And yes, it’s true that working overseas is not always fabulous and fun. What people often fail to realize is that a lot of the nasty things that happen backstage never make it to social networking sites and that goes the same for quarantined days. When fear, loneliness, and anxiety creeps in, I pick up my guitar and I find comfort in solitude through singing. I’ve been a muso for as long as I can remember and this passion for music goes beyond just singing or listening to a song. For most of us, music is far more than a source of entertainment – it is a way of life. Just like any form of art, music echoes my deepest and uncharted feelings within. To me, it is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words. So yes, I’m the type of girl who jumps up and down when she receives live music recordings on her birthday and cries halfway through finishing a real good mixtape.

Back to the overseas hustle – I think I’m just lucky that my roommate loves music as much as I do. That means there’s another muso at home, who is even more capable and talented than I am. Sharing a two-bedroom apartment with her and all the music equipment required for a home studio like acoustic guitars, keyboards, microphones, and digital audio interfaces, is probably one of the best things that I’m grateful for in my life abroad. Almost every night we would jam a song or two from our favorite artists like Snoh Aalegra, NIKI, Emily King, and John Mayer and that’s just the perfect cure to the loneliness that comes with isolation. I’d say that this relationship I have with music is extremely important, simply because it helps me navigate difficult times. Without songs, I’m not sure what else to draw inspiration from, especially during this period of solitude and I’m miles and miles away from home. 

Who do you listen to when you feel homesick?

Listening to She’s Only Sixteen’s 'Favoritism' and 'Disco Yes' by Tom Misch takes me back to a time when booking last-minute weekender flights to Manila was still possible. I remember flying in for a couple of shows before, but those two are the most memorable ones – so yes, they are definitely on loop when I’m feeling homesick! When I’m in the mood for local tunes, my go to jams would include songs like 'Ligaya' by Eraserheads, 'Butterfly Carnival' by Sandwich, 'First of Summer' by Urbandub, 'Anghel' by Stonefree, 'Loveteam' by the Itchyworms, and 'One Look' by Kjwan. Not being in a relationship does not mean you can’t have kilig moments anymore so to satisfy my appetite for homegrown romance, I turn to tracks like 'Tulog' by Southborder, 'Stolen' by UDD, and 'hooked / good lover' by Jess Connelly, to name a few. Occasionally, the Best of Manila Sound playlist gets airtime too!   

After seven years of living overseas, I still miss Sunday mornings with my family. This is why every weekend I turn up the volume for tracks like 'Hey Jude', 'In My Life',and 'Something' by The Beatles. To bridge the distance, I also share a Spotify playlist with my Mom and Dad. This playlist that I personally curated for my favorite couple, features songs from artists like The Carpenters, Bee Gees, The Everly Brothers, and Frank Sinatra.

What is not known to many is that I also have my bad days and when that happens, I secretly listen to A Plain Morning by Dashboard Confessional especially when I feel like throwing in the towel. When I’m close to retreating I always remind of the reason why I am here in the first place and I listen to one of my favorite tracks from Yuna called 'Planes'. Like most of us, the music of Eraserheads is [part of] my feel-good soundtrack that helps me get through my darkest days. So I guess this is the part when we play 'With A Smile'.  

PS. I’m not crying, you’re crying ;) 


Isabelle, Marketing Executive

Where in the world are you? Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 

How long has it been since you went home to the Philippines? It’s only been a little more than 2 months. I miss my cats, family, and bf already though! 

Tell us about yourself. 

I work as a content marketing executive in a Malaysia-based E-commerce aggregator. I used to play music in a band called Fools and Foes.

Music brings us closer to home, how does music help you through your quarantined days?

It’s been a blanket of comfort for me. A lot of songs are laced with a certain memory or period of my life, so it takes me back to better days. Some songs remind me of home or certain people. 

Who do you listen to when you feel homesick?

I listen to certain songs, not certain artists. My favorites are '1904' by Benjamin Francis Leftwich or 'Love' by Jadu Heart (this song is so feel-good and it just reminds me of a really happy time in my life where it made me decide I want to explore the world and experiencing living elsewhere. It reminds me that this is what I wanted even though homesickness can get tough.) I listen to 'Cincinnati Clocks' by Ourselves the Elves when I'm a little homesick too. Makes me feel it's bittersweet.


Yvonne, banker

Where in the world are you? Los Angeles, California

How long has it been since you went home to the Philippines? 

Just this February! I was in and out right before the virus spread wildly.

Tell us about yourself.

I'm 30 years old and currently work in a bank. My favorite things to do here in LA (pre-quarantine) are going to burlesque and drag shows, enjoying the California beaches, and exploring all the museums. Two of my life goals are to be a pole dance instructor and a published author.

Music brings us closer to home, how does music help you through your quarantined days? 

Music takes me back to more carefree days. I have a driving playlist that I like to listen to when going to work and imagine that I'm driving down a California freeway underneath a hot sun on my way to the beach. It keeps me optimistic that I'll experience that again someday.

Who do you listen to when you feel homesick? 

I listen to the OPM songs that my mom loves to sing; Regine Velasquez, Lani Misalucha, Martin Nievera. Personally, I like UDD, IV of Spades,  and maybe a bit of VST & Company when I feel like dancing. I also have a playlist of songs that were uso during my high school days with the likes of Hale, Kamikazee, and Rivermaya when I'm feeling particularly nostalgic. A new and upcoming band whose EP I'm looking forward to is Afgala. 


Ginny, contributing editor

Where in the world are you? Bangkok, Thailand

How long has it been since you went home to the Philippines? I was able to spend time there for about a week in February, before the lockdown was put in place.

Tell us about yourself. 

I love learning about pop culture and participating in various fandoms has always been a thing for me since I was a kid. I guess that's how I ended up using my professional skills to do side gigs in the music industry. At my day job, I manage a team of content creators based here in Bangkok as well as in Kuala Lumpur and Manila; any time in between, I try to help out with Bandwagon Philippines by brainstorming new topics, editing articles, and reporting on music/live events in Thailand. 

Music brings us closer to home, how does music help you through your quarantined days? 

Because I work from home right now (have been since the beginning of March), I end up having more chores to do – and I'm one of those people who can't function in a disorderly space (I got this from my mom) but also don't particularly enjoy tidying up. So, having music on helps doing all this tedious work so much more bearable. Plus, many of my good friends, I made through the music industry. Getting to talk to them daily, about our shared interests and what's been happening in everyone's lives, really helps ease the loneliness that comes with quarantine.

Who do you listen to when you feel homesick? 

When it comes to Filipino artists, mostly I listen to songs made by people I know from home – BP Valenzuela’s The Neon Hour plus 'Bbgirl' on repeat, (((o))) before she was (((o))), tide/edit, The Buildings, Ourselves the Elves, a bunch of old South bands, among others. They tend to be songs I used to see them perform or had loved when I still lived in the Philippines. It gives me a sense of still being able to hang out with my friends at shows.