Pinay’Merican is a series of personal entries about exploring identity, as a Filipino-American, an aspiring writer, and a millennial. This is also kinda sorta for my final project in Asian American Media this semester.
The Black Eyed Peas have been around since 1995, but it was not until the addition of Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson and the release of Elephunk that they garnered popularity and music acclaim. Their unique style of hip-hop, funk, and R&B brought music in those genres to a whole new level. But it wasn’t just the music that set BEP apart from other artists of the time; it was the group itself: each member comes from different backgrounds, adding something special to their music. One particular member that contributes to the mix of sounds in BEP’s albums is Allan “apl.de.ap” Pineda, the child of an African American father and a Filipino mother. In Elephunk and other albums following afterward (Monkey Business and The E.N.D.), apl.de.ap has one song that pays homage to his Filipino heritage, in both Tagalog and English.
I became a fan of BEP in elementary school, when introduced to “Shut Up” and “Hey Mama” (not sure which one came first, but both got me hooked into listening to them). When I first heard “The Apl Song,” I was psyched to know that someone was representing Pinoys in mainstream music. Even though I had no clue what Apl was saying in the record, I knew that he was talking about the Filipino experience.
Years later, in revisiting the music of BEP, I saw the significance of what Apl was trying to do in introducing Filipino culture to the mass audience. This goes for both non-Filipinos and Filipinos who don’t know much about their heritage. Below are three music videos of Apl’s songs; each will be discussed on their content and context:
- “The Apl Song” (from Elephunk)
- “Bebot (first generation video)” (from Monkey Business)
- “Bebot (second generation video)” (from Monkey Business)
- behind-the-scenes for the “Bebot” videos
- “Mama Filipina” (solo single)
“The Apl Song” is about Apl’s struggles of growing up in the Philippines and moving to America at age 14. The song features Apl singing a sample from ASIN’s “Balita” which translates to: “Come near my friends and listen/ I have brought you news from my country/ I want to share the stories/ The events that happened in the promised land” (thanks to a commenter from the other video). This sample sets up the song and the video, in which an elderly Filipino man is living in a nursing home and reminisces on his youth and family.
The first shot shows a brown leather journal with the inscription “Ang Buhay Ko” (possibly a reference to another ASIN song). The journal contains photographs and sketches of family members back at home, as reminders of one’s origins when moving to a new country. Included in the music video are archival/home footage of life in the Philippines, from clips of sabongs (cockfights) and jeepneys on the roads, to still pictures of Apl’s family and his younger self. Interspersed are scenes of the elderly Filipino in the nursing home, as he remembers the times when his family would visit him (shown from the 1:10 – 2:12 marks); it is assumed that they have become too busy to pay a visit a relative (which is sadly true, but heartbreaking to think about). The elderly man also reflects on his days of service in the army, as he observes his medals of honor and looks at his reflection in the mirror while wearing an army hat. (The mirror reflection shows Dante Basco as the younger version of the elderly man; and yes, a very pogi face!) Accompanying these scenes is footage from a march in Washington D.C. for Filipino WWII veterans to be given equity for their service in the war.
The music video acts as a lament for one’s home, despite having better opportunities in the US and obtaining enough wealth to support for the family back at home. Even with these new achievements that would not be made possible have in the homeland, it is the absence of family and the long distance that creates a rift in one’s heart. For example, at one point in the song, Apl says that he wishes he could have helped his brother–a reference to the suicide of his younger brother Arnel. (Sadly, the lyric can also refer to the sudden death of the youngest brother Joven, a few years later.) An important theme in the song and video is memory: the leather journal, archival footage, family pictures, and medals of honor are remnants of one’s life that will be passed down to future generations, as a way to carry on the memory of a relative.
“Bebot” is slang for “babe” or “my girl”. This song also features an acoustic sample from ASIN, “Ang Bayan Kong Sinilangan (Cotabato)” in a fast-paced tempo. There are two music videos for this song: “the first generation” (showing early Filipino Americans in Stockton, California, working in the fields and going to dance halls) and “the second generation” (showing present-day Filipino Americans attending a couple of parties at a park and in a house). Lyrics-wise, the first verse talks about Apl’s experience, leaving his hometown of Sapang Bato to work in Los Angeles, in order to help his mother. The second verse acts as a modern, upbeat version of a kundiman, an expression of love for a woman.
Both videos show the progression of Filipino Americans. The “first generation” video brings to light the manong experience: migrating to the States, working on various farms in the West coast, and going to dance halls and gambling houses for recreation. Although the video is a mild representation of the manong experience, it calls attention to issues that arose in those times. The first shot of the video is a door with a sign that says, “Postively No Filipinos Allowed”–a common thing for restaurants and businesses to show their refusal to serve Filipinos as patrons. The two different dance halls show two different crowds: the first with all Filipino attendees and a live band in the “Rizal Social Club,” and the second with Filipino men waving tickets at white women dancing on stage. The latter was a common occurrence for the manongs, in which they would purchase tickets to dance with a beautiful woman, especially a Caucasian woman. (Immigration laws at the time only allowed men to migrate for labor, hence the disproportionate population of male Filipinos.) But the relations between Filipino men and Caucasian women were stigmatized and outlawed by anti-miscegenation laws; the manongs were also subjects of hate crimes by Caucasian men because of the relations and the labor opportunities. (These accounts are told in Carlos Bulosan’s novel.)
The “second generation” video shows a transformation of the Fil-Am experience. The introduction is a reflection of the modern Filipino American family. The mother greets Apl’s friends, in a thick accent, complimenting Fergie on her appearance and insisting that Taboo eats chicken adobo before heading out. (It’s funny how the mother pronounces Taboo’s name as tabu, a small pail used for washing.) When Apl shows up (after the mother yells for him to come downstairs), the mother insists that he takes his little sister to hang out with him and his friends. For any young Fil-Am, the way the mother acts and speaks is on point. The rest of the video shows two social gatherings: a barbecue in the park and a house party. These occasions are like any party one attends, Filipino or not. There is no historical significance present in this video, except for the connection with the dance halls, where groups of people gather to have a good time.
“Mama Filipina” is a tribute to Apl’s mother. As referenced in the other songs, Apl left the Philippines in order to help support the family, but this song directly addresses her. The lyrics are in English, and he expresses sorrow for leaving his mother, given the current conditions of the country (poverty and political corruption). Apl reminisces about the life he grew up in: despite the circumstances of being poor, he remembers the beauty of the islands, such as the beaches, fresh fruit, and the hot springs from the volcanoes. In spite of these things, Apl states how his mother wishes to have “a taste of that American life,” as most Filipinos desire. The video shows Apl in two different locations: the city (possibly in L.A.) and a beach (maybe in the Philippines or still in California). In the city, Apl is seen rapping on top of a building, walking by a playground, eating at a Filipino restaurant, and watching a fire pit at nighttime. His mother makes an appearance in the video; this presumes that Apl was able to bring her to the States to experience the American life.
Through these videos, apl.de.ap constructs a personal narrative that simultaneously reflects the Pinoy experience. Apl is one of many Pinoys who sacrificed a lot to come to the United States and make a better living in order to help the family back at home. He draws from the history of the manongs and presents a modern day look at Fil-Ams, providing audiences with background on the Pinoy experience. The key element in these videos and songs is the importance of family and honoring one’s predecessors and heritage. It’s amazing to see how far he has gone, along with the Black Eyed Peas, in producing music for mainstream entertainment that also gives a nod to all Pinoys. His motives to introduce Filipino culture, through music and media, give way to other Pinoys to represent themselves in the mainstream culture.
Other Pinoy songs by apl.de.ap