It is no secret that Filipinos love to get behind the mic. The mainstream Filipino music scene is home to hundreds of talented musicians – and thousands more can be found in the country’s underground music scenes.
Many of the best musicians in the country live and work in the humid, sprawling seaside metropolis of Metro Manila. From soul and R&B, to shoegaze, hip hop, and jazz, here are five of the best underground Filipino musicians you have probably never heard of but are worth listening to.
Composed of veteran musicians from Manila, Sleep Kitchen’s sound combines neo-folk, soul, rock, and R&B. The four-piece band started out by doing covers of Jeff Buckley, Lianne La Havas, Portishead, and Tori Amos songs during jam nights at the bar where vocalist Tao Aves used to wait tables and bartend. At the time, Aves had already written several songs that were already 10 to 15 years old. And when drummer Zerro De Leon suggested coming up with full-band arrangements for Aves’ acoustic songs, Sleep Kitchen found its drive. Produced by rapper and beatmaker Calix, Sleep Kitchen is probably the most important Asian neo-soul/alternative rock album of 2021. After its release, the four disbanded for personal reasons.
The Philippines today might be the last place where anyone would expect to find pure, unadulterated late ‘80s shoegaze/dream pop. Fortunately, the members of Polar Lows didn’t get this memo. The core of the band’s sound is created by vocalist and guitarist Megumie Alcala and lead guitarist/resident pedal hoarder Pablo Pablo. While Alcala’s echoing whispers channel Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, Pablo uses the classic Joyo drive pedals, delay, and other effects to draw comparisons to the heavy shoegaze of Deftones or Team Sleep. Polar Lows is one of the most underrated young bands in Manila’s sea of alternative rock talents.
25-year old Kurimaw is a product of the Philippines’ booming local hip hop scene. On the streets of Manila, his name is slang for stupid. It is with this self-deprecating attitude, his Tagalog language innovations, and smooth-as-butter flow that Kurimaw has captured the ears of the country’s SoundCloud generation. Scoring sponsorship deals with classic Threats tees, Ranroe sandals, and other local brands, the young rapper has become a local hero of sorts for Manila’s misfit artists and would-be rappers. Kurimaw has also recently released his first EP, Buzo_Omp, and is intent on taking over the local scene alongside his brothers from the Playa Hataz.
Easily one of the most important active Filipino rappers today, BLKD first rose to fame by dominating fellow emcees in the seminal Filipino battle-rap league, Fliptop. His first album, Gatilyo (Trigger), came out to critical acclaim and established his skills as a master storyteller. Alongside Calix and a bunch of local researchers, rappers, and musicians, BLKD was also instrumental in producing the drug war data-driven hip hop album Kolateral (Collateral). Today, it’s rumoured that he and Filipino-American DJ UMPH – who produced Gatilyo – are back in the studio and working on their next album. For the sake of Filipino hip hop, we can only hope that those rumours are true.
This particular jazz duo is composed of classically trained vocalist Faye Yupano and veteran jazz and funk bassist Bergan Nuñez. While Project Yazz is a collaborative musical project which often incorporates different musicians, these two are its mainstays. With just the sound of Nuñez’s classic bass guitar tone and Yupano’s pristine, dynamic improvisation, the two specialise in turning original local and western music into jazz standards. Even with just the duo taking the stage, the result is always an intimate affair with soulful virtuosity.
This is just a quick glimpse into the wild, brewing cauldron of musical talent that is the Philippines. Outside of Metro Manila, there are literally thousands more musicians worth listening to. Check out these and other Filipino bands on platforms like Spotify and SoundCloud.