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MANILA: Videos of Filipinos singing their hearts out on karaoke machines and belting out rousing numbers by stars like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey have racked up millions of views on social media.

One such clip, published in 2012 on YouTube, in which Zendee Tenerefe sang “I Will Always Love You”, attracted over 26 million viewers, and the young girl received an invitation to the American program “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”.

While performances like Tenerefe’s have brought her international fame, they are not uncommon in the Philippines – people sing on singing machines in shopping malls, public transport stations, roadside eateries, restaurants, karaoke bars and even in the privacy of their own homes.

In public places, Filipinos can sing their favorite hits for as little as five pesos ($0.80) per song, and the accessibility of karaoke makes it a favorite pastime for everyone, regardless of social status and age.

The passion for singing is so widespread that cities pass ordinances regulating the hours and days Filipinos can sing in public, as these sessions, usually lasting several hours, last until the early morning hours.

“Karaoke culture is popular in the Philippines because it is part of a communal activity during any celebration, whether it is with family or friends,” Patricia Dizon, a communications professor at the University of the Philippines, told Arab News, noting that its origins date back centuries before Japanese musician Daisuke Inoue invented the Juke-8 — the first karaoke machine — in 1971.

European explorers who landed on the shores of the Philippine archipelago regularly noted the natives’ remarkable musical abilities. For example, the 16th-century Venetian scholar Antonio Pigafetta noted that the Filipinos he met “played so harmoniously that one might have thought they had a good sense of music.”

Meanwhile, Antonio de Morga, a Spanish colonial official who served in the Philippines in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, referred to the Filipinos as the “singing nation” because they sang at every opportunity.

The love of singing is an inherent part of the culture, regardless of age, location, or social class. Filipinos now have a wide repertoire of songs to choose from as part of the ubiquitous karaoke culture.

“While karaoke has long been associated with our titos (uncles) singing Tom Jones songs, as well as our ates (older sisters) singing the infamous ‘Kitchie Nadal Medley,’ there are even newer songs available these days, including those by (P-Pop or Pinoy pop groups) SB19 and BINI,” Dizon said.

Although the first karaoke machine was created by a Japanese person, it was Filipino entrepreneur Roberto del Rosario who owns the patent and created the Karaoke Sing-Along System, which was created in 1975.

The system, which plays pre-recorded music and lyrics of popular songs on a video screen, has made karaoke a central part of popular culture in the Philippines

In the cities, Filipinos have a wide range of options to keep themselves entertained. Venues called KTV (karaoke television) rooms are popular for nights out, where groups can rent a private room to sing and order food and drinks. There are also karaoke bars for the more adventurous to sing in public.

Law student Crystal Arcega, 26, and her friends often visit such bars to relieve stress in the middle of a grueling semester.

“I usually go to karaoke during the middle of the semester or after exam season is over. It’s a great way to spend time with friends, especially after a long day,” she said.

“When I was younger, we would go to the karaoke booth in the mall every Sunday to sing after church. It was very healthy.”

Both as a child and now, her love of singing has always had an important social and familial dimension for her.

“Karaoke is a way to bring us closer together,” Arcega said. “Whether it’s for relaxation or creating memories with loved ones, I think karaoke as an activity makes us unite and focus on one thing we can do together.”

Some, like 25-year-old Emmelle Petalder, do it themselves, at home, to the sounds of silent melodies that are widely available on YouTube.

“It happens two to three times a week,” she said. “Whenever I feel like it or when a song gets stuck in my head.”

She usually goes to KTV bars with friends to celebrate special moments as karaoke has a social nature and attracts everyone.

“When Filipinos sing karaoke, everyone sings, even those who are not holding the microphone,” she said.

“Karaoke gives us the opportunity to express those feelings by singing from the heart.”

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