2017, Oct 16: TALK: Anjeline de Dios: "Migrant Work of Music Entertainment in Asia"

Lai-Tze Fan edited this page Oct 17, 2017 · 1 revision

Anjeline de Dios - "Liveness and Livelihood: The Migrant Work of Music Entertainment in Asia"


As a form of labour, live music entertainment in Asia is both ubiquitous and misunderstood. In hotels, theme parks, cruise ships, bars, and other venues of tourism and leisure it is an auxiliary feature of the overall consumer experience, nevertheless playing a decisive role in shaping the success and reputation of these establishments. Mainstream discourses of creative work fail to account for its distinctive nature as embodied, that is, dependent on relational, affective, and material practices of knowledge and expertise beyond the production of copyrighted content; and emplaced, or configured by the logics and moods of the multivalent spaces in which it occurs. That this work of entertainment is embodied and emplaced also means that performers’ bodies are defined, managed, circulated, and consumed according to rigid (yet contradictory) axes of difference that assign uneven value to the worth and work of music. While music entertainment in Asia has been fixed on an Anglophone repertoire of jazz, soul, pop, and rock, its labour pool is decidedly transnational, having significantly relied on traveling Filipino performers since the emergence of Western popular music in the late 19th century. Today, to be hired and heard as a Filipino musician overseas is to embody racialised ideals of musical fluency and compliant flexibility, and to be emplaced in precarious migrant working conditions that blur the distinction between high-skilled and low-skilled labour. In this research talk, I draw upon my ethnographic research of over 70 Filipino musicians employed in different venues in Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, and Malaysia from 2012-2013, developing key arguments from my dissertation into a full-length book manuscript on musical labour and migrant livelihood.


  • performances by migrants--but sometimes on entertainment ships, singing Western pop music in particular

  • export as recognizable as maids, workers, and nurses

  • RQ: what is the work and worth of these performances, in global entertainment industry and economy?

  • Filipino newspapers depict F. "jazzistas" as "conquering" global entertainment scape

    • contrasted with the exploitation and maltreatment of Filipino musicians compared with their American counterparts
    • travelled with ease and breadth in imperial Asia
  • discusses her last interview with a female performer at upper corporate events

    • compared with reality of being paid half the entertainment fee because she is Pinai ($3000 rather than $6000)
  • shifting, contradictory narratives even within each entertainer, which makes de Dios' analysis particularly dynamic

  • "Filipino-ness" as distinct cultural and racial marker of identity and abiity, as part of exploitation and marginalization in the workplace

  • "Filipino musicians are not musicians"; described as Filipino first, which agian, becomes a marker

    • de Dios trying to grapple with a male performer's lamentation that "Filipinos always say yes, and that's why they're not taking seriously."
  • what about "Filipino-ness" as the discursive basis of valuation and evaluation?

    • compares with alternative narrativeness in which a female performer was proud of Filipinos as always working hard
    • opposing notions of Filipino-ness that connote intrinsic propensity, blurring cultural lines with racialized notion of musicality (something you have in your blood)
    • symbolic and economic register that fixes musicians
  • what shapes the worth of music in transnational labour?

  • some overlap in areas of implacement:

    • aesthetic and sonic conventions of Anglophone music mapped with imaginary fun, fantasy, luxury (esp in cities like HK and its worldly cosmopolitanism)
    • creative labour economy with standard features of production and X
    • temporary conglomerates: coming together for a few weeks for a performance or curation in a PROJECT ECOLOGY and then retaining networks of collaboration
  • development of this kind of imaginary Filipino-ness becomes formalized by their generally lower salary brackets

    • same characteristics of always saying yes, being the best, cheap labour in other fields of service and "servicing the world": as maids, nurses, etc.
  • embodied labour concerned with entertainment; "we take this intimate space by taking this space intimately"

Further interviews and discussion

  • story of Drew and Monica for how they are able to grow their group of regulars for their band: success hinges upon that dual-subjectivity of entertainment, providing a tangible sense of belonging

  • difference between being a musician and an entertainer--intent to connect with people's lives and making them happy

    • playing for oneself vs. playing for the sake of others
  • performance lineup (song selection) based on audience for what kind of person they are and what kind of music they "probably" like

    • LF: to what degree does this depend on audience members' own performance--for ex, using de Dios' own examples, dressing as a rocker, looking "European"
  • example of cruise ships bands that are not the type to say, "We don't play that." Instead, learning the song and playing it the next day--"Filipinos never turn down a request"

    • this entertainment industry very much built on pleasing the audience first
  • de Dios describes "hyper-flexibiity" of Filipino musicians

Q & A

  • Ashish's question: refers to Meaghan Morris' term "positive inauthenticity"--methods of hiding rather than showing?
    • as question of authenticity comes back in history in waves and periods
    • does it coincide with the birth of the modern nation?
    • esp bc port cities would have seen a huge movement of immigration in ups and downs because of the formation of national "borders"
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