Karaoke the great escape in Philippine slums

MANILA Tue Apr 3, 2007 4:11am EDT

MANILA (Reuters Life!) - In impoverished neighborhoods across the Philippines a karaoke machine is the one luxury the community will not do without.

Crooning syrupy ballads around a television screen is top entertainment in this Southeast Asian country but in city ghettos, where people are crowded into wooden shacks, it's the closest many of them will come to escape.

For 5 pesos ($0.10) a song, old and young gather around what Filipinos call the videoke machine and dance and sing the night away.

"Here in the slum areas, when they have problems, they drink a little and sing videoke. For a moment, they forget about their problems," Erlu Barcarcel, a clothes vendor, told Reuters Television.

Nearly 50 percent of the Philippines' estimated 87 million population live on less than $2 a day and many are forced to eke out a living selling scrap, bric-a-brac or begging.

Dr Vern dela Pena, a musicologist from the University of the Philippines, said singing allowed the poor to transport themselves out of their often miserable situations.

"It's a different time zone. You are like Frank Sinatra or whoever. You're into that song," said dela Pena. "It's a magical moment that is separate from ordinary life."

A few years ago poor renditions of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" was enough to spark several fatal karaoke bar shootouts in the Philippines, but Jun Vista, who washes cars for a living, said vocal quality was not a risk in the slums.

"Even if you're out of tune, you have to sing."