Seattle by way of Manila: Musician Cynthia Alexander

March 19, 2013

photo by Alan Raga

On March 22 in
Berkeley, La
Peña Cultural Center
, in partnership with Transnational Institute for Grassroots
Research and Action
(TIGRA) will host Las Tres Marias, a concert featuring three
female singers who represent the migrant story and experience. Among the three
is Filipina singer, songwriter, and musician Cynthia Alexander. Her recent
migration from the Philippines to Seattle had set the blogosphere abuzz last
year. Hyphen catches up with her and the contrasts between her two homes.

Cynthia Alexander was a part
of the Philippine indie circuit. She elected to produce her own albums, even
after having released her debut on a major label. As an independent musician,
she found that making it in the Filipino scene required a decidedly harder
hustle than in America.

According to Cynthia, “It’s
harder in Manila, perhaps because Filipinos tend to favor mainstream pop music,
or because the radio stations [there] are afraid to play new music. I don’t
know -- but it’s good to get people thinking and talking about it.”

Cynthia also faced
distribution challenges around the Philippines’ Optical Media Board (OMB), which
is designed to protect copyrighted material and reduce the amount of pirated
material that has become part of the everyday Filipino experience, not only
online, but in booths and stalls at the public market.

“Good idea in theory, but in practice
it hurts the independent producers who are required to register with the OMB to
get a license to replicate our own music CDs, and we have to pay to renew the
license every three years”, says Cynthia. “The cost of the license is
prohibitive to a struggling indie artist who does not sell CDs by the
thousands. When I ran out of CDs to sell, I couldn’t afford to reprint them,
even though there was considerable demand, so it hurt my business, and it hurt
my fans who couldn’t find the music anywhere. What are they going to do then
but rip off the music? So the way I see it, the OMB actually creates more music
pirating! It was only in the States that I was able to finally print my CDs and
sell them here.”

Cynthia eventually left the
Philippines on her own accord, not because of extreme economic hardship. One
Yahoo! article claimed her leave was based on lack of fans. (Spoiler alert:
false). “Though I left for personal reasons, some people seem to want to twist
it into something more controversial or perhaps to reflect their own

Says Cynthia, “In
fact, I am one of the lucky indie artists who gigged regularly and was
recognized by local music awards-giving bodies, and even sometimes got radio

“I never had real ‘celebrity’
status in Manila, but more of a cult following of loyal fans and friends who’ve
supported me for many years. They’d come to the gigs and sing all the words to
the songs,” said Cynthia, “I miss the energy exchange I get with an audience
who knows and loves the music. Being new to Seattle, I have limited connections
and no one knows my music, and though I’ve met a lot of wonderful musicians
who’ve been very supportive, it is quite challenging to break through the
‘Seattle freeze’. I’m
learning to approach people in a different way. But even though I’m new here
and am in many ways starting from scratch, I do have a large body of work and a
long professional career that can speak for itself, and I’ve been booked for
shows based on the music rather than connections, which is encouraging.”

For more of Cynthia's work visit

Buy tickets to see Cynthia and other performers here