There is undoubtedly no boy band in the world like ALAMAT. Where most boy bands aim for a kind of predictable sameness, the six-member Philippine pop (P-pop) group has a different kind of goal: to authentically represent Southeast Asian culture, to be brave in the things they stand up for, and honestly, to be Brown as fuck and damn proud of it.
Since their debut in 2021, the P-pop group—consisting of members Alas, Jao, Mo, R-Ji, Taneo, and Tomas—has been singularly dedicated to producing a sonic movement exemplifying Philippine representation. Their commitment to showcasing their home country shows up in everything from the diversity of band members, to their culturally referenced gender-expansive fashion styles, to the social commentary in their music videos.
“ALAMAT in English means ‘Legends,’ which can mean two things,” says Jao in a recent Zoom interview with JoySauce. “First, legends are stories, stories that you can tell to the younger generation, which we aim to do the same with everything that we do through our music. And second, legends can also be people who are seen as icons, and we also aim to be that in the future.”
Rather than the flashy dance routines many boy bands are known for, ALAMAT chooses to focus on cultural storytelling in their music video concepts. The music video for their single “ABKD” begins with a dark-skinned Filipina child painfully staring at a skin whitening ad on a billboard, where a dark-skinned woman gradually turns whiter with the caption: “Ugly no more.” The boys then pursue helping the child see the beauty in the skin she’s in. The video is a reference to the heavy prevalence of skin whitening products in the Philippines, a grave issue literally poisoning our people. They’re directly critiquing problematic aspects of culture, and it’s revolutionary to see an Asian boy band using their music to continue an ongoing social conversation as heavy as colorism rampant in our community.
“It’s very crucial in our society for everyone to be aware of certain issues, like the colorism and discrimination that we talk about in ‘ABKD,’ that needs to be addressed,” Taneo says. “Especially for our youth, who are our future, we think that them being informed is power, because knowledge is power.”
In the video for “Aswang, ”ALAMAT uses Philippine mythology of shape shifting entities; in “Maharani,” they spotlight Indigenous Philippine culture, with references of Singkil dancing; and “kasmala” is focused on the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. The powerhouse group comes up with unexpected concepts that have never been seen before, while also maintaining the group’s expected flawless execution of blending in Philippine history and culture with a modern twist through their sound.
“There aren’t that many artists that use our culture the way that we do and try to make it known in the industry as much as we do,” Jao says. “We are super proud of it.”
Another aspect of ALAMAT that sets them apart from other boy bands is their diversity in members. Each of the members come from different provinces in the Philippines, allowing them to speak, sing, and rap in different dialects from their respective regions in their songs—a rare sight in pop music.
“The provinces we come from all have different cultures,” Jao says. “The Philippines is really rich in culture and diversity and ALAMAT shows that. Since we’re all here together from different places in the Philippines, we’re able to fuse all of it together to create something amazing.”
“We have different ways of being raised, and grew up in different environments,” Taneo adds. “We have this diverse perspective as a band, as individual people in life, and we supplement each other with our own lived stories and cultures, which gives us the chance to create a unique boy band perspective through our artistry.”
When asked about some of their barriers to success, members shared that due to their authentic Philippine features, they’ve felt a colorist pushback with being accepted in the industry.
“Within our country, we’ve felt there were barriers we faced because our group is not all fair or light skinned,” Taneo says. “We are not the color that people would tend to go to, which is definitely a barrier we’ve had to face in our culture. Racism and colorism exists everywhere we go. But we just keep doing our thing, keep doing what we love to do because this is our passion. We don’t want to listen to people who say we can’t do it, we just want to continue giving our passions and hopefully change our society to have a wider perspective of the world.”
“And although making music and videos like this is risky, we want to push the limits of OPM (Original Pilipino Music) and all its boundaries,” Tomas adds.
“Racism and colorism exists everywhere we go. But we just keep doing our thing, keep doing what we love to do because this is our passion.”
It’s amazing to see such a talented group who both look like Philippine people and represent Philippine culture so passionately, something that’s not often the case for other groups in the genre. While trying to enter a music market where the most famous Asian boy bands are all pale East Asians, ALAMAT’s diversity and tenacity in staying true to their excellent, Brown identities is remarkable.
“I really see that racism and colorism affects our society,” Mo says, after I asked him about what it was like representing Black Filipinos in the group and his experience enduring these barriers. “But I was taught by my parents at a young age that Black is beautiful, and Black is so beautiful. I am proud of who I am and where I’ve come from.”
The ways in which ALAMAT pushes boundaries also includes the way they incorporate gender-expansive and culturally relevant fashion into their appearances. “When it comes to our fashion as people and as a group, we don’t really care about norms or stereotypes, and because of that, we aren’t limited and are able to explore and experiment more,” Jao says. “The inspirations behind our group’s fashion especially are our ancestors because fashion is a major part of our culture. We always aim to express ourselves with the Filipino textiles and weaves and forms and patterns of our people.”
You will always find the group wearing an Indigenous woven textile, culturally significant silhouettes, or in garments unafraid to show some skin.
“It’s such a slay that we can bring our history back like that in a modern way through fashion.”
“The fashion in our culture gives us a wide perspective of where we can get inspiration from,” Taneo says. “Back in our history, our ancestors would wear [garments] that looked like crop tops, and because of that, we are unafraid to wear similar clothing in our next performance or concept video, because our ancestors were unafraid to wear those too. It’s our history.”
“It’s such a slay that we can bring our history back like that in a modern way through fashion,” Jao adds.
The boys ended the interview sharing their goals for their career. Each member threw out different names of artists they’d love to collaborate with in the future, stating people like Bruno Mars, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Justin Bieber. But their ultimate career goal was something they all agreed upon: remain unapologetically Filipino.
The easy road would be for the members to just lighten their skin, sing in only English, and assimilate to Westernized ideals, but that’s not ALAMAT. Their name translates to “legends,” after all, and they’re simply too badass to conform.
“Our career goal is to always just be us, to be ALAMAT, to be a legend,” Tomas says.
Published on March 6, 2023
Words by Andre Lawes Menchavez
Art by Ryan Quan
Ryan Quan is the Social Media Editor for JoySauce. This queer, half-Chinese, half-Filipino writer and graphic designer loves everything related to music, creative nonfiction, and art. Based in Brooklyn, he spends most of his time dancing to hyperpop and accidentally falling asleep on the subway. Follow him on Instagram at @ryanquans.