Arnel Pineda, the Filipino passionate romantic

Community News & Features Dec 8, 2017 at 5:53 pm

24321962_10156168096022150_1224483201_oBy John Smith

Arnel Pineda came out onto the stage of Mississauga’s International Centre dressed in a fitted three-piece suit with a slim black neck tie and white sneakers. With the gusto of a true showman, he wastes no time jumping into his performance, opening with the familiar words, “When you were young and your heart was an open book…”

Instantly I am brought back to freshman year of college, a time when millennials seemed to be rediscovering the magic of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”. We marched down Yonge Street then, singing those words with a sense of hopefulness for where we believed life were taking us. I hadn’t yet known that we were following the lead of a Filipino pop star, someone who proved we too could enjoy the spotlight of a prized American experience. “I’ve seen Journey twice now,” a concert goer said. “I know Arnel must be good.”

Good is an understatement. Arnel blends melodies from America’s rock and roll era with command, moving from a post-Beatles McCartney into a McCartney number during the height of the mania. Moreover, Arnel sings to us as if it these songs were our own. Caught in the moment, we either sang along with him faithfully, or found ourselves cheering uncontrollably as when the Beatles too first made it to this side of the ocean. “Once there was a way, to get back onward; Once there was a way, to get back home…”

In volume and energy, the concert felt like a pinoy fiesta. One thousand Filipinos came from around the GTA to welcome our Fil-Am popstar. While we waited for the headlining performance to begin, the audience was kept entertained by recognized Fil-Can talent.

Child dance artists and former Ms Philippines Montreal were among those on the set list. Max’s fried chicken and pork adobo, as well as Crane Express’ sisig were on the food menu for the evening

The family’s who run these Filipino restaurants in Toronto were jointly responsible for sponsoring Arnel’s concert. When asked why they chose to support Arnel’s solo tour a family member commented, “Same reason we support businesses and politicians in our community – because we are Filipino!”

24463527_10156168095967150_446601442_oRepresentation on the level of culture has been a buzz issue in recent times. Commentators, professionals, artists and advocates have been working in multiple arenas to bring Filipino culture into the mainstream. Arnel Pineda, as the frontman for Journey, is working to change the face and voice of how we understand “classics” in the North American imagination.

It is in mechanized fog and frenzied stage projections that we collectively hold our cellphones to form a sea of light swaying slowly, albeit slightly, off beat. Arnel is singing

Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls. “I just want you to know who I am…” and he is showing us. The night is a journey through the highs of rock, to their slower, heartfelt counter parts.

Yet it is Arnel’s original songs, from his solo 2016 album AP, that we hear the language of our culture. Ballads sung in Tagalog reveal the Filipino passionate romantic, capable of moving the crowd off their seats to the front stage.

The cellphones have found their moments to capture. Excited fans share memories via live stream while from the dreamlike world of the stage, Arnel poses with bravado. He smiles a proud smile whose spirit of satisfaction could be heard in the light banter, spoken mostly in Tagalog. For as we lifted him up, celebrating talent and accomplishment, we knew that his was also ours.


(The concert was presented by WFG Canada, celebrating it’s 20th anniversary. — Ed)