From Manila streets to world stage: Arnel Pineda and his fairytale-like journey

By Orlando Maliwanag
The Mindoro Post

MANILA—In a lottery called life, fate sometimes is very kind.

No. It’s not only about being a cover band singer waking up one day fronting a legendary rock band. It’s more of being a homeless kid living in inhospitable and dark streets of Manila and finding himself one day in a well-lighted world stage that is now his home.

Arnel Pineda’s story has been celebrated by the international media as a cyberage Cinderella story. Like Cinderella, he also has to fit in something: the voice left void by Journey’s most popular vocalist—Steve Perry, to forever alter his future.

Like in any fairytale story, Arnel had to suffer first to set the stage for his eventual redemption. As a kid, he had to lose his mother to a lingering disease that did not only drain her body but also whatever savings they had. He had to stop attending school. He had to live in the streets.

That became his home, where every day was an endless cycle of surviving and near-surviving.

Fast forward, years later, in the smoke-filled room in music bars in Hong Kong, Arnel would sooth tired souls with his powerful voice, belting out ballad and blues, rock and reggae. Consumed by his own loneliness and alienation, he went into drugs and all those stuff that band members would often fall into. In the process, he lost his voice—that precious voice honed for him by his mother. (In another fairytale story, Arielle–the Little Mermaid–also lost her voice.)

Fast rewind in Manila, years ago, whenever Barbra Streisand or Karen Carpenter’s voice would play through their transistor radio, his mother would call the young Arnel and they would sing together, sowing the seed in Arnel the talent that he would use years later to survive.

Back in Hong Kong, his doctor said he could never sing again. That sounded like a death sentence.

With heavy heart, Arnel flew back to Manila where he would later find his voice again. He restarted singing in Manila bars. Recorded a forgettable album.

Meanwhile, a friend who did not stop believing in him, kept posting Arnel’s videos on YouTube. Until one day, he got a phone call from guitar god Neil Schon of the legendary rock band Journey—the Prince in this fairytale story—and offered him a job he could not even dream of.

The rest is rock and roll history, and the denouement in Arnel’s fairytale story.

Meantime, in the dark, filthy and dangerous alleys of Manila, street kids continue trying to live the everyday cycle of surviving and near-surviving.

Let’s just wish that in next turning of the wheel, fate would also be kinder to them.

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