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The traditional music of the Philippines
written by Ingo Stoevesandt

With over 7000 islands it is an interesting fact that most of the music research for the Philippines has been done on only two of them, Cebu and Mindanao. Of course, we always combine the music of the Philippines with Kulintang and Gamelan ensembles, of which much information will be provided on the next pages. Another even interesting effect is the Spanish occupation for over 300 years, which left its traces even in the musical traditions practiced until today. This way the Phillipines again show a colourful mosaic of mixed traditions which appears allover Asia but still is unique. Speaking about traditional Philippine music, most people actually think of the Kulintang or the rich Gamelan traditions.  Otherwise, influencies of the 300 years of Spanish occupation and the music of the divers ethnicities called Aeta living on the islands are often neglected,
not speaking of the increasing impact of imported Arabian music.

If we try to sum the traditional Philippino music it is questionable again whether facts of Spanish, indigenous or Arabian influence are partially overseen in order to avoid harming the “Asian” touch of the Philippine islands.  
On the other hand everyone that travels the Philippines will mention the difference compared to other Southeast Asian countries.  And this is what makes the Philippines charming for every visitor.

Today nearly over 80 % of the people on the Philippines are catholic. It was in 1521 when the first Spanish missionairs arrived.  Only few decades later, around 1600, churches and schools have been installed and the secular musical tradition of Spain was taught.  We can assume that mainly only such music was taught as it was used in the Christian liturgia, for example the Gregorian solo chant and the first roots of polyphony from the canto organo and gymel

The instrumental praxis joined the indigenous one, so that there was no problem to establish for example an early form of the viola da gamba or the spanish guitar. The Spanish priests have mostly been satisfied by the fastly growing skills of the Philippino people. On the other side the indigenous sources were soon mixed with Christian habits and divine rituals nowadays know both saints, holy mother Maria as indigenous demons and angels, for example in the kagong ritual in Banaan.  

The life and suffering of Jesus Christ is replayed in many songs and processions called senaculo. These processions are another location for the interaction between Spanish/Catholic and indigenous habits, even in music. As Professor Corazon Canave-Dioquino points out in her article:

 “The welding of folk traditions and practices into Catholic rituals and celebrations continued.  This gave rise to many extra-liturgical music genres, many of which were  connected to the church calendar year. Some of these include the Christmas  carols and  the more elaborate outdoor-re-enactment of the Holy Couple's search for lodging called the pananawagan, panunuluyan, or kagharong.”

During Spanish occupation most of the music was joined in the major cities of Luzon or Manila, but it spread out over the islands until today. Nowadays we find nearly every kind of medieval European folk or dance music and its ensembles, for example the rondalla with its plucked string instruments playing dance pieces like the Polish polka, which tries to imitate the murzas.

Starting after 1898, the Philippino music faced another impact by Western music, this time coming from the American neoclassicism.
First attempts to compose for the Western symphonic orchestra were made in the 1930ies or even more early. This was accompanied by a reinstallation of the village band in the semiclassical music which was succesful even in times of radio and television. Today, like everywhere in Asia, the young people like to join the American Pop music market and all the colours of Western music ranging from Rock to Jazz.

It is an interesting fact that the Spanish missioniars were the first ones who merely tried to describe the music of the local Philippino people in letters and travelouges. It is not more than 50 years ago that serious scientific research for the indigenous music of the 7000 islands started.
As many of the ethnic tribes still remain unresearched we have to admit that the state of research on this topic still is young.
If even the lovesong kundiman turned into a counterpart of the German song form “Lied”, what is left to be “true” Philippino? Or, to ask in a more adequate way, which of the assimilated parts from the actual music performed in everyday activities has to be viewed as an indigenous form of art?

Or is the “Asian” part of the Philippino music another trace of old Javanese and DongSon culture? Looking at the gong sets and ensembles of gangsa in the Cordilleres, we are reminded of Vietnam and Indonesia. Even the famous kulintang seems to reflect many traditions of Gamelan ancestors in Indonesia, China and Vietnam.

The vocal traditions stand a little outside. Like in every country we find the most “indigenous” aspects in the pieces sung solo or with an instrument. Seperations from north to south show two different styles: The northern style uses a special rhythmical pronouncation of vowels and expressive pauses. In the southern style we find melisma, tremoli and long melodic phrases reminding of the Islam singing style.
Some vocal genres reflect a significant form of music for an ethnicity, like the Marano bayok which is a kind of creating language out of music, or the epics stand for one local group like the Marano “Darangen”.

If we keep in mind that the Spanish colonization is now more than 300 years ago, and like every Asian culture the Philippino music now faces modern Western music marketing of every kind, we can surely classify all music which is older than five generations as “classical” or “indigenous” Philippino music, no matter if we know the “real” roots or if those still have to be emerged. For further researches in the field of Asian and Western musical traditions we find a great pool of suggestions in Philippino music, as this music reflects both chances and disadvantages of a combination between old and new, indigenous and alien.
This way, Philippino music may be a positive example for other countries facing the demands of growing globalization.

(written in Germany, 2008)