Traditions of Filipino Music

Filipino music evolved from the simple drumbeats and chants of the native Aeta, Ita or Ati of different islands; they invented simple mouth harps and could even make music by means of a fresh cut leaf folded between the tongue and the lips. The rich, indigenous Kulintang or Gamelan traditions of Southern Philippines served as entertainment in weddings, coronation and other festivals. Vocal traditions vary among the northern Luzon, Visayan and southern Mindanao styles. The indigenous northern tribes of Luzon are more rhythmical, with expressive pauses; Visayan songs are slower and more melodic, while in Mindanao, the southern style has more Islamic singing influence with melisma, (using several notes in one syllable of text) tremolo and long melodic phrases.

The Spaniards arrived in 1521 and only fifty years later, Spanish missionaries, through forceful conversion of indigenous peoples started a musical tradition based on Christian liturgy. For over three hundred years, Spanish traditions, practices and celebrations gave rise to many music genres. Filipino natives and mestizos trained to perform as musicians and singers for the zarzuela (a form of operetta), the moro-moro, a play depicting battles between Christians and Muslims in Las Islas Filipinas, and the senaculo, a play that portrays the life and suffering of Jesus Christ. They formed the rondalla, which is an ensemble of string instruments that included the banduria, violin, the pear-shaped piccolo banduria, the la-ud, octavina, mandola, guitarra, and for base, the bajo de unas. Later, the banda, (band), an eclectic group of musicians, playing wind and stringed instruments of the time, served as accompaniment for songs and dances and performed in both religious and secular ceremonies, processions and common social gatherings.

Harana and Kundiman

Men in the Spanish period courted their women by singing underneath her window at night. This tradition is called the harana and still practiced in many parts of the country. The guitar or the ukulele are the most common instrument, and the specific type of music is called the kundiman, which usually begins with a minor key and then shifts to a major key in the second half; its lyrics are characterized by heavy poetic emotion that depicts the singer’s pleadings and offer to sacrifice everything on behalf of his beloved. Kundiman are lovesongs that define the Filipino gentleman's romantic character.