The International Folk Music Council defined folk music as “the product of a musical tradition that has been evolved through the process of oral transmission.” The term is thus applied to the musical repertory of communities as opposed to art music or music composed by trained musicians. It is also applied to music composed by an individual but which has been absorbed into the unwritten living tradition of the community.

Asiatic Traditions

In the Philippines, there are two main streams of folk music–one that exhibits Asiatic traditions and one that exhibits Westernized traditions. The former encompasses the music of indigenous groups of people scattered all over the Philippines, inhabiting mostly upland areas. In Luzon, some of these groups of people are the Apayao, Tingguian, Kalinga, Balangao, Bontok, Kankanai, Ifugao, Ibaloi, Ikalahan, Iwak, Gaddang, Ilongot, Atta, Agta, and Aeta. In the Bisayan islands, indigenous groups are the Sulod, Bukidnon of Negros, Magahat, Ati, and Ata. The Tagbanua and Batak are found in Palawan. In Mindanao, indigenous groups include the Tirurai, Manobo, T’boli or Tagabili, Ubo, B’laan (Bilaan), Subanon, Kalagan, Mamanwa, Bagobo, Mandaya, and Mansaka. These groups practice an indigenous religion. Also included in the category of music with Asiatic traditions are the Muslim groups of people found mostly in Mindanao, Palawan, and the Sulu archipelago. These include the Maranao, Ilanun, Magindanao, Kolibugan, Karaga, Yakan, Sama, Badjaw, Tausug, and Jama Mapun.

There are no written records of the musical traditions of these peoples before 1500. After the arrival of the Spaniards in 1521, church and civil reports dealt primarily with the military conquest, government, administration and Christianization of various parts of the Philippines. From this vast assortment of maps, letters, narration’s, descriptions, etc., occasional mention is made of the music and musical practices of the natives. In the 1700’s more published material in the form of travelogues appeared. In the last quarter of the 1800’s specialized studies on the music of various groups began to appear. Anthropological research in the 1900’s furnished more detailed descriptions of musical traditions. Since the 1950’s, ethnomusicological research has brought about a strong interest in indigenous music.

Studies on Philippine indigenous music cover surveys of instrumental and vocal forms. Indigenous instruments include those made of metal (bronze or iron), of bamboo, and wood. Metal instruments include gongs made from bronze or iron. These gongs are two types: flat gongs and bossed (or knobbed) gongs. Flat gongs are found only in the north. Similar gongs are found in the hills of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and some parts of Indonesia. In the Cordillera highlands, these gongs are called gangsa, are played in ensembles consisting of anywhere from one six or seven gongs. Some ensembles use gongs only but others combine the gongs with other instruments, often drums. Bossed gongs are found only in the south. They are of three types: the agung, the gandingan, and the set of graduated gongs laid in a row called kulintang. These gongs are usually combined with each other together with drums in various combinations to form different types of ensembles, varying from group to group.

Bamboo/wood instruments antedate the gongs. There are of various types: flutes, stopped pipes, panpipes, reed pipes, stamping tubes, quill shaped tubes, xylophones, clappers, zithers, lutes, fiddles, suspended logs, and wooden sounding boards.

There are different genres of indigenous vocal music which are performed in a solo or responsorial manner. there is a noticeable differentiation in singing style between the north and the south. The northern style uses a marked and rhythmic enunciation of vowels to form syllables or slides, half-speech sounds, and frequent pauses. In contrast, the southern style of singing is characterized by melismas, long phrases, a narrow range, fluidity, and tremolo. A more recent Islamic style superimposed on this tradition has a specially distinct vocal delivery with high tessitura, a strained voice of various timbres, and a nasal enunciation. Vocal genres include epic singing; songs connected with life-cycle events: birth, lullabies, courtship, marriage and death; occupational songs; and ritual songs.

Westernized Traditions

The Spaniards arrived on Philippine shores in 1521 and the Filipino’s music was to undergo a transformation due to the influx of western influences, particularly the Spanish-European  culture prevalent during the 17th to the 19th centuries. Hispanization was tied up with religious conversion, and in the next three centuries, the people’s musical thinking was affected resulting in a hybrid expression heavily tinged with a Latin taste. It produced a music connected to and outside the Catholic liturgy and a European-inspired secular music adapted by the Filipinos and reflected in their folk songs and instrumental music.

The large number of liturgical and para-liturgical vocal genres that developed included songs used inside as well as outside the church. These included Christmas songs and practices such as the pastores, daygon,galicon, tarindao, and the outdoor re-enactment of the Holy Couple’s search for lodging called pananawagan,panunuluyan, pananapatan, or kagharong.

The custom of chanting the passion of Jesus during Lent gave rise to the pasyon, a practice widespread among the lowland Christians. The verse narrative on the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ appears in almost all major Philippine languages- Tagalog, Bicol, Ilocano, Pangasinan, Pampango, Ilonggo, Sebuano, and Waray. The Gaddang, Ibanag, and Cuyunon also have their versions. The text may be rendered by a group of singers who take turns singing the verses, or by two singers, or in some cases by a solo singer. The pasyon is sung in homes, village chapels, or even in outdoor makeshift sheds erected for the purpose. A more extensive and complicated rendition of the life and passion of Jesus Christ in the form of outdoor dramas also takes place during Lent. These passion plays are called senaculo. A cast of 30 more characters is accompanied by a small band of instruments. Another related Lenten celebration is the moriones of Marinduque.

Devotion to Mary took the form of a number of rituals done during the month of May such as thesantacruzanand the flores de Mayo. May is also the month of town fiestas where patron saints are honored with processions accompanied by the town bands.

Some rituals show a syncretization of indigenous and Christian practices. Old rites seeking favors  and good fortune invoke God, Mary, the saints, pagan gods, good,  and evil spirits such as the Cavite sanghiyang and the Bataan kagong.

Another type of music, quickly assimilated and adapted by the Filipinos were western dance forms such as the habanera, tango, fandango, seguidilla, jota, curacha, polka, mazurka, danza and rigaudon. The adopted and adapted versions are the pandanggo, jota, habanera, danza, polka, mazurka, valse, andrigodon. Today they form the greatest bulk of “popular” folk dances of the lowland Christians. These dances were accompanied by cumparsasa, later replaced by the rondalla. The instrumental group, said to have originated from the Mexican murza and Spanish estudiantina comprises the bandurria, laud, octavina, guitar, and the bajo de unas.

Alongside the folk dances, many folk songs with a western harmonies structured with regular phrases appeared. Their composers are no longer known but they have been adopted by the community. These include such songs as “Bahay Kubo”, “Atin cu pung singsing”,   “Ili-ili tulog anay”, “Leron leron sinta”, “Sit-si-rit-sit”.

About the Author:
Corazon Canave-Dioquino musicologist, is a professor at the University of the Philippines, College of Music where she has taught for the past 42 years.She is actively involved in the collection and archiving of musical Filipiniana at the UP Center for Ethnomusicology at Diliman, Quezon City.