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       The Philippines, an archipelago of 7,100 islands, is made up of 77 provinces grouped into 16 regions. The main groups include Luzon, the Visayan islands, and the Mindanao islands. Based on religion, the population may be grouped into three broad categories: Christian groups, indigenous religion groups, and Muslim groups. The Christian groups are the largest and are concentrated in the lowlands of Luzon and the Visayan islands. Indigenous religion groups are found in upland northern Luzon, Mindanao and Palawan. Muslim groups are concentrated in Mindanao, the Sulu islands and southern Palawan.

       Although, geographically, the Philippines belongs to the East, its music has been heavily influenced by the West owing to 333 years of Spanish rule and 45 years of American domination. Music in the highland and lowland hamlets where indigenous culture continues to thrive has strong Asian elements. Spanish and American influences are highly evident in the music of the urban areas. In discussing Philippine music, three main divisions are apparent: (1) an old Asian influenced music referred to as the indigenous; (2) a religious and secular music influenced by Spanish and European forms; and (3) an American/European inspired classical, semi-classical, and popular music.

The Indigenous Traditions

       The indigenous traditions are practiced by about 10% of the population. Eight percent of this minority comprises some 50 language groups of people who live in the mountains of northern Luzon and the islands of Mindanao, Sulu, Palawan, and Mindoro in southern and western Philippines. The remaining 2% of these groups are the Muslims from Mindanao and Sulu.

       While there is no written information about the music in the Philippines before the arrival of Magellan in 1521, subsequent reports made by friars, civil servants and travelers include descriptions of instrumental and vocal music–sometimes mentioned in passing, other times in greater detail. From these documents, various kinds of interments made of bronze, bamboo, or wood are cited. These include gongs of various kinds of size and shapes, drums, flutes of different types, zithers, lutes, clappers, and buzzers. Vocal genres include epics relating genealogies and exploits of heroes and gods; work songs related to planting, harvesting, fishing; ritual songs to drive away evil spirits or to invoke blessings from the good spirits; songs to celebrate festive occasions particularly marriage, birth, victory at war, or the settling of tribal disputes; mourning songs for the dead; courting songs; and children’s game songs. It is this type of music that is still practiced today by the indigenous groups.

The Spanish-European Influenced Traditions

       With the coming of the Spaniards the Filipino’s music underwent a transformation with the influx of western influences, particularly the Spanish-European culture prevalent during the 17th to the 19th centuries. The Hispanization during the succeeding three centuries after 1521 was tied up with religious conversion. It effected a change in the people’s musical thinking and what emerged was a hybrid expression tinged with Hispanic flavor. It produced a religious 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 American Influenced Traditions

       The American regime lasted from 1898 to 1946 during which time Philippine music underwent another process of transformation.

       In the newly established public school system, music was included in the curriculum at the elementary and later at the high school levels. Music conservatories and colleges were established at the tertiary level. Graduates from these institutions included the first generation of Filipino composers whose works were written in western idioms and forms. Their works and those of the succeeding generations of Filipino composers represent the classical art music tradition which continues to flourish today.

       Side by side with this classical art music tradition was a lighter type of music. This semi-classical repertoire includes stylized folk songs, theater music, and instrumental music. The sarswela tradition produced a large body of music consisting of songs patterned after opera arias of the day as well as short instrumental overtures and interludes.

       The strong band tradition in the Philippines, which began during the previous Spanish period and which continues to this day, produced outstanding musicians, composers and performers. Another popular instrumental ensemble was the rondalla which superceded an earlier type of ensemble called the cumparsa. The latter was an adaptation of similar instrumental groups, the murza of Mexico and the estudiantina of Spain.

       American lifestyle and pop culture gave rise to music created by Filipinos using western pop forms. Referred to as Pinoy pop it includes a wide range of forms: folk songs, dance tunes, ballads, Broadway type songs, rock’ n’ roll, disco, jazz, and rap.

       These three main streams of Philippine music– indigenous, Spanish influenced religious and secular music, American/European influenced classical, semi-classical, and popular music comprise what we refer to today as Philippine music.

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.