Back to Article List


       Spanish and later American colonial regimes created a Philippine society whose Western social institutions were modeled after their respective societal structures. While both Spanish and American regimes gave their shares of social and cultural influences, it was the American regime that established institutions that make up some of the present structure of modern Philippine society. The creation of such institutions and the absorption of Philippines into the global political economy likewise created a need for forms of leisure that was fit for such a society. This social condition gave rise to the development of Philippine popular music into the forms that are known today.

      Anglo-American popular music was widely heard in dance halls and cabarets, including vaudeville shows at the early part of the twentieth century. The well known musical genres at the time like the cakewalk, thefoxtrot and the ragtime—forerunners of what was to develop as Jazz—were played by Filipino dance bands in cabarets. Vaudeville shows (bodabil) consists of a variety of acts that included slapstick comedy routines and tap dance numbers aside from popular music. Filipino folk songs were arranged into dance rhythms to suit the emerging American taste. With the introduction of radio, sheet music, live entertainment and movie themes, popular music found its place in the mainstream of Philippine society.

       During the Japanese invasion in the Second World War, American forms of entertainment were banned along with the suppression of American values. The Japanese branded American culture as decadent while concealing its own agenda of economic and cultural expansionism. With this, a pro-Filipino virtue was promoted side by side with a pro-Japanese virtue and songs were one important medium to disseminate this value.

       In the late 1940’s as the world was rebuilding itself after the turmoil of the 2nd World War, American forms of entertainment re-surfaced in the Philippines. American military presence, which demanded the forms of rest and recreation, exposed the Filipinos to swing and continued the proliferation of popular stage shows like thebodabil. Later, in the 1950’s, a popularized version of the samba was introduced. This was followed by the emergence of the instrumental groups known as the cumbachero (a local version of a Latin-American band), which became well-known in fiestas and other social gatherings.

      In the 1950’s to the 1960’s, newer genres as rock and roll and country music appealed to a younger generation of Filipino popular artists. Filipino counterparts of famous Western artists as Elvis Presley, Jerry Vale, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and the Beatles were heard over the radio and seen in movies and on television.

      While preference for foreign artists prevailed, local artists continued to strive for a distinct sound that could be referred to as “Filipino”. Conscious efforts to develop that Filipino sound (Pinoy Sound) came however in the 1970’s with the creation of Filipino rock music, dubbed as Pinoy Rock, Filipino Jazz or Pinoy Jazz and Filipino pop ballad or the Manila Sound. Those initial efforts came to a significant development in the late 70’s to the 80’s with the flourishing of various Filipino pop styles.

      In the late 70’s, the Metro Manila Popular Music Festival (or Metro Pop), a song writing competition for amateurs and professionals, became the buffer for the creation of new pop songs and the introduction of emerging artists and performers. Other local competitions inspired even more artists and composers to create more music. These include Likha Awit Pambata (a children’s song competition), the Himig Awards, and theCecil Awards. It was at about this period when the Organisasyon ng mga Pilipinong Mang-aawit (OPM), was created to address the needs of Filipino popular artists. OPM also stood for Original Pilipino Music a handle for music composed and/or performed by Filipinos, even with its eventual use of English lyrics.

      The effort to probe deeper into the search for a Filipino identity in popular music was attempted in the late 1980’s and the early 90’s by a group of composers who banded together to form KATHA (write/create). This effort gave rise to the move to create Brown Music, a kind of counterpart to the African-American “Black Music”. The outputs of multi-awarded composer Ryan Cayabyab to fuse indigenous musical elements with foreign pop idioms took off to enable non-mainstream artists like Joey Ayala to surface in the commercial arena. As the decade of the 90’s commenced, more and more alternative artists entered into the mainstream.

Baes, Jonas and Amapola Baes. (1988) East-West Synthesis or Cultural Hegemony? Questions on the use of Indigenous Elements in Philippine Popular Music. in PERFECT BEAT 4 (1): 47-55Constantino, Renato. (1978) Neocolonial Identity and Counter Consciousness. London: Merlin PressFernandez, Doreen. (1981) Philippine Popular Culture:Dimensions and Directions in PHILIPPINE STUDIES 29

Lockard, Craig. (1996) Popular Musics and Politics in Modern Southeast Asia. in ASIAN MUSIC 27(2): 149-199

Mangahas, Fe. (1984) The State of Philippine Music in Politics of Culture: The Philippine Experience. Manila: The Philippine Educational Theater Association

Molina, E. The Philippine Popular Music Scene in BULLETIN OF THE ASIAN CULTURAL CENTER FOR UNESCO 15

Reyes, R. The Philippine Sound and the Musical Gold Rush in FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW 17(11)

About the Author:
Jonas Baes has done research on the Iraya-Mangyan music of Mindoro which has been published in journals such as “Ethnomusicology” and the “International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music”. He teaches at the Asian Institute for Liturgy and Music, the Philippine High School for the Arts, and the University of the Philippines.