Philippine folk music

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Harana band a traditional way of serenade in the Philippines. Philippine culture harana 0.jpg
Harana band a traditional way of serenade in the Philippines.

The traditional music of the Philippines, like the folk music of other countries, reflects the life of common, mostly rural Filipinos. Like its counterparts in Asia, a lot of traditional songs from the Philippines have a strong connection with nature. However, much of it employs the diatonic scale rather than the "more Asian" pentatonic scale, with the exception of indigenous people ritual music.

Filipinos people native to or citizens of the islands of the Philippines

Filipinos are the people who are native to or identified with the country of the Philippines. Filipinos come from various ethnolinguistic groups that are native to the islands or migrants from various Asia Pacific regions. Currently, there are more than 175 ethnolinguistic groups, each with its own language, identity, culture and history. The modern Filipino identity, with its Austronesian roots, was mainly influenced by India, China, the United States, and Spain.

Asia Earths largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern and Northern Hemispheres

Asia is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern and Northern Hemispheres. It shares the continental landmass of Eurasia with the continent of Europe and the continental landmass of Afro-Eurasia with both Europe and Africa. Asia covers an area of 44,579,000 square kilometres (17,212,000 sq mi), about 30% of Earth's total land area and 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area. The continent, which has long been home to the majority of the human population, was the site of many of the first civilizations. Asia is notable for not only its overall large size and population, but also dense and large settlements, as well as vast barely populated regions. Its 4.5 billion people constitute roughly 60% of the world's population.

In western music theory, a diatonic scale is a heptatonic scale that includes five whole steps and two half steps (semitones) in each octave, in which the two half steps are separated from each other by either two or three whole steps, depending on their position in the scale. This pattern ensures that, in a diatonic scale spanning more than one octave, all the half steps are maximally separated from each other.



Traditional Filipino music is reflective of the country's history as a melting pot of different cultures. Among the dominant cultural strains noticeable today are Hispanic, American and to some extent Chinese, Indian and Islamic. It is thus difficult to strictly classify the whole corpus of Philippine music as either Western or Eastern.

A frequently used system is to classify it according to ethno-linguistic or cultural divisions: for example, traditional Tagalog music, which is somewhat more Hispanic in flavour, differs from Ifugao music and Maranao kulintang music.

Maranao people ethnic group

The Maranao people, also spelled Meranao, Maranaw(based on Marapatik) and Mëranaw, is the term used by the Philippine government to refer to the southern tribe who are the "people of the lake", a predominantly-Muslim region of the Philippine island of Mindanao. They are known for their artwork, weaving, wood, plastic and metal crafts and epic literature, the Darengen.


Kulintang is a modern term for an ancient instrumental form of music composed on a row of small, horizontally laid gongs that function melodically, accompanied by larger, suspended gongs and drums. As part of the larger gong-chime culture of Southeast Asia, kulintang music ensembles have been playing for many centuries in regions of the Eastern Indonesia, the Southern Philippines, Eastern Malaysia, Brunei and Timor, Kulintang evolved from a simple native signaling tradition, and developed into its present form with the incorporation of knobbed gongs from Sunda. Its importance stems from its association with the indigenous cultures that inhabited these islands prior to the influences of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity or the West, making Kulintang the most developed tradition of Southeast Asian archaic gong-chime ensembles.

Vocal music

A commonality is that vocal music is of significant import to every ethnic group in the country. Although there is some music intended for dance, the best-preserved form of traditional music is that intended for the voice, with chanting epic poetry as having been the earliest form and later augmented by instrumental accompaniment. Regarded to have a wide range, as most of them stretch more than an octave, they are still considered within the capacity of even an average singer.

Vocal music is a type of music performed by one or more singers, either with instrumental accompaniment, or without instrumental accompaniment, in which singing provides the main focus of the piece. Music which employs singing but does not feature it prominently is generally considered instrumental music as is music without singing. Music without any non-vocal instrumental accompaniment is referred to as a cappella.

Epic poetry lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily detailing heroic deeds

An epic poem, epic, epos, or epopee is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily involving a time beyond living memory in which occurred the extraordinary doings of the extraordinary men and women who, in dealings with the gods or other superhuman forces, gave shape to the moral universe that their descendants, the poet and his audience, must understand to understand themselves as a people or nation.

In music, an octave or perfect octave is the interval between one musical pitch and another with double its frequency. The octave relationship is a natural phenomenon that has been referred to as the "basic miracle of music", the use of which is "common in most musical systems". The interval between the first and second harmonics of the harmonic series is an octave.

Linguistics of traditional music

Borromeo also noted that one interesting feature of Western-influenced traditional music is that a tune is not bound to a particular language or dialect.

Languages of the Philippines languages of a geographic region

There are some 120 to 187 languages and dialects in the Philippines, depending on the method of classification. Almost all are Malayo-Polynesian languages. A number of Spanish-influenced creole varieties generally called Chavacano are also spoken in certain communities. The 1987 constitution designates Filipino as the national language and an official language along with English.

The term dialect is used in two distinct ways to refer to two different types of linguistic phenomena:

Many songs in the different Philippine languages, however, share the same tune, such as the Tagalog Magtanim ay 'Di Biro, Kapampangan Deting Tanaman Pale and the Gaddang So Payao. Another example is the Visayan song Ako Ining Kailu, which has the same melody as the Ibanag Melogo y Aya and Kapampangan Ing Manai.

Tagalog language Austronesian language

Tagalog is an Austronesian language spoken as a first language by a quarter of the population of the Philippines and as a second language by the majority. Its standardized form, officially named Filipino, is the national language of the Philippines, and is one of two official languages alongside English.

Kapampangan language Austronesian language spoken in the Philippines

Kapampangan, Pampango, or the Pampangan language is a major Philippine language. It is spoken in the province of Pampanga, most of Tarlac and Bataan. Kapampangan is also understood in some municipalities of Bulacan and Nueva Ecija and by the Aeta people of Zambales. The language is known honorifically as Amánung Sísuan.

Gaddang language language

The Gaddang language is spoken by up to 30,000 speakers in the Philippines, particularly along the Magat and upper Cagayan rivers in the Region II provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Isabela and by overseas migrants to countries in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, in the Middle East, United Kingdom and the United States. Most Gaddang speakers also speak Ilocano, the lingua franca of Northern Luzon, as well as Tagalog and English. Gaddang is associated with the "Christianized Gaddang" people, and is closely related to the highland tongues of Ga'dang with 6,000 speakers, Cagayan Agta with less than 1,000 and Atta with 2,000, and more distantly to Ibanag, Itawis, Yogad, Isneg and Malaweg.

Filipina girls playing Philippine folk music Dancing in Bohol, Philippines.png
Filipina girls playing Philippine folk music

The largest body of songs are those using the various vernacular languages, especially the eight major languages in the country. Many of the collected traditional songs have a translation in Filipino, the national language, but most scholars tend to ignore its existence.

Vernacular common speech variety of a specific population

A vernacular, or vernacular language, is the lect used in everyday life by the common people of a specific population. It is distinguished from national, literary, liturgical or scientific idiom, or a lingua franca, used to facilitate communication across a large area. It is usually native, mostly spoken informally rather than written and usually seen as of lower status than more codified forms. It can be a distinct stylistic register, regional dialect, sociolect or an independent language.

Songs from the various minority languages rank second in recognition, while those in Spanish rank third. This does not include the closest local language to Spanish, called Chavacano, which has a degree of mutual intelligibility with Castilian. The most famous songs in this classification are perhaps No Te Vayas de Zamboanga and Viva! Señor Sto. Niño.

Dance music

After vocal music, dance music is the next most important form of traditional Philippine music. As mentioned above, the best form of preserved music are those with lyrics, and this is also true for music intended to accompany a dance. According to Francisca Reyes-Aquino, known for her voluminous collection of folk dances, people watching the dance sing the songs in the same way that cheerers chant in a game. This is very evident especially in songs where interjections Ay!, Aruy-Aruy!, Uy! and Hmp! are present, such as Paru-parong Bukid.

Music falling under this category may be classified as those belonging to Christianised Groups, Muslim Groups, and the other Ethnic Groups.

Christianised groups

As Christianity came to the Philippines through its Western conquerors, Dance Music classified as belonging to the Christianised Groups are somewhat related to Western music as well. Dance Music falling under this category may also be called Habanera, Jota, Fandango, Polka, Curacha, etc. and has the same characteristics as each namesakes in the Western Hemisphere.

However, there are also indigenous forms like the Balitao, Tinikling and Cariñosa (the national dance). In a study by National Artist for Music Dr. Antonio Molina, the Balitao, famous in Tagalog and Visayan regions, employs a 3/4 time signature with a "crotchet-quaver-quaver-crotchet" beat. Others use the "crotchet-minim" scheme, while others use the "dotted quaver-semiquaver-crotchet-quaver-quaver" scheme.

This type of music is generally recreational and, like traditional music from the West, is used for socialising.

Southern groups

The court and folk dance music of the Muslim-Filipino groups have somewhat preserved ancient Southeast Asian musical instruments, modes and repertoires lost to Hispanicised islands further north. It is important to note that stricter interpretations of Islam do not condone musical entertainment, and thus the musical genres among the Muslimised Filipinos cannot be considered "Islamic".

Kulintang ensemble of the Mindanao people. Kulintang 09.jpg
Kulintang ensemble of the Mindanao people.

Genres shares characteristics with other Southeast-Asian court and folk music: Indonesian Gamelan, Thai Piphat, Malay Caklempong, Okinawan Min'yō and to a lesser extent, through cultural transference through the rest of Southeast Asia, is comparable even to the music of the remote Indian Sub-Continent.

Generally, music falling under this category tells a story. An example is the Singkil , which relates an episode from the Darangen (the Maranao version of the ancient Indian epic, the Ramayana ). The dance recounts the story of Putri Gandingan (Sita) as she was saved by Rajahmuda Bantugan (Rama) from crashing rocks, represented by bamboo poles. The Singkil is considered the most famous in the Philippines under this category for its perceived elegance, and is also performed by Filipinos from other ethnic groups throughout the country.

Music is related in war in some regions in the country, as it is a way to show the emotions of victory and defeat, as well as the resolution of conflict. Philippine music also depends on the biographical factors: in cooler regions such as the Cordilleras, the beat of the music is so slower, while in warmer areas it is quite fast.

Indigenous groups

Bagobo people with their instruments at the Kadayawan Festival. Bagobo people in the Kadayawan Festival 2016, Philippines.jpg
Bagobo people with their instruments at the Kadayawan Festival.

Like secular songs from the same group, this form of music has a sort of beat, even though it is hard to put it in a form of time signature. Percussions are mainly used for these type of music and sometimes, a gong is enough.

As closeness to Nature is a main feature of these ethnic groups, one can expect that dance steps falling under this category are a mimicry of the movements of plants and animals of a certain locality. Some music is simply called the 'Monkey Dance' or the 'Robin Dance' for identification.

Some of the music falling under this category is ritual music: thus there are dances used for marriage, worship, and even preparation for a war.


Video compact discs of some popular Ilocano folk songs. Recording of Ilocano Music.jpg
Video compact discs of some popular Ilocano folk songs.

Unlike folk music in Ireland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and neighbouring Malaysia, traditional music in the Philippines has never reached contemporary popularity. Perhaps, it is partly due to the fact every region of the Philippines has its own language, and several decades of Americanisation.

Though some groups tried to collect songs from the different ethnolinguistic groups, none has so far succeeded in making traditional music a part of the national identity, much more a national symbol. It is rarely taught in Elementary school, as in Ireland, aside from Children's songs. This results in a mentality that traditional songs are children's songs.

The decline was accelerated with the entry of television, making popular culture from Europe and the United States easily accessible to a common Filipino. Though most Europeans would say that Filipinos are music-loving people, traditional music is always at risk of being left in oblivion.

Attempts have been made to collect and preserve Traditional Philippine Music but most of them focus only on the Vocal form. Under the 400 years of Spanish colonization of the Philippines, no collection of the traditional music was ever made. There are however studies made regarding this subject in the late 19th Century, when the Romanticists of Europe began to find the value of folk songs.

Even during the American Era, attempts to collect traditional music came rather late. Perhaps the first collection was in 1919 by Fr. Morice Vanoverberg, which is focused on the traditional music of the Lepanto Igorots of the north. Unfortunately, only the words and not the tunes are included in the collection.

The collection entitled 'Filipino Folk Songs' by Emilia Cavan is considered to be the earliest collection with tunes, published in 1924. Perhaps, the most important collection of Folk Songs is the 'Philippine Progressive Music Series' by Norberto Romualdez published in the late 1920s.

Unfortunately, the collectors who worked with Romualdez did not present the songs in their original languages but rather translated them into English and Filipino. This collection also included some songs aimed to promote National Identity, like the National Anthem of the Philippines, Philippines Our Native Land and even Philippines the Beautiful (an adaptation of America the Beautiful). The collection also included some folk songs from other countries.

For a period of time, Romualdez's collection became the textbook for teaching music in the Primary School. It also ensured that folk tunes from every part of the country is preserved and will be passed to the next generation of Filipinos. Until now, this collection remains to be the most important collection of traditional music from the Philippines, since a copy of it is still available in major Municipal and Provincial Libraries in the country.

Other collections like the 'Filipino Folk Songs' by Emilia Reysio-Cruz caters to the so- called 'Eight Major Languages' of the country and according to some, the collection is the best representation of the songs from these ethnolinguistic groups.

Dr. Jose Maceda, former chair of the Department of Asian Music Research of the College of Music of the University of the Philippines, also did some collection which began in 1953 and lasted until 1972. This was followed by collections from his students as well.

During the last years of the 20th Century until the early 21st Century, Raul Sunico, Dean of the Conservatory of Music of the University of Santo Tomas, published his own collection. He began with publishing a collection of lullabies, followed by love songs, then by work songs. Finally, he published a collection of songs about Filipino women, a major topic of traditional songs from all the ethnolinguistic groups. All these collections were arranged for the piano and the words are given in their original languages. A translation is also supplied, not to mention a brief backgrounder about the culture of the specific ethnic groups.


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With regard to traditional dance music, the seven volume collection of Francisca Reyes-Aquino is still the most important collection. None has yet followed her lead until now.

Commercial use

Some Philippine rock icons from the 1970s tried to record folk songs. Florante, Freddie Aguilar, Heber Bartolome, Joey Ayala and the group Asin propagated Filipino folk songs akin to the phenomenon in the United States.

Many serious musicians have also recorded folk songs but none yet have made a folk song so successful that it would penetrate the commercial charts. Nowadays, popular musicians tend to overlook this genre. Its continuity is now deferred mostly to musicians in the academic sphere.

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Visayans Austronesian ethnolinguistic groups originated from Visayas, in the Philippines

The Visayans is an umbrella term for the Philippine ethnolinguistic groups native to the whole Visayas, the southernmost islands of Luzon and most parts of Mindanao. Those particularly within the Visayas broadly share a sea-based culture with strong Roman Catholic traditions merged with cultural elements through centuries of interaction and inter-migrations mainly across the seas of Visayan, Sibuyan, Camotes and Bohol, and in some secluded areas merged with ancient animistic-polytheistic influences. Most Visayans are speakers of one or more Visayan languages, the most widely spoken being Cebuano, followed by Hiligaynon (Ilonggo) and Waray-Waray. Many have, at some point in their lives, migrated to Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces out of necessity brought about by the negative effects of economic centralization in their nation. They comprise the largest grouping in the geographical division of the country, numbering at around 33 million as of 2010.

Culture of the Philippines culture of an area

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Pinoy is an informal demonym referring to the Filipino people in the Philippines and their culture as well as to overseas Filipinos in the Filipino diaspora. A Pinoy with mix of foreign ancestry is called Tisoy, a shortened word for Mestizo.

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Tagalog people ethnic group

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Zamboangueño people ethnic group

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The Sambalic languages are a part of the Central Luzon language family spoken by the Sambals, an ethnolinguistic group on the western coastal areas of Central Luzon and the Zambales mountain ranges.

Philippine folk literature

Philippine folk literature refers to the traditional oral literature of the Filipino people. Thus, the scope of the field covers the ancient folk literature of the Philippines' various ethnic groups, as well as various pieces of folklore that have evolved since the Philippines became a single ethno-political unit.

Philippine dance

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The Kalanguya are an Austronesian ethnic group most closely associated with the Philippines' Cordillera Administrative Region, but whose core population can be found across an area which also includes the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija, and Pangasinan. While this area spans Region I, the Cordillera Administrative Region, and Region II, it represents a largely geographically contiguous area.

Filipino Americans have a long history of music in the United States. The Philippines have musical context and varied influences due to indigenous traditions and early colonial influences of Spanish and American occupation. During occupation by the United States, many Filipinos were recruited for manual labor along the West Coast. These early laborers commonly would perform Spanish-influenced rondallas as well as choral groups. With many Filipinos living in the United States beginning around the 1900s, Filipinos have contributed towards early Americana staples such as blues and jazz, and continue to influence more modern contemporary genres such as hip hop and rock. American music has also been influential in the Philippines for artists and vice versa. Though contributing to the evolution of American music, large number of Filipino Americans have a strong identity with culture of the Philippines by participating or organizing traditional dances and musical performances, largely in the form of PCNs on university campuses. Traditional dances and musical performances commonly practiced in the US are rondallas, choral groups, and gong chime ensembles. College campuses often organize performances on campuses, but can also have characteristics unique to America, as many Filipino Americans want to share their experiences of living in America and perform a more neo traditional variation of traditional performances.

The indigenous religious beliefs of the Tagalog people were well documented by Spanish missionaries, mostly in the form of epistolary accounts (relaciones) and as entries in the various dictionaries put together by missionary friars.

Lucrecia Faustino Reyes-Urtula was a Filipina choreographer, theater director, teacher, author, and a researcher on ethnic dances. She was the founding director of Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company. She was named National Artist of the Philippines for dance in 1988.