The Diversity of Philippine Music Cultures
Philippine music is rich beyond compare. Most Filipinos, however, do not know this wealth, victims as they are of a broadcast media that propagate Western, particularly American entertainment music, day in and day out. If ever music written by Filipinos is given a chance to be heard, it is ninety percent of the cheap pop variety copied or adapted from foreign hits.
Our young people hear almost nothing of the creative music of the people of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The vast output of our serious composers, who ironically are mostly Manila-based, is also unknown to them.
There is a pressing need to bring Philippine music closer to our people: strong identification of our own music is one vital factor in bringing our people together or unifying the nation.
Exposing Filipinos to their own musical traditions is properly the task of the government, our music educators, musicologists, community leaders, concerned media practitioners, performing groups, pro-Filipino radio and television stations and recording companies, heritage centers and libraries, and cultural organizations all over the country.
A survey of the whole range of authentic Filipino musical expression reveals at least eight major types according to cultural sources and influences:
Traditional Filipino Music
I. Music of Indigenous Southeast Asian Filipinos: Harmony with the Creative Forces of Nature
Filipino Popular Melodies
Music for Listening
Music for Social Awareness and Human Dignity
All of these Filipino music cultures are not only alive and contemporaneous; they are distinct from each other in terms of concept, form, and style. Each represents a way of life that is uniquely Filipino and is expressive of a subculture’s experiences. Understanding these music cultures enables us to understand ourselves better.
We may divide our music cultures into two groups, the first three types of expressions belong to one group and the last four types to another, with the third type straddling the two groups. Though possessing unique characteristics, those musical expressions grouped together have many things in common.
One shared feature of the first group is the extemporaneous way of creating music – the music is created and performed at the same time. There is no time gap between conception and realization, as when a Yakan creates-performs music in the kulintang (similar to the extemporaneous nature of the poetic joust in Balagtasan).
This is entirely different from the way music is made in the second group, where a musician first writes or records his thoughts on paper and only later does a performer reproduce it in sound, as in writing and performing Ryan Cayabyab’s Limang Dipang Tao.
Thus, the emphasis on the first group is on the creative process while that on the second group is the finished product.
Another feature of the first group is the multi-functional character of the music, which accompanies (or is indispensable in) many activities and events, like putting a baby to sleep, courtship, prayer, debate, protest, merrymaking, and a host of other rituals and celebrations.
In the other group, music has ceased to function in many aspects of everyday life. In the extreme, it has become dispensable, decorative, merely for entertainment, or worse, nothing but a commodity, like many examples of what we call “pop” music.
Also worth mentioning is the collective character of music making in the first group and the individualistic character in the second.
Clearly, our musical traditions, all of them contemporary, can tell us many things about ourselves. Indeed, beginning the study of Philippine music cultures is the beginning of a fuller and deeper understanding of the Filipino.