Stories, essays, readings, facts and trivia on Philippine music and the local music industry

Music of Popular Sentiments

The Sanctity of the Home

This is the music of lowland Christian Filipinos living in town centers or poblacions.

The beginning of what we may consider Western type of music in the Philippines began in lowland Christian town centers, probably around the late 18th century. Instead of being extemporaneous and oral, music creation is now done on paper by an individual author whose name appears on manuscripts or printed music sheets. But with the oral tradition still a strong influence in society, what is written on these musical scores is not sacrosanct, and may be modified by another musician during the performance to allow for individual creative expression. The music may be individually authored but community opinion matters.

Although not to the same degree as that which later developed in the composed music of academically-trained Filipino composers in the late 19th and early twentieth century, the typical European concept of melody functioning within a rational, linear, finite tonal-harmonic framework clearly emerges in this subculture. To be sure the harmony is quite simple and diatonic. The intro and closing portions, which are rather brief, are not given much importance and there is hardly any tension generated in progressing towards a highpoint. The melody is not driven to achieve a single, all-consuming goal. That is, there is no dramatic build-up towards the climax, which is modest or inconspicuous.

Typical examples of this are Constancio de Guzman’s Tangi Kong Pag-ibig and Babalik Ka Rin (both danzas) or Santiago Suarez’ Bakya Mo Neneng (balitaw) and Dungawin Mo Hirang (danza), where the supposedly climactic second to the last note of their melodies hardly creates any tension and quite unsatisfying to musicians used to the powerful climaxes of 19th century Romantic music. Nowadays singers tend to raise this note and prolong it to heighten its dramatic impact and call attention to the singer’s vocal and technical skills.

What the musical features of these songs indicate is that the musician is not fully separate from the society in which he lives. As an individual artist he can provide social entertainment to his community, yet shares much of its sentiments. He likes to be appreciated for his work but at the same time has the same concerns and is dependent on co-existence with his neighbours. He is not a professional or specialist hired for the purpose, though he may be given a token gift or compensation for his efforts. He himself belongs to the group he performs but not in the same degree that an indigenous or folk musician is part of his community.

Thus, he does not simply perform for his listeners but performs with them, expressing their common feelings through the music that they all enjoy. A performer does not stand before them to simply impress but to articulate for them the music in their hearts. Thus, the performance will include very little of technical display and calling attention to the performer’s musical prowess, unlike in the subculture of the concert hall where virtuosity or technical brilliance can become an end in itself.

The culture of the poblacion, which is not quite rural yet not quite urban, is the wellspring of this cultural heritage. At present, the poblacion dweller is the dominant majority in this country. Thus, his culture may be considered the popular culture of the Philippines.

The popular culture of the Filipinos is not the same as the popular (the mass or “pop”) culture of the United States. The symbols, images and forms of Filipino popular culture are enduring while those of the latter are fleeting and ephemeral.

The music of this subculture, often called light music, is the authentic popular music of the Filipinos, and not the one brought to us by American mass or “pop” culture, as is commonly thought. “Pop” music is a big influence among the middle to upper class urban youth in our more industrialized towns and cities.

But it is not strong enough to dislodge Filipino popular music from its pre-eminence in our social life, as attested to by the enduring legacy of songs composed in the 1940s or earlier yet continue to appeal to the popular sensibility, whether old or young, such as Constancio de Guzman’s Maalaala Mo Kaya and Pamaypay ng Maynila, Mike Velarde’s Dahil sa Iyo and Ikaw, Santiago Suarez’ Bakya Mo Neneng and Sa Libis ng Nayon, Josefino Cenizal’s Hindi Kita Malimot, and Juan Silos’ Bingwit ng Pag-ibig.

“Pop” music is apparently popular because of media hype. But its appeal is shallow and cannot compete with the lasting popularity of these songs.

If they are not as popular as before, it is simply because the fresh vitality of newer songs that incorporate some contemporary rhythmic and harmonic elements but with practically the same melodic style and emotional content have attracted Filipinos after the 1950s, like Matudnila, Usahay, Saan Ka Man Naroroon, Gaano Kita Kamahal, Dahil Sa Isang Bulaklak, and Lagi Kitang Naaalala.

Most of these songs are of a sentimental nature since they emanate from a culture centered on social connections. Filipino popular culture retains the devotional orientation of folk culture but, being more secular, the object of devotion is now the family and one’s social network of friends and acquaintances and sanctity of the home.

Though still the focus of community unity, the center of devotion is no longer the patron saint, Sto, Nino, Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ. The family becomes the bedrock of existence and the home is the haven of rest, symbolized by the Filipino ancestral house. Sentiments that foster family togetherness and values that ensure family members will be have respectable positions in the community (mabuting puwesto), stability, and advantageous social and political connections are cultivated.

The bearers of this culture possess an irresistible urge to connect to people and explore, understand, establish or affirm relationships, always seeking the ties that bind. We find in them the romantic Filipino. The one who falls in love with love, the one who likes to cry in the movies. This is the Filipino who is fond of watching telenovelas, like Marimar, Rosalinda, Monica Brava, Jumong or Jewel in the Palace.

It is no wonder then that the most popular type of song in this culture are love songs, as embodied in the danza or harana. The danza, not the kundiman, is the love song par excellence of Filipino popular or light music. It is in moderately slow to slow duple meter, with a rhythmic pattern akin to that of the tango or habanera, minus the tango’s physical bravura and sexual languor.

In social gatherings that foster friendships, camaraderie, fellowships and community unity, however, the tango as a ballroom dance together with the waltz, slow drag, swing, cha cha and other social rituals such as the rigodon de honor and cotillion continue to function as an important part of this subculture.