Throughout the history of time, it has been a known fact that music, if reproduced with the right audio reproduction system, can without temperance reach into your body, remove your heart, throw it on the ground and stomp on it, crushing you into a mere blob of protoplasm.
I normally do not write about music as it is so diverse and without limits. From Swing Dance in the 1920’s to Rock-N-Roll in the 70’s to Deep House music in the 90’s to a Pipe Organ to the Pacific Islands. No matter what the music is that touches you, music has a place in each and everyone of our hearts, so deeply embedded that we wouldn’t be able to remove it, even if we knew how.
As I sit here listening to a solo cello ensemble of Bach, Beethoven, Barrière and Einaudi, I reflect on all of the music that I have had a deep love of for as far back as I can remember. But there is a music that I have not touched on or listened to since my childhood. Pacific Islander music.
This got me to thinking about how lucky I am to be alive, but more lucky to be able to call the Pacific Islands my home. You see, officially, of course, Filipinos are categorized as Asians and the Philippines as part of Southeast Asia. But describing Filipinos as Pacific Islanders isn’t necessarily wrong either. In fact, for a long time, Filipinos were known as Pacific Islanders.
The Philippines has a very rich history when it comes to music. Mostly inspired by Spanish heritage, as the Philippines was ruled under the Mexico-based Viceroyalty of New Spain. After which, the colony was directly governed by Spain. On June 12, 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo declared the Philippines independent from Spain and proclaimed himself president. After ruling for 333 years, the Spaniards finally left in 1898 and were replaced by the Americans who stayed for 48 years. On July 4, 1946, the Americans recognized Philippine independence.
On any given day, on pretty much any given street in the Philippines, you are bound to hear an eclectic mix of many different gene’s of music. All of which bearing a distinctive Spanish flare, mixed with that of a traditional Pacific Islander. As with anywhere on this globe, the Filipinos do love their music and rightfully so.
After finishing an hour or so of listening to Bach, Beethoven, Barrière and Einaudi, I decided that I needed to listen to some Philippine music. What strikes me the most as I listen to many different gene’s is that most of the music from the Philippines tells the tale of the simple days gone-by – folk songs – especially in the Tagalog and Visayan regions.
Notable folk song composers include the National Artist for Music Lucio San Pedro, who composed the famous “Sa Ugoy ng Duyan” that recalls about the loving touch of mother to her child. Another composer, the National Artist for Music Antonino Buenaventura, is notable for notating folk songs and dances. Buenaventura composed the music for “Pandanggo sa Ilaw”.
More to the southern part of the country, the notable music is likely to be Gong Music. Philippine gong music can be divided into two types: the flat gong commonly known as gangsà and played by the groups in the Cordillera region and the bossed gongs played among the Islam and animist groups in the southern Philippines.
Kulintang refers to a racked gong chime instrument played in the southern islands of the Philippines, along with its varied accompanying ensembles. Different groups have different ways of playing the kulintang. Two major groups seem to stand-out in kulintang music. These are the Maguindanaon and the Maranaw. The kulintang instrument itself could be traced to either the introduction of gongs to Southeast Asia from China before the 10th century CE, or more likely, to the introduction of bossed gong chimes from Java in the 15th century. Nevertheless, the kulintang ensemble is the most advanced form of ensemble music with origins in the precolonial epoch of Philippine history, and is a living tradition in southern parts of the country.
The tradition of kulintang ensemble music itself is regional, predating the establishment of present-day Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. It transcends religion, with Buddhist, Hindu Animist, and Christian ethnic groups in Borneo, Flores and Sulawesi playing kulintangan; and Muslim groups playing the same genre of music in Mindanao, Palawan and the Sulu archipelago. It is distantly related to the gamelan ensembles of Java and Bali, as well as the musical forms in Mainland Southeast Asia, mainly because of the usage for the same bossed racked gong chimes that play both melodic and percussive.
Original Filipino music, now more commonly termed original Pinoy music or OPM, originally referred only to Philippine pop songs, particularly ballads, such as those popular after the collapse of its predecessor, the Manila sound of the late 1970s. Currently, OPM is used as a catch-all term for popular music composed and performed by Filipino musicians and singers.
Between the 1950’s, 1960’s, and before the 1970’s came the emergence of Pilita Corrales, Sylvia La Torre, Diomedes Maturan, Ric Manrique Jr., Ruben Tagalog, Helen Gamboa, Vilma Santos, Edgar Mortiz, Carmen Camacho, among many others.
In the 1970’s, popular artists were Nora Aunor, Tirso Cruz III, Eddie Peregrina, Ramon Jacinto, Victor Wood, and Asin. The more major commercial Philippine pop music artists were Claire dela Fuente, Didith Reyes, Rico Puno, Ryan Cayabyab, Basil Valdez, Celeste Legaspi, Hajji Alejandro, Rey Valera, Freddie Aguilar, Imelda Papin, Eva Eugenio, Marco Sison, Nonoy Zuñiga, Leah Navarro, Cinderella, Tillie Moreno, Ric Segreto, Janet Basco, Boyfriends, Hotdog, VST & Co., and many others.
Between the 1980’s and the 1990’s, OPM was led by artists such as Regine Velasquez, Pops Fernandez, APO Hiking Society, Kuh Ledesma, Jose Mari Chan, Dingdong Avanzado, Rodel Naval, Janno Gibbs, Ogie Alcasid, Joey Albert, Lilet, Martin Nievera, Manilyn Reynes, Lea Salonga, Kristina Paner, Rachel Alejandro, Raymond Lauchengco, JoAnne Lorenzana, Francis Magalona, Sharon Cuneta, Sheryl Cruz, Keno, Lou Bonnevie, Zsa Zsa Padilla and Gary Valenciano, among many others.
In the 1990’s, famous artists included Eraserheads, The Company, April Boy Regino, Smokey Mountain, Rivermaya, Jaya, Agot Isidro, Dessa, Isabel Granada, Vina Morales, Donna Cruz, Jolina Magdangal, Jessa Zaragoza, Ariel Rivera, South Border, Carol Banawa, Yano, Introvoys, AfterImage, Side A, Andrew E., Lani Misalucha, Ella May Saison, Joey Ayala, Viktoria, April Boys, Color It Red, Roselle Nava and Blakdyak, among many others.
In the 2000’s and the 2010’s, leading OPM artists include Sarah Geronimo, Julie Anne San Jose, Angeline Quinto, Aicelle Santos, Gerald Santos, Jonalyn Viray, Rachelle Ann Go, Christian Bautista, Kitchie Nadal, Barbie’s Cradle, Yasmien Kurdi, Mitoy Yonting, Moonstar88, Aiza Seguerra, Toni Gonzaga, Richard Poon, Nina, Yeng Constantino, Piolo Pascual, Jovit Baldivino, KZ Tandingan, Nyoy Volante, Daniel Padilla, Hale, Spongecola, Jennylyn Mercado, Kim Chiu, Kisses Delavin, Jake Zyrus, Jed Madela, Erik Santos, Parokya Ni Edgar, Maris Racal, Loisa Andalio, Kamikazee, Richard Yap, Sam Milby, TNT Boys, Abra, James Reid, Janine Berdin, Sheryn Regis and Gloc-9, among many others.
Underground bands emerged and along with them were their perceptions of idealism and self-expression. The famous lyricist of Circle’s End, Geno Georsua landed on top as the melodramatic expressionist. Bassist Greg Soliman of UST Pendong grasps the title as the best bassist of underground music.
From its origin, OPM had been centered in Manila, where Tagalog and English are the dominant languages. Other ethnolinguistic groups such as Visayan, Bikol and Kapampangan, who are making music in their native languages, are rarely breaking into the popular Filipino local music scene. But there are unusual cases include the Bisrock (Visayan rock music) song “Charing” by 1017, Davao-based band, and “Porque” by Maldita, a Zamboanga-based Chavacano band. A lot of compositions of Bisrock are contributed by bands such as Phylum and Missing Filemon. However, a band called Groupies’ Panciteria that hails from Tacloban, a Winaray-speaking city, launched a free downloadable mp3 album on Soundclick.com in 2009 containing 13 Tagalog songs and only one very short song in the Cebuano language.
Following suit are the Kapampangans. The debut music video of “Oras” (“Time”) by Tarlac City-based Kapampangan band Mernuts penetrated MTV Pilipinas, making it the first ever Kapampangan music video to join the ranks of other mainstream Filipino music videos. RocKapampangan: The Birth of Philippine Kapampangan Rock, an album of modern remakes of Kapampangan folk extemporaneous songs by various Kapampangan bands was also launched in February 2008, and was regularly played via Kapampangan cable channel Infomax-8 and via one of Central Luzon’s biggest FM radio stations, GVFM 99.1. Inspired by what the locals call “Kapampangan cultural renaissance”, Angeles City-born balladeer Ronnie Liang rendered Kapampangan translations of some of his popular songs such as “Ayli” (Kapampangan version of “Ngiti”), and “Ika” (Kapampangan version of “Ikaw”) for his repackaged album.
Despite the growing clamor for non-Tagalog and non-English music and the greater representation of other Philippine languages, the local Philippine music industry, which is centered in Manila, is unforthcoming in venturing investments to other locations. Some of their major reasons include the language barrier, small market size, and socio-cultural emphasis away from regionalism in the Philippines. An example would be the songs of the Ilokano group “The Bukros Singers,” who swept through Ilocandia in the 1990’s and became a precursor for other Ilokano performers into the 2000’s, but rarely broke through other music markets in the Philippines.
The country’s first songwriting competition, Metro Manila Popular Music Festival, was first established in 1977 and launched by the Popular Music Foundation of the Philippines. The event featured many prominent singers and songwriters during its time. It was held annually for seven years until its discontinuation in 1985. It was later revived in 1996 as the “Metropop Song Festival”, running for another seven years before being discontinued in 2003 due to the decline of its popularity. Another variation of the festival had been established called the Himig Handog contest which began in 2000, operated by ABS-CBN Corporation and its subsidiary music label Star Records. Five competitions have been held so far starting in 2000 to 2003 and was eventually revived in 2013. Unlike its predecessors, the contest has different themes which reflect the type of song entries chosen as finalists each year. In 2012, the Philippine Popular Music Festival was launched and is said to be inspired by the first songwriting competition. Another songwriting competition for OPM music being held annually is the Bombo Music Festival, being conducted by the radio network Bombo Radyo, first conceived in 1985.
OPM pop has been regularly showcased in the live band scene. Groups such as Neocolours, Side A, Introvoys, The Teeth, Yano, True Faith, Passage and Freestyle popularized songs that clearly reflect the sentimental character of OPM pop.
In the new millennium up to the 2010’s, famous Filipino pop music artists included Sarah Geronimo, Erik Santos, Yeng Constantino, and Regine Velasquez, among many others.
Choral music has become an important part of Philippine music culture. It dates back to the choirs of churches that sing during mass in the old days. In the middle of the 20th century, performing choral groups started to emerge and increasingly become popular as time goes by. Aside from churches, universities, schools and local communities have established choirs.
Philippine choral arrangers like Robert Delgado, Fidel Calalang, Lucio San Pedro, Eudenice Palaruan among others have included in the vast repertoires of choirs beautiful arrangements of OPM, folk songs, patriotic songs, novelty songs, love songs, and even foreign songs.
The Philippine Madrigal Singers (originally the University of the Philippines Madrigal Singers) is one of the most famous choral groups not only in the Philippines, but also worldwide. Winning international competitions, the group became one of the most formidable choral groups in the country. Other award-winning choral groups are the University of Santo Tomas Singers, the Philippine Meistersingers (Former Adventist University of the Philippines Ambassadors), the U.P. Singing Ambassadors and U.P. Concert Chorus, among others.