Music in the Philippines

Music makes our world go round.

Everybody in the Philippines knows a tune or two. We’re born into the world with our mothers humming lullabies, our dads playing guitars during siesta time, and our friends singing made up play songs that go like this:

“Sasara ang bulaklak, bubuka ang bulaklak, papasok ang reyna, sasayaw ng chacha.”

There are a lot more variations to this nursery rhyme/play song, but the idea is that there’s a flower that closes and opens and that the queen enters and dances. As to why she chooses to dance the cha-cha, I’m not quite sure of that.

Point is, Philippine music is vibrant, rich and beautiful (although is sometimes absurd). If you’re interested in exploring this integral part of the Filipino culture, read on.

How It All Started

The Philippines is home to various cultures from around the world. Because a lot of explorers found the country to be beautiful, we have welcomed (although not always willingly) races and faces that came with musical instruments and notes to sing and play.

Who were they and what did they bring?

  • Indigenous folks. Before the Philippines was discovered by settlers, the native tribes were already playing their own music using instruments made of bamboo, such as tongatong and topayak. Most tunes were used in tribal practices, such as to offer thanksgiving to the gods.
  • Settlers. Neighbors from Asian countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia contributed too, introducing string instruments and new note progressions.
  • The Spanish. Thanks to the 333 years they spent in the country, much of the music that we consider as “classic” are heavily influenced by music in Spain. Harana, for instance, is a courtship activity wherein the man plays kundiman, a tune resembling Spanish songs, to woo the love of his life. Other forms of music from Spain that rose in popularity include the rondalla, an assembly of string instruments played in harmony. Until today, such tunes and forms of performing music are widely popular in the country as subject matters and references, and not much in modern music.
  • The Americans. Of all the influences in Philippine music, the Americans had the most impact. In fact, as I’m writing this article, I’m listening to Beyonce’s latest album. Local artists can be loved not because they create great music, but because they perform American artists’ songs excellently. More importantly, much of Original Pilipino Music (OPM) songs are patterned from American tunes, both in terms of lyrics and musical genre.

What to listen to

If you want to listen to iconic songs that shaped Philippine music, here’s a list of tracks you must listen to:

  • Anak by Freddie Aguilar – translated into different languages around the world!
  • Pilipinas Kong Mahal – nationalistic song that is usually sung during a school flag ceremony
  • Paru-parong Bukid – folk song that portrays a Filipina maiden as a beautiful butterfly
  • Balita by Asin – referenced by the band Black Eyed Peas in one of their hits, this anthemic song tackles politics and its effects on the Filipino people
  • Any song by Eraserheads – the band defined and redefined Philippine music by introducing alternative, easy-listening songs with honest lyrics that are sometimes borderline brutal and frank. You shouldn’t be so surprised hearing their iconic songs in various places in the country, from the Caticlan Airport to SM Megamall in Mandaluyong. They are that famous.

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