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Indigenous Music
 By Antonio C. Hila
 Tuklas Sining: Essays on the Philippine Arts

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Of all the arts, music is regarded as the most universal in its appeal and acceptance. This universality, however, does not mean that music is without individual character. Each country has its own kind of music that embodies the total experience, the collective consciousness of its people. Music, therefore, is the collective expression of the musical genius of a particular people.

            Such is the case of Philippine music which today is regarded as a unique blending of two great musical traditions – the East and the West. Being innately musical, the Filipinos, from the earliest to contemporary times, have imbibed these traditions and have woven their musical creations along these mainstreams of musical thought. Through time, Philippine society has witnessed the evolution of music expressed in different forms and stylistic nuances.

            A people gifted with a strong sense of musicality, the Filipinos turn to music to express their innermost feelings. Hence, every song they sing, every instrument they play, every music they make is a direct, almost spontaneous reflection of their hopes and longings, frustrations and fulfillment, failures and triumphs – Antonio C. Hila

ndigenous music before the colonial era was largely functional. Expressed either instrumentally or vocally or a combination of both, music was deeply integrated with the activities of the natives. The ancient Filipinos had music practically for all occasions, for every phase of life, from birth to death.

            This type of music is largely retained and practiced by about 10 percent of the population concentrated mainly in three regions: Northern Luzon, the Central Philippine islands of Mindoro and Palawan and the southern islands of Mindanano and Sulu. In Mindanao and Sulu, two musical and cultural traditions may be noted – the Islamic, consisting of such groups as the Maguindanao, Maranao, Yakan, Tausog and Samal, and the pre-Islamic which is composed of the Bagobo, Manobo, Bukidnon, Tagakaolo, Bilaan, Mansaka, Subanon and Mandaya, among others.

            The understanding of Philippine ethnic music is premised on an appreciation of indigenous instruments which are used in the various ritual and secular activities of these two peoples and which are generally grouped into the aerophones or wind instruments; chordophones or stringed instruments; idiophones or percussion instruments struck with a mallet, or against each other, or against another object like the hand; and membranophones or percussion instruments using animal skins or membranes.

            A few differences may be noted between the instruments of the Northern and Southern Philippines. These differences lie primarily in the manner of construction, the style of playing them and the sound they produce. By and large, however, instruments found all over the Islands are strikingly similar.

            The aerophones are best represented by the many types of bamboo flutes that are found all over the country. The lip valley flute found in the North is called the paldong, or kaldong of the Kalinga. In the South Maguindanao call it palendag, the Manobo, pulalu. This flute has three holes on one side and fourth hole on the opposite side.

            There is also the popular nose flute, which produces soft and soothing sounds heard clearly in quiet late afternoons. The northern tribes call this kalleleng (Bondotc and Kankanai), tongali (Ifugao and Kalinga) and baliing (Isneg). In the Central Philippines, it is known as lantuy among the Cuyunin, babarek among the Tagbanua and plawta among the Mangyan.

            In addition, some aerophones are composed of several bamboo tubes of different lengths, like the Kalinga saggeypo and the diwdiw-as, a panpipe common to Igorots. The diwdiw-as is made of five or more slender bamboo tubes tied together. The upper ends of the tubes are open and into these a performer blows without his lips touching the instrument. On the other hand, the six saggeypo tubes are left untied and may be played by a group of people. The simultaneous blowing of the pipes results in harp-like sounds.

            The Maguindanao, meanwhile, have the suling or ring flute, so called because the blowing end is encircled with a rattan ring to create mouthpiece. The Tausog have a six hole single-reed sahunay, with its characteristic cone-shaped pandan-leaf bell.

            Chordophones also bound in many parts of the Archipelago. These include the bamboo zithers, the Spanish guitars, the bamboo violins and the lutes.

            The zither is a stringed instrument made from a single bamboo section, around three to four inches in diameter, with a node at each end. Serving as strings, however, are raised narrow strips of the outer skin fibers of the bamboo itself, with the ends still attached to the body of the instrument. Small wedges are placed beneath the strings to produce different tensions – and thus varying pitches – as the player plucks the strings.

            Variations of the zither can be found all over the country, like the Ilongot kolesing or the Ibaloi kalshang, the Negrito pas-ing and Ifugao patting; in the central Philippines, the Tagbanua play the pa’gang, while the Mangyan have the kudlung. The southern zither is called tawgaw (Bagobo).

            Two-stringed lutes knows as the kudyapi among the Bukidnon, hegalong among the T’boli or the kadlong or kudlong in Central Mindanao are characterized by a boat shape or an elongated oval between 40 to 45 inches long, and have tightening rods made of wood and frets of beeswax and two-wire strings tuned in unison – one serving ad drone, the other providing the melody.

            These long “guitars” or boat lutes are carved in soft wood usually to represent a mythical two-headed animal, the naga (serpent) or crocodile, or perhaps the modified head, body and tail of the sarimanok, a cockerel-like bird. The kudyapi is alos known as a “speaking instrument” because it figures prominently in courtship. It is also used as an accompaniment for dances.

            Examples of chordophones using bows are the three-stringed gitgit of the Tagbanua, the spike fiddle called duwagey of the Bilaan and the biola of the Tausog, which is similar to the European violin used to accompany songs.

            Perhaps the greatest number of indigenous musical instruments belong to the idiophone group. In particular, some of these idiophones are the jew’s harp, suspended beams, bamboo buzzer, percussion sticks and gongs.


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