Cultural Representation: Philippine Music through Art

Art has been a significant avenue showcasing how culture shapes identity. It can be thought of as a platform where in different mediums such as dance and music are utilized in ways that details the rich traditions, unique way of life, and history of a certain group of people or community.

An article by lumen learning entitled What is Art says this about it, the nature of art has been described by philosopher Richard Wollheim as “one of the most elusive of the traditional problems of human culture.” It has been described as a tool to express or communicate feelings and ideas, a way of investigating and appreciating elements of art for being there or for representation.

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This paper aims to do the following; first, explain in detail the history of Philippine music and its influences, second, differentiate how various groups such as the indigenous people and the common folk have adapted to certain influences and third, how the Filipino culture have changed because of it.

Music, as they say, will always be there. Even if the ears can’t hear, the rhythm is felt by the body. It has served a significant role on how people’s identities came to be. It also became a window to look into the era it represents or what the composer’s character was like.

Early Filipinos already have found means on how to express themselves and their every emotion through the art form that is music. Music is played either vocally or through their ethnic musical instruments. In fact, they were able to play notes on their own unique and handmade instruments such as flutes, nose flutes, drums and guitars. They would play music for celebrations such as courtship, marriage, harvest, offerings and even burials.

Felipe Mendoza de Leon’s paper The Diversity of the Philippine Music divided traditional music into three parts, music of Indigenous Southeast Asian Filipinos: harmony with the creative forces of nature, music of the Moros or Muslim Filipino Cultures: the courtly elegance of Islamic unity and music of the lowland folk villages: the way of the fiesta.

Music of Indigenous Southeast Asian Filipinos: harmony with the creative forces of nature is the music of the indigenous, strongly animist, though nominally Christian, non-Muslim peoples of the highlands of the Cordillera, Mindoro, Mindanao and Palawan (de Leon, 2009). The people as well as the music they produced can sometimes be called the lumad. To them, everything has life. They are the closest to nature and have a strong connection to the spiritual realm where their limitless creative energy comes from.

To these indigenous groups, everything on earth and beyond it are interconnected in ways that only they can comprehend. It has integrated into their lives making their lifestyle, to an extent, an art form. Every note played from their musical instruments, they become one with it.

Musical instruments such as the Kalinga’s tongngali, T’boli’s hegelong and the Ifugao’s bungkaka are only few of the examples from a vast range of instruments used by the indigenous communities in producing music. Most of these instruments can’t be played by one person alone showing how unity is vital to them. Though the music they play have a specific number of notes in every progression, they do not really follow a specific sheet of music notes making the music they produce raw and unique. Using the energy they get from nature and the spirit world, their creative process is other worldly.

Music of the Moros or Muslim Filipino Cultures: the courtly elegance of Islamic unity is the music of Islamized Filipinos of Mindanao, Palawan, and Sulu, namely the Magindanaw, Maranaw, Tausug, Sama, Badjaw, Yakan, Sangil, Iranun, Jama Mapun, Palawani, Molbog, and so on. Their music may collectively be referred to as Moro music (de Leon, 2009). The music in these regions are said to be one of the most artistic and technically excellent ones produced in the country. According to de Leon, it is where the true OPM or original Pilipino music is being made having already two of their very own people, Samaon Sulaiman of Maguindanao and Uwang Ahadas of Basilan, awarded the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan, the highest artistic award in the Philippines.

Muslim Filipinos are very creative individuals when it comes to their music. The tone and sounds they produce creates a seamless and melodic flow. It is pure and majestic.

Music of the lowland folk villages: the way of the fiesta is the music of the so-called Hispanized lowland Christian, and village people of Luzon, Visayas, Mindoro, and Palawan. Their culture is essentially Southeast Asian, fused with a strong animistic core, though with elements of Latin culture (de Leon, 2009). These people are the common folk; farmers, fishermen, and vendors. They believe strongly in God and patron saints whom they celebrate through various occasions such as fiestas. Their music is known as folk music.

Some notable examples of Filipino folk music are: Putungan, a Marinduque traditional ritual for welcoming important guests; Pamulinawen, a favorite Ilocano song in polka form about a hardhearted woman’s deafness to a lover’s supplications: an Ilonggo-Kiniray-a song medley; and Rosas Pandan, a Cebuano balitaw which celebrates the beauty and charm of a village maiden (de Leon, 2009).

When the Spaniards came to colonize the Philippines, they also brought with them an influence so drastic that it changed the way the folksongs are structured and made. The kundiman was born from the enslavement of the Spanish rule. The harana was also brought into existence during this time. Harana is a lyrical courtship style based on Mexican-Spanish traditions and kundiman is a passionate form of Tagalog romantic song based on Spanish melodies and song structures (The Philippines-Music, 2018). The kundiman are songs about patriotism disguised metaphorically as a love song with a muse which is interpreted as the mother land. One of the most popular songs among Philippine revolutionaries at that time was “Jocelynang Baliwag,” which was composed in the guise of a courtship song dedicated to Josefa “Pepita” Tiongson y Lara, an idolized lady from Baliwag (Cabral, 2017). The kundiman evolved into an art form with the likes of composers Francisco Santiago and Nicanor Abelardo making it into orchestra.

With the colonization of America, came genres of the Western culture. Music styes and music genres such as blues, R & B, and rock and roll have been integrated into Filipino education which led to educated Filipinos imitating the sounds of Western music and making it fuse it with their own style. Since they were heavily influenced, Filipinos also adapted what was popular during this time which were the juke boxes, AM radio, American dance hall, vaudeville, jazz, the Broadway musical, and vinyl records where they listened to American rock bands (Miguel, 2012). Filipinos composed songs that adapted the style of the Western culture forming hybrid music.

With the fusion of different influences came Filipino pop songs in the genre of Manila Sound. It became a playground of pop, disco, blues, and commercialism altogether, following American sensibilities (Miguel, 2012). Songs like Celeste Legaspi’s “Gaano Ko Ikaw Kamahal,” and Hotdog’s “Ikaw ang Miss Universe ng Buhay Ko dominated the country during this time.

It was then followed by power ballads that saw intense strong vocals mixed with subtle piano play that launched the careers of singers such as Regine Velasquez and Pilita Corrales. The later half of the 1970s has been considered by many as the golden age of OPM that means Original Pilipino Music/Original Pinoy Music/Original Philippine Music. The term rose as a label for Philippine pop ballads made popular in the era by artists such as Basil Valdez and Freddie Aguilar. Over time “OPM” has come to refer to all music that the people of Philippine ancestry compose or have composed, no matter where or when, in any Philippine language (The Philippines- Music, 2018). From its birth, OPM centered in Manila with its languages used as Filipino and English. Multiculturalism advocates, and federalists often associate this discrepancy to the Tagalog-centric cultural hegemony of the capital city of Manila (Original Pilipino Music, n.d.).

Having successfully created a subgenre of Philippine Rock they called Bisrock, the Visayans by far have the biggest collection of modern music in their native language, with great contributions from Visayan bands 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 in 2009 containing 13 Tagalog songs and only one very short one in the Cebuano language (Original Pilipino Music, n.d.). They are followed by the Kapampangans.

Then came folk rock as a form of Philippine protest against the injustice brought by politics that led to the EDSA revolution. Punk rock also came to the scene in Manila which rejects politically focused lyrics.

In the 1990s, Pinoy rock music began to dominate with the bands such as Eraserheads and Parokya ni Edgar releasing love songs that served as soundtracks to college lovers in the nation. Hard rock, heavy metal and alternative rock was developed soon after.

Because of the Western influence, the Philippines was the first country in Asia to adapt the style of hip hop. This genre is mostly performed by Filipinos living in the country and in America. Soon after followed different genres such as jazz which gained momentum although it was long since adapted. Philippine music became what it was and as it is today which is still global, actively soaking in influences from Western genres like rock, jazz, bossa-nova and hip-hop. Filipino popular music parallels global super-pop trends, especially those in other Asian nations (The Philippines-Music).

According to Ting-Toomey’s Identity negotiation theory, each individual’s composite identity has group membership, relational role, and individual self-reflexive implications. Individuals mostly acquired their composite identity through socio-cultural conditioning process, individual lived experiences, and the repeated intergroup and interpersonal interaction experiences (Ting-Toomey, 2015). The identity of an individual is then established on how strong his relationships are and how clear the values and beliefs he got from those relationships. This just proves the importance of a person involving himself in groups. In that sense, the identity of the common Filipino has been changed because they have been exposed to the foreign influences.

Cultural identity is a product of identity negotiations done by the individual that is influenced by a number of factors which represent the existing cultural groups in which he belongs. It focuses largely on: (i) cultural values and practices; (ii) the ways in which one regards the ethnic or cultural groups to which one belongs; and (iii) relative prioritization of the individual and of the group (Schwartz, Zamboanga, Rodriguez, & Wang, 2008).

To understand this fully, culture is described by Lumen Learning as the patterns of learned and shared behavior and beliefs of a particular social, ethnic, or age group. It can also be described as the collective web of human beliefs with a structured stage of civilization that can be specific to a nation or time period. Humans in turn use culture to adapt and transform the world they live in.

For culture to become part of one’s identity, it is crucial that a person must share traditions with those who already have. Because culture does not pertain only to one individual, but it relates to a group.

Long before any colonizers were able to come to the Philippines, Filipinos already have developed art. Thinkers influenced by Martin Heidegger have interpreted art as the means by which a community develops for itself a medium for self-expression and interpretation (What is Art, n.d.).

Cultural identity of the indigenous tribes in the Philippines have been structured greatly by their practices, traditions, and their rituals. They have a shared culture which means that no matter how different of an individual they maybe, they are still connected through that very culture that they grew in or is raised in. They have experienced the same processes of growing in their own environment, they have been exposed to the kind of dances and music the elders are preserving, they have been taught the ways of living as a person belonging from that group. With the colonizers influencing greatly the common folks, these indigenous groups have not succumbed to the foreign rule. Instead they established their identity even stronger and has managed to keep their sacred and pure culture untouched by the foreign influences. They have kept their culture safe and pure because it is who they are. No matter where they go and what they do, that culture is within themselves, it represents who they are on a nationwide scale.

For the common folk however, they are the ones easily swayed by influences from other foreign culture. They have managed to incorporate the genres and styles of music into their own, however they were not able to retain their original identity. While this is somewhat tragic, according to the Identity Negotiation Theory, it is only necessary to learn the meanings and traditions of the culture of the foreign colonizers.

So how can music be a representation of the Filipino culture? To the indigenous tribes who has kept their traditions, beliefs, dances, rituals and musical instruments are uniquely their own that will represent them when they venture out to other places. Representation as identity, they will be known for who they are because they already have an established culture and image to others.

With the growing threat of how the Philippines are slowly embracing foreign culture as their own, it will be hard to tell whether the traditions of the Indigenous people will be kept for generations to come.


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Cultural Representation: Philippine Music through Art. (2022, Jul 12). Retrieved from