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Encyclopedia > Filipino music
Southeast Asian music
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Filipino music is quite diverse, as the indigenous people are spread across hundreds of islands and among 140 ethnic groups. Filipino music has the influenced by the colonial legacies of the United States and Spain, and Western rock and roll and pop music. Indonesian Gamelan and other Asian influences are also important.


Indigenous musical styles

The Philippines being a large archipaelago, musical style vary region to region, although most musical instuments are in the percussion family, with some being from the wind and string family. Musical instruments are mostly constructed from bronze, wood and bamboo.

Southern styles

Among the various groups of the island of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipaelago, a highly sophisticated musical repotoire called Kulintang exists in which the main instruments used are bossed gongs not dissimilar to gongs used in Indonesia.

Among the Tausug of the Sulu Archipelago, The Sindil (sung verbal jousts) is a musical lighthearted style that is sung by a duo of both sexes sung in front of an audience. Teasing, jokes, and innuendos flow into the verses, the better ones being applauded by the audience. The gabbang xylophone and biyula traditional violin are the instuments mainly used. Although Sindil is a particular genre of music, the verbal jousting musical type is also found in many other parts of the country, especially among the Visayan peoples, who are ethnically related to the Tausug. Sindil are normally used at weddings and other festive events.

Other musical traditions of this region are those of the serenade form Kapanirong and the outdoor "loud" music repotoire called Tagonggo.

Northern styles

Among the indigenous peoples of the Central Cordilleras of the northern island of Luzon, music is also played with gongs, but unlike those of southern repoitoires, these gongs, called Gangsa, are unbossed and have their origins in mainland Asia. Music is usually played to accompany dance, and because of this is mostly percussion based. gong ensembled are normally accompanied by drums. The music is polyphonic, and uses highly interlocking repeated patterns.

Other styles

Other indigenous instuments include a bamboo zither, log drums, the Kutiyapi two stringed boat-lute and various flutes, including some nose flutes used by northern tribes.

Spanish influence

Spanish colonizers left their musical mark on the Philippines, introducing Christianity and its attendant religious music The guitar and other instruments, as well as zarzuela (a form of operetta) were popular, and soon incorporated traditional elements.


The Harana style first gained popularity in the early part of the Spanish occupation. It is a traditional form of courtship music in which a man woos a woman by singing underneath her window at night. It is widely practiced in many parts of the Philippines with a set of protocols, a code of conduct, and a specific style of music. Harana itself uses mainly Hispanic protocols in music, although its origins lie in old pre-colonial Philippine musical styles still practised in some regions of the country (See Also Kapanirong style of the Maguindanao of Mindanao). The main instument used for Harana is the Guitar, played by the courter, although other string instruments such as the Ukelele and less frequiently, the Violin, are also used.


The Kundiman is a lyrical song made popular in the Philippines in the early 19th century, but having origins in older pre-colonial indigenous styles. Composed in the Western idiom, the song is characterized by a minor key at the beginning and shifts to a major key in the second half. Its lyrics depict a romantic love, usually portraying the forlorn pleadings of a lover willing to sacrifice everything on behalf of his beloved. In many others, it is a plaintive call of the rejected lover or the broken-hearted. In others, it is a story of unrequited love. Almost all traditional Filipino love songs in this genre are heavy with poetic emotion. One such Kundiman that tells about unrequited love is the Visayan song Matud Nila.

In the 1920s Kundiman became a much more mainstream musical style, with many popular performers including Diomedes Naturan and Ruben Tagalog.

American influences

The United States began occupying the Philippines in 1898, and American blues, folk and later, R&B and rock and roll became popular.

Pinoy rock

In the late 1950s, native performers wrote Tagalog lyrics for American rock music, resulting in the beginnings of Pinoy rock. In the early 1970s, Tagalog and English lyrics were both used, within the same song, in songs like "Ang Miss Universe Ng Buhay Ko", which helped innovate the Manila sound.

Soon, Pinoy rock musicians added folk music and other influences, helping to lead to the 1978 breakthrough success of Freddie Aguilar. Aguilar's "Anak", his debut recording, is the most commercially successful Filipino recording in history, and was popular throughout Asia and Europe.

Pinoy rock became the music of Filipino protestors in the 1980s, and Aguilar's "Bayan Ko" became especially popular as an anthem during the 1986 revolution. At the same time, a subculture rejected the rise of socially aware lyrics. In Manila, a punk rock scene developed, led by bands ike The Jerks and Urban Bandits.

Later Pinoy rock stars include Joey Ayala, Yano, The Eraserheads, Cocojam and Grace Nono, who combine grunge music, reggae and other international influences into their music.

Philippine Choral Music

The Philippine Choral music seen has been developed and popularized by the Philippine Madrigal Singers. This choir, is the country's premier choral and is an award winning choral thru its existence.


  • Clewley, John. "Pinoy Rockers". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 213-217. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

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