Toward a Truly Philippine Music

Photo of the Philippine flag

On the ElectronicaManila mailing list, there’s recently been an interesting discussion revolving around the question:

Do we Filipinos have a unique musical sound? Something that we can tag as unique to our music, or that may somehow influence music from other countries?

This was my answer: Yes we do have a sound of our own, but it isn’t being practised much by people outside of the local world music genre (Grace Nono, Joey Ayala, Bayang Barrios, Pinikpikan, etc.) Right now it exists though it’s more a vague fog than a typhoon of output.

I’m talking about folksong-inspired music — music which uses our local folk songs as inspiration. Not remakes of ethnic chants or remixes of kundimans, but rather traditional folksongs as building blocks for new music regardless of the genre of the final output (be it pop, classical, electronic, or death metal.) Lucio San Pedro called it Creative Nationalism.

Read this interview I did with national artist and composer Lucio San Pedro a year before he passed away.

“And that is what I mean by Creative Nationalism: I recreate our folksongs not in its entirety but fragmentarily. Something taken from the roots, mula sa ating lupang tinubuan. Ganoon din sina Beethoven, sina Wagner sa Germany, si Tchaikovsky sa Russia. Ang kanilang bansa ang kanilang ipinagdidiwang. Eh bakit tayo ginagaya natin ang mga Amerikano? Away with this kind of pop music.”

Current Proponents of Creative Nationalism

e:Trinity performing with MC Child
e:Trinity performing with MC Child

L.A.-based Elson Trinidad, who as e:Trinity used to compose and perform electronic music laced with indigenous Philippine instruments, was on the right path with his “ethnotronica”. He would have kulintang samples partner with drum n’ bass rhythms, and would work in even chinese erhu into his house music. Sadly, in 2004 he decided to put the e:Trinity project aside to give more time to his other musical interests.

Performing with the Grace Nono and Bob Aves group in 2003
Acid42 performing with the Grace Nono and Bob Aves group in 2003

Manila-based Grace Nono and husband Bob Aves are on the right path, combining hardcore research and ethnomusicology with entertainment. They’ve been able to take scales and chants and phrases from traditional music and incorporate it with their world beats, and even jazz.

Using Folksong as Building Blocks

I’m seriously talking about making more music by appropriating melodic phrases and rhythms and lyrics from actual folk songs. What it takes is research folks. (Which I’m sure not many will enjoy.)

Because, if I can sample a 1-bar drumloop from any chillout tune, and make a cool song out of it, why can’t I lift a phrase from “Bahay Kubo” combine it with the musical output I’ve been producing so far, and turn it into something new?

I believe going back to our roots musically, is what can and will put Philippine music on the map, and in turn influence other cultures.


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