A Brief History of Filipino Folk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A Brief History of Filipino Folk Music explores the various genres of music that have come to define the Filipino identity.

Origins of Filipino folk music

The origins of Filipino folk music can be traced back to the indigenous music of the Austronesian people who settled in the Philippines more than 2,000 years ago. These early folk songs were passed down orally from generation to generation, and many of them remained unchanged for centuries.

One of the most famous Filipino folk songs is “Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit,” which was written in the early 20th century by nationalist poet Jose Corazon de Jesus. The song became an unofficial anthem during the Philippines’ struggle for independence from Spanish colonial rule.

After the Philippines gained its independence in 1946, American pop and rock music began to exert a strong influence on Filipino youth. Folk music underwent a revival in the 1970s, as young Filipinos began to rediscover their country’s musical roots.

Today, Filipino folk music continues to evolve as new generations of musicians create their own interpretations of traditional songs. At the same time, traditional folk songs remain an important part of Filipino culture and are regularly performed at weddings, religious ceremonies, and other special occasions.

The influence of Spanish colonization

Spain colonized the Philippines in the 16th century and ruled the country for more than three centuries. During this time, Spanish music and culture had a significant impact on Filipino folk music. The influence of Spanish music is particularly evident in the melodic and harmonic structures of Filipino folk songs. Many of these songs are also based on traditional Spanish folk tunes.

The influence of American colonization

The Philippines is a country with a rich history of music. Filipino folk music has been shaped by a number of factors, including the country’s colonial history.

During the years of American colonization, many American songs and musical styles were introduced to the Philippines. These styles had a significant impact on the development of Filipino folk music. America’s influence can be heard in the use of harmony and chords in Filipino folk music, as well as in the use of Western instruments such as the guitar and drums.

Even after the Philippines gained independence from America, the influence of Western music continued to be felt. In the 20th century, Filipino composers began to incorporate elements of jazz and other Western genres into their work. This trend can be seen in the music of popular Filipino composers such as Jose Maceda and Ryan Cayabyab.

Today, Filipino folk music is a vibrant and diverse genre that continues to be shaped by its complex history.

The influence of Chinese music

The Philippines has a long and rich history of music, with various influences from different cultures. One of the most notable influences is that of Chinese music.

Chinese music has been present in the Philippines for centuries, dating back to when the first wave of Chinese immigrants arrived in the country. This influx of Chinese people brought with them their own unique musical traditions, which slowly began to mix with the existing Filipino folk music.

Over time, this resulted in the development of a new genre known as “kundiman”, which incorporated both Chinese and Filipino musical elements. Kundiman remains popular to this day and is considered one of the most important genres in Filipino music history.

The influence of Indian music

The influence of Indian music can be heard in Filipino folk music, as the two share many similarities. The most obvious similarity is the use of the pentatonic scale, which is also used in Chinese and Japanese music. This scale consists of five notes, which are played in a certain order to create melody and harmony.

Indian music also influenced the way Filipino folk instruments are played. For example, the kulintang, a type of gong drone instrument, is played in a similar manner to the way Indian instruments are played. The kulintang is an important part of kulintangan ensemble, which also includes drums, flutes, and gongs.

Some Filipino folk songs also have lyrics that tell stories or convey messages that are based on Indian epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. These songs were likely introduced to the Philippines by Indian traders who came to the country centuries ago.

The development of Filipino folk music

The development of Filipino folk music has been shaped by a variety of factors, including the nation’s history, geography, and culture.

Filipino folk music is thought to have originated in the country’s indigenous communities, which have been influenced by a number of different cultures over the centuries. One of the earliest influences was that of the Spanish, who colonized the Philippines in the 16th century and introduced various new musical styles to the island nation.

Over time, Filipino folk music developed its own unique character, incorporating elements from both indigenous and foreign traditions. Today, it remains an important part of Filipino culture and continues to evolve as new influences are added.

The decline of Filipino folk music

Sadly, the traditions of Filipino folk music are in decline. With the advent of new technology and globalisation, many young people are turning away from the traditional music of their parents and grandparents. This is a shame, as Filipino folk music is truly unique and special.

There are many reasons for the decline of Filipino folk music. One is that traditional instruments are becoming harder to find. Another is that young people are simply not interested in learning and playing the older style of music.

However, there is some good news. There are still some pockets of resistance where Filipino folk music is being kept alive. And, with the help of technology, there is now a way to preserve these musical traditions for future generations.

The revival of Filipino folk music

The early 21st century has seen a revival of interest in Filipino folk music, with a number of bands and singers performing traditional songs and two folk music festivals being held annually.

Filipino folk music has its roots in the indigenous music of the Philippines, which is characterized by a wide range of influences from other Asian and Western music traditions. Filipino folk musicians have been influenced by a variety of styles, from the traditional ballads of Europe to the contemporary pop sounds of Asia.

One of the most popular genres of Filipino folk music is kundiman, which was traditionally sung by women as a way to express their love for their country. In recent years, kundiman has been adapted for use by political activists as a way to protest against the government.

Another popular genre is harana, which is characterized by its slow and romantic melodies. Harana songs are often used as courting rituals, with young men serenading their potential partners outside their homes.

Filipino folk music is often performed using traditional instruments such as the kulintang (a type of xylophone), the agung (a type of gong), and the balitaw (a type of lute).

The contemporary scene of Filipino folk music

The contemporary scene of Filipino folk music is a diverse one, with various subgenres that have emerged over the years. These include the acoustic renditions of traditional songs, as well as those that fuse traditional elements with modern pop and rock.

One of the most popular subgenres is the so-called ‘ Asinobal ‘, which represents a fusion of traditional music with modern pop and rock. This style is characterized by the use of unusual instrumentation, such as the Asinobal (a type of guitar), as well as by its focus on harmony and melody rather than rhythm.

Another popular subgenre is ‘ kundiman ‘, which is a more traditional form of Filipino folk music. Kundiman songs are typically about love and loss, and they often make use of simple melodies that are easy to remember.

Finally, there is also a growing trend towards the revival of traditional folk songs in their original form. This has led to the emergence of a number of ensembles that specialize in performing these songs, such as the Manila Symphony Orchestra’s Folk Ensemble.

The future of Filipino folk music

The future of Filipino folk music is shrouded in uncertainty. Many of the traditional folk musicians are aging, and there is a lack of young people who are interested in learning and performing the music. Additionally, the popularity of Western music and the rise of electronic dance music have made Filipino folk music less popular in recent years.

That said, there are still many people who appreciate and value Filipino folk music. There are also a handful of young musicians who are keeping the tradition alive. It is possible that Filipino folk music will make a comeback in the future, albeit in a different form than it exists today.

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