A Brief History of Philippine Folk Music

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of Philippine folk music and how it has evolved over the years.


Philippine folk music has origins in various indigenous music cultures, Asian musical traditions, and Spanish colonial music. Although much of Philippine folk music has been adapted or influenced by foreign music, it still retains its own unique character and identity. Let’s take a look at the origins of Philippine folk music.

Pre-Hispanic music

Pre-Hispanic music in the Philippines was primarily vocal and was used for various purposes such as communication, celebrations, and rituals. Various musical instruments were also used, including the bow harp, flute, and drums. The music of this period was a reflection of the various cultures that inhabited the Philippines at the time.

After the arrival of Spanish colonizers in the 16th century, music in the Philippines began to change. The Spaniards introduced new musical instruments and styles, which began to mix with existing Filipino music. This resulted in the development of a unique Philippine sound that incorporated both Spanish and indigenous influences.

During the American colonial period, which began in 1898, Western pop and jazz influences began to enter Philippine music. This continued during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II, when Japanese popular music became popular among Filipinos.

In the post-war period, Philippine music experienced a golden age with the rise of a number of popular genres such as rock ‘n’ roll, ballad, folk, and jazz. Many Filipino musicians achieved international fame during this period, including Jose Mari Chan and Levi Celerio.

Today, Philippine music continues to be a mix of different influences from around the world. Popular genres include pop, rock, hip hop, R&B, dancehall, and reggae.

Spanish colonization

The first recorded instance of music in the Philippines is the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan and his crew on Mactan Island in 1521. Magellan’s chronicler Antonio Pigaffeta noted that the natives “made music with their voices and various instruments.” In an account written in 1582, Francisco Rodriguez described music and dancing during a feast hosted by a chieftain named Dumanog: “The dances began. Dumanog sat in the middle of the room while singing and playing a small drum. Two women circumnavigated him as they sang and played nose flutes.”

During the Spanish colonial period, which lasted from 1565 to 1898, Western musical traditions were introduced to the archipelago by Spanish missionaries and settlers. These elements combined with existing indigenous musical forms to create various new genres of Philippine folk music.

Types of folk music

Philippine folk music is music that has been passed down through generations by word of mouth. Philippine folk music varies from region to region, but some common types of folk music are ballads, work songs, and lullabies. Philippine folk music is often played on traditional instruments such as the kulintang and the kudyapi.


Luzon, being the largest and most populated island, also boasts of the biggest number of cultural and ethnic groups. From the Ilocanos in the North to the Tagalogs in the Central plain to the Bicolanos in the South, each group has its own distinct music and dance traditions. Luzon also has a strong Chinese influence due to centuries of migration, which is evident in certain folk songs and dances.


The Visayas is composed of the provinces located in the central part of the Philippines. These include Leyte, Samar, Bohol, Cebu, and Negros Occidental. Due to its location, the Visayas has been exposed to various cultures, which is reflected in its music.

One of the most popular folk songs in the Visayas is “Ang Dalit”, which is about a maiden who was forced to marry a man she does not love. Another popular song is “Tinikling”, which is about two people who dance around bamboo poles.

The music of the Visayas is mostly based on guitars and other string instruments. The music is often lively and upbeat, perfect for dancing.


Mindanao, the southernmost island group of the Philippines, is home to a diverse range of cultures and musical traditions. Muslim influence in the region can be traced back to the 14th century, and this is reflected in the music of the Maranao people, who make up a large part of Mindanao’s Muslim population. The maranao kulintang ensemble is a key part of Maranao culture, and kulintang music is characterized by its use of gongs.

The majority of Mindanao’s Christian population are members of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), and their music is heavily influenced by Spanish colonial traditions. IFI church music includes a wide range of styles, from traditional liturgical pieces to popular folk songs.

There are also a number of indigenous groups in Mindanao, such as the Lumad people. Lumad music is often characterized by its use ofOf particular interest are the indigenous groups known as he Maragtas peoples. They have their own variety distinct from other Igorot groups in terms of instrumentation and vocalization.”

Notable folk music artists

Philippine folk music has undergone several changes throughout its history. Early folk music was primarily influenced by Spanish and Mexican music. Later on, American and Filipino pop music also had an impact on folk music. Some notable folk music artists include Asin, Jose Mari Chan, and Freddie Aguilar.


Asin is a Filipino rock band formed in Manila, Philippines in 1988. The band is composed of Mike Villegas, Ligaya Francisco, Jeff Altura, and Cris Villena. Asin’s musical style is rooted in traditional Filipino folk music, with influences from rock and roll, jazz, and blues. The band is known for their hit song “Tayo’y Mga Pinoy”, which became an anthem for the 1986 Philippine Revolution. Asin has released eight studio albums, four live albums, and two compilation albums.

The band was formed in 1988 by friends Mike Villegas (vocals/guitar), Ligaya Francisco (vocals/bass), Jeff Altura (drums), and Cris Villena (percussion). The band’s name comes from the Tagalog word for “rock”. Asin was one of the first Filipino bands to gain national prominence after the 1986 Philippine Revolution. Their debut album, Magasin (1988), was a critical and commercial success, selling over half a million copies in the Philippines. The album’s lead single, “Tayo’y Mga Pinoy”, became an anthem for the revolutionaries and secured Asin’s place in Philippine music history.

Asin has since released eight studio albums, four live albums, and two compilation albums. They have won numerous awards and accolades, including the Philippine Association of the Record Industry Awards for Album of the Year ( three times) and Best Folk Album (seven times). In 2003, Asin was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

Hezie the band

Hezie the band is a 5-piece band from Cebu, Philippines. They are a notable band in the Philippine music scene, and they have been playing music together for over 10 years. Hezie the band is known for their unique style of blending traditional Filipino folk music with modern pop and rock sensibilities. Their music is often described as “catchy” and “energetic”, and their live performances are said to be “electrifying”. Hezie the band has released two studio albums, and their latest album, “Hezie the band III”, was released in 2016.

Philippine folk music today

Philippine folk music has undergone a long and rich history, shaped by various influences from around the world. Today, it is an integral part of the country’s musical heritage and continues to evolve in the modern age. In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of Philippine folk music and how it has changed over time.


Folk music has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years, thanks in part to shows like The Voice and American Idol. But what exactly is folk music? In its broadest sense, folk music includes traditional songs and dances that reflect the cultures of a certain region or group of people.

Philippine folk music is no exception. There are many different types of folk songs in the Philippines, each with its own history and meaning. Some of the most popular Philippine folk songs include the kundiman, a love song that originated in the 19th century; the balitaw, a dance song from the Visayas region; and the kakaw, a ceremonial dance song from Mindanao.

In recent years, Philippine folk music has seen something of a renaissance, thanks to the efforts of musicians like Noel Cabangon and Joey Ayala. These artists have popularized folk music among a new generation of Filipinos, helping to keep our traditions alive.


Philippine folk music has been influenced by centuries of foreign occupation and modernization. The music of the Philippines is a mixture of different cultures, with influences from Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

The most significant Asian influence on Philippine music is from Hinduism, which was brought to the Philippines by Indian traders. This can be seen in the musical styles of the kundiman and balitaw. Other Asian influences include Islamic music, which was brought to the Philippines by Muslim traders, and Chinese music, which was brought to the Philippines by Chinese immigrants.

The Spanish colonization of the Philippines began in the 16th century, and Spanish culture had a major impact on Philippine music. The Spaniards introduced new instruments such as the guitar and new musical styles such as the zarzuela. Philippine folk music also absorbed elements from European folk music, such as’ ‘,, ballads,, monologues,, and love songs.

The American colonization of the Philippines began in 1898, and American culture also had a significant impact on Philippine music. American pop culture was introduced to the Philippines through movies, radio, and television. Popular American genres such as jazz and rock ‘n’ roll were also adopted by Filipino musicians.

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