Of all the countries in the Asia and Oceania regions, the Philippines have had one of the most war-torn and bloody histories. After three hundred years of Spanish rule, and half a century in American rule one does not find the original Philippine culture but instead a new culture, with new customs, religions and music. Instead of finding their traditional native instruments there are now “guitars and other string instruments, brass instruments and a few remaining harps and flutes, also of Western origin. (Maceda vii) That is not to say that all native music has been lost, the indigenous music culture has been preserved by small isolated tribes, but they represent less than ten percent of the Filipino population. Although much indigenous music was nearly washed out because of centuries under colonial rule, the “emotion and passion of the Filipino spirit in their music is still evident. ” (O’ Brein 12) How is it that over ninety percent of a country has forgotten its native music and how integral it used to play a part in their ancient culture?
The first and primary issue is that the country had been divided until Spanish rule; Over 180 native languages and dialects are spoken in the Philippines, proof of the diversity of the native Filipinos. (Maceda xi) Because of the many different tribes in the Philippines the Spanish fought for many years to unite them under their rule and in the process forced their style of music on to the Philippines which eventually took over the native music. The introduction of the television and radio by the United States acted as the final factor in the permanent status of Western style music in the Philippines.
Corazon Canave-Dioquino, in her article “Philippine Music, A Historical Overview,” separates the history of Filipino music into three traditions: Indigenous, Spanish-European Influenced, and American Influenced. This paper will discuss how the Filipinos used westernized music to invent their own style of rock n’ roll called Pinoy rock, which has become internationally acclaimed genre. Some of the artists have even won awards in the United States. (MTV) Nowadays Filipinos turn to music typically for leisure.
Most social gatherings involve a guitarist while the others sing along to either popular American or Filipino songs. Karaoke has become an integral part of the Philippine culture. The television stations there more than illustrate this: At any given moment, one can watch either a vocal competition or a variety show where Filipinos sing current American hits. One show, called Pinoy Pop Star is the Filipino version of American Idol, but it uses mostly American tunes. Also, there is an increase in the number of Filipino singers immigrating to Japan other countries in Asia to spread their music there.
Because of their skills of mimicking American popular music, Filipino musicians are wanted out all over Asia (Maceda 133). This tradition of “copying” or using westernized genres stems from the arrival Spanish and the subsequent colonization of the Philippine Islands. A popular and successful American rock band named Journey, after losing their lead singer, held a worldwide competition to find a new one and a young man from the Philippines won and now currently tours with the band.
In order to determine how Pinoy Rock became what it is today, we must first discuss the indigenous Filipino music as its roots show how the Filipinos were able to adapt to Western music so easily. The Philippines is an archipelago composed of 7,117 islands located in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. (Igncaio, 14) The original settlers of the Philippines were said to be nomadic migrating people, and since then many other nationalities migrated to there. Because of its scattered geography the inhabitants of the land have also been scattered, creating many different and unique cultures.
Each one of those cultures has created a unique style of music personal to their customs and lifestyles. To sum up the general sound of the indigenous music Jose Maceda describes it as: Their aesthetics cover the metallic sounds of gongs struck with sticks, the almost inaudible twang of the jaw harps, the incessant repetition of drum parts of a drum and gongs in a gong ensemble, the repetitive singing of psalm-like recitations, the poised intonation of an epic singer as he describes the actions of his characters, as well as the high pitched melismatic singing of the metaphorical songs. vii Gongs and Bamboo) Of course this is only from when recorded history of the indigenous music was made, which was when Spain’s explorer Magellan first arrived in the Philippines in 1521. (Maceda 4) Dissecting Maceda’s description of the music, one sees that it is heavy in the percussion section; many groups would be gongs only. Most instruments used in the indigenous music came from other countries: the gongs originated from Chinese tradesmen living in the northern Philippines and the jaw harp from the countries north of the Philippines. (Malm 37) The Filipinos though, take the instruments and change them into their own style of music.
Gongs were usually played in some sort of xylophone fashion, either hanging in the air or flat on a table. (Maceda) It is here that the Filipinos first show that they can adapt any other culture’s musical influence and incorporate their own style into it. Each native tribe had their own personalized songs, but there were three main types: “the lullaby, occupational songs, and occasional songs. ” (O’Brein 3) Occupational songs were often heard in the rice fields, and used to pray for good fortune, to heal the ill, and pray for a good harvest. Occasional songs are associated with the cycle of life: birth, marriage, and death. Maceda 31) Many indigenous songs also dealt with love and loss, two prominent themes in Western music. However, because of colonization and the impact of the Spanish tradition, most of these songs have disappeared. Music in the Philippines used to be a strong and influential aspect of Filipino daily life, until the Spanish arrived. Although this essay focuses more on the American influence, their influence was only made possible by the Spanish influence that had previously occurred. O’ Brein states it best in her article by saying, “Spain conquered more than just land when they colonized the Philippine islands.
They also imposed their own culture, religion and politics. ” (O Brien 12) The Spaniards essentially set up the Philippines into Mexican style towns and through their priests and churches introduced European style music and instruments (Malm 38). Beginning in 1565 until the Spanish-American War in 1898, Filipinos were unable to perform their own traditional music and ultimately the Catholic Church transformed traditional folk music and insert Christian symbols. (O Brein 12) Soon string instruments, most notably the guitar, and brass were being used in all Filipino music.
The rondalla was the most popular example; it is patterned after classic Spanish plucked string ensemble. (Malm 38) This direct Spanish influence of Filipino music and lifestyle would last until the United States gained control of the country. Even though America did not plan to transform the Philippine’s culture and establish their own culture as the dominate, like the Spanish did, the result of their occupation ended the same. The United States never pushed nor forced the Filipinos to change their style of music into a more American one, but it is because of the similarities between the indigenous songs and American songs that it happened.
In fact, it is a unique expression in Asia of a people who, through its folk music sung, played and composed in hundreds of villages and towns in most parts of the Philippines, have demonstrated a complete understating of the idioms, feelings, and symbolisms that fundamental elements of Westerns music convey. (Maceda vii) As Jose Maceda says, it is because of the indigenous songs of the Philippines that the Filipinos were able to adapt to Westernized music easier than any other Asian culture.
Maceda, a native Filipino himself, says that any Filipino can follow a change in music preference from native to modern popular songs which “speak in a similar vein, equally understood by a public acculturated to principles of Western musical expression. ” (Maceda vii) Even though there are very few records of the indigenous music prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the songs of the indigenous music must have shared similar themes and symbols with Western style music.
Of course throughout the Philippine’s history since the Spain’s arrival many historians and people who have had contact with the Filipinos have all said how easy it is for the Filipinos to mimic art. Friar Joaquin Martinez de Zuniga, one of the original Spaniards to see the Philippines, said in his notes from 1790; “Aprenden con facilidad qualquier arte, y con la misma imitan qualquier obra que sse les pone delante “ (They easily learn any art and with equal facility can imitate anything put before them). Corazon 126) So because of their similar themes and symbols in their indigenous music and their apparent talent of mimicking any form of art, the Filipinos were a natural fit in adapting to American music styles when the United States entered the country. The popularity of American rock’n roll, pop music and dance comprise what is Pinoy today. The entrance of America ultimately changed the music scene in the Philippines as it did everything else. The American influence era started after the Spanish-American war.
Spain eventually lost to the United States and the Treaty of Versailles was signed, which not only made the Philippines the first Asian democratic government, but at the same time it ceded the legal rights of the Philippines from Spain to the United States. (Malm 38) The Philippines went from the rule of one country to another. The difference this time was that the United States was out to make it a functioning democratic country, not a colony. (Ignacio 56) The biggest contribution of the American influence era was the establishment of music as part of the educational national curriculum. Corazon 126) Filipino students in public schools now learn vocal and instrumental performance and composition. (Corazon 126) Because of American occupation in the Philippines, the American culture started to spread. “It is not only that American films, canned TV programs, music, comics, and popular literature are so well entrenched in Philippine life today; but also that Philippine films, TV programs, music, comics and popular literature are so patently built on that American plan…” (Lockard 165) As Lockard says here, the American culture spread to every part of the Philippine culture until it took it over.
The first people considered rock stars were merely Filipinos covering American rock; they had artists who were called “Elvis Presley of the Philippines” and others who are called by further American artists. (Corazon 130) It was not until the 1970’s that Pinoy was first conceived. Pinoy music was a real attempt to create a Filipino national and popular culture and overcome the image of “escapist Tagalog imitations of U. S. pop music. ” (Lockard 166) In its beginning the Pinoy rock bands followed similar styles to the current British and American rock bands.
It wasn’t until the 80’s that more and more artists started to join in Pinoy rock that it began to take off. A large contributor to its success was the theme of most of the songs; a Filipino world-view. The theme of Pinoy rock is like that of American folk music. (Lockard 166) Most often, these musicians sing about the Filipino identity, or lack of it. They also lament the problems in Philippine society, such as unemployment, prostitution, and poverty, which they saw as a direct relation to effects of their colonialism. (Lockard 166) Through their music, they believe the reality of their hardships is being exposed.
In addition mass mediated Pinoy rock started to emerge, focusing on social concerns in the 1980’s. It was backed up by the increase of student activism and feminism. (Lockard 170) Pinoy rock turned from beginning just a Filipino version of American rock into a full Filipino style of music. Philippine music is unique regardless of its vast influence from Spanish and American music. Rather than completely giving into their ruling country’s culture, Filipinos blended western music with their stories and principles to make an entirely individual music style.
No matter that it started as merely copying Spanish and American styles, since the beginning of Pinoy in the 70’s, it is now unmistakably Filipino. Despite the creation of Pinoy rock in order to establish a true Filipino identity, some still see the need of Western influence to weaken away more. Felipe Padilla de Leon, a Pinoy rock star, even says. “I hope that in due time the enchantment of Western civilization shall gradually wear off and in its place a truly integrated Filipino consciousness will develop. ” (Locakrd 170)
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