by Jonas Baes
A Southeast Asian Musical Tradition is practiced by those who resisted Spanish—and later American—Colonial Rule, comprising roughly 10% of the Philippine population. These musical traditions relate to the social, political and economic life of the people, and are connected to their spiritual beliefs and their relationship to the natural environment.
Generally, two "types" of Southeast Asian music could be found in the archipelago. A "northern tradition" found in the Cordillera Mountains in northern Luzon and a "southern tradition" found in the islands of Mindoro, Palawan, and in Mindanao and the Sulu group of islands in the extreme south. Northern traditions relate to various music cultures in continental Southeast Asia while southern traditions relate to the immediate islands in insular Southeast Asia.
Some of the language groups in the north are the Kalinga, Bontok, Kankana-ey, Ifugao, Isneg, Ibaloi, Ilonggot, Karao, Isneg and the Tingguian. In Mindanao in the south, Islamic groups consist of the Maguindanao, Maranao, Yakan, Sangil, Tausug, Sama, Badjao, and the Jama Mapun. Non-Moslem groups, sometimes referred to collectively by outsiders as Lumads, consist of the Manobo, Bagobo, Subanun, Tiruray, Tagabili, Mandaya, Mansaka, the T’boli and the B’laan. The Pala-wan, Tagbanwa and Cuyunin are located in the island of Palawan, while various groups like the Hanunoo-Mangyan, the Alangan and the Iraya are collectively called the Mangyan and are located in the island of Mindoro, south of Luzon.
Gong types clearly distinguish between northern and southern traditions. Peoples of the Cordillera highlands utilize graduated flat gongs (gangsa) that are played in ensembles of six to eight—or in other cases with other musical instruments like the drum or a pair of iron bars—utilizing a particular musical structure of interlocking patterns. In the island of Mindanao, however, bossed gongs of various profiles are played in ensembles, usually led by a row of gongs (kulintang) and supported or accompanied by other gongs such as, among the Maguindanao, and the Maranao, the agung, the gandingan and the babandil and a drum, the dabakan. Among the Tiruray, the agung ensemble is made up of five individual gongs, each played by one person. Among the Bagobo, these gongs of the agung type called tagunggo are suspended with ropes and played by two, three or more persons. Smaller suspended gongs, on the other hand, are sometimes called kulintang. Bossed gongs are also found in Palawan and in Mindoro.
The flat gong traditions in the north relate to similar traditions found among, for instance, the Mnong Gar of North Vietnam while just the same, similar traditions of bossed gong ensembles in Mindanao are found in the islands of Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Sumatra, and elsewhere in the southern archipelago. In both the northern and southern traditions, however, gongs are associated with important community celebrations such as harvests and rituals.
Aside from gongs, other musical instruments in the north such as nose flutes, bamboo buzzers, clappers, quill-shaped percussion tubes and brass jew’s harps relate to continental Southeast Asia, while ring flutes log drums, xylophones, suspended beams, two-stringed boat lutes and bamboo jew’s harps relate to insular Southeast Asia.
Another feature that delineates between musical traditions is the rhythmic, speech-like enunciation that characterizes the singing style of the north, as contrasted by a more melismatic, long-phrased style in the south. Vocal genres in the north include epics such as the ullalim among the Kalinga and other songs for various occasions and celebrations as the ading and the oggayam. The alisiq is sung for curing the sick while the ibil laments the death of a person. Leader-chorus singing among councils of elders relates to the leadership structure of northern communities. The ayyeng among the Bontok and the Liwliwa among the Kankana-ey exemplify leader-chorus type of singing.
In the south, the use of a tense, high-pitched style with complex melismas characterizes solo singing among the Moslem groups. This style is used in the singing of epics such as the Radya Indara Patra and the Diwata Kasalipan among the Maguindanao, the bayok a love song among the Maguindanao and the Maranao, and the Tausug lugu, a solo song sung in Arabic, mostly by women, for important Islamic ceremonies. A more "relaxed" style in the natural speaking range with less melisma is used by non-Moslem groups. Among the Manobo, for instance, singing is accompanied by a two-stringed boat lute and/or a bamboo polychordal zither.
Aside from the northern and southern linguistic groups, the Ayta is found in many parts in the entire archipelago. Having been traditionally mobile, these groups of Filipino appear to have syncretized their culture with proximal cultures. For instance, Ayta groups in northern Luzon utilize a flat gong they refer to as gangha.
While the music of these peoples relate very much to their social and natural environment, their continuous absorption into the mainstream Philippine culture seems to pose a threat to their survival and the cultivation of their culture.
About the Author:
Jonas Baes has done research on the Iraya-Mangyan music of Mindoro which has been published in journals such as "Ethnomusicology" and the "International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music". He teaches at the Asian Institute for Liturgy and Music, the Philippine High School for the Arts, and the University of the Philippines.