Sunday, February 1, 2009


STRUMMING MY PAIN WITH HIS FINGERS. Kapampangan matinee idol Jaime de la Rosa serenades the object of his affection, Rosa del Rosario (herself, part Kapampangan) in this publicity shot from a postwar movie.

The love of music is inherent in Filipinos and leading the way are Kapampangan singers who have won national singing tilts and earned international plaudits for their talents through the years: Tawag ng Tanghalan champion Cenon Lagman, Flor de Jesus “Joni James of the Philippines”, classical pianist Cecile Licad and Broadway and West End Star Lea Salonga, just to name a few. I wouldn’t be surprised if these premiere artists learned their first songs on the knees of their parents, who in turn, learned them from tradition.

Indeed, Kapampangan music is rich with songs that cover almost all life themes and human emotions—from paeans to a beloved, odes to heroes, laments of hopes lost to the exuberant tunes celebrating the joys and follies of youth. Our ancestors knew how to work hard and play hard—and this is reflected in the first folk songs they composed—the ‘basultu’—often with a comic or allegorical theme. Early examples include “O Caca, O Caca” and the quintessential Kapampangan song, “Atin Ku Pung Singsing”. Basultus often engage the listener by directly addressing him with his name. Of late, basultus are being popularized by Kapampangan folk minstrels led by the late Ruth Lobo, Pusoy Dos and Totoy Bato.

Occupational songs were sung to ease the drudgery of hard work. Most were about farming, the primary livelihood of Kapampangans. “Tatanam e Bibiru” (local version of “Magtanim ay di Biro”), “Ortelanung Alang Pansin” (A Farmer Ignored) are examples. Not just songs but dances were performed during harvest season. “Katlu” is a ritual dance done to the rhythm of pounding pestles and mortars.

Juvenile songs are the fun, innocent songs of childhood. Sung or chanted, they were made to accompany a game (“Sisingle, sisingle, dakal lang anak single..”), or to just while away the hours (“One-two, batu, three-four, bapor..”). Cumulative songs and nonsense rhymes fall into this category.

When evening falls, Mothers lull their babes to sleep by singing ‘tumayla’ or a ‘bingkayu’—a lullaby. It is also at this time of the day that enamored swains take out their guitars to serenade their loved ones—‘arana’—lyrical songs of romance. The gentle kundiman is a favorite arana song, what with its flowing rhythm and poetic lyrics that extoll the virtues of a beloved or that describe the intensity of one’s passion.

Another song type has more recent origins. Revolutionary and patriotic songs came to fore during the rise of the Huk Movement in the 1950s. These protest songs addressed various social and political issues—from inequality, poverty to the presence of military bases in the country. Stirring, bold and controversial, they were often penned by anonymous composers. In contrast, ‘lawiwing pambalen’ or town anthems were designed to instill a sense of local pride and identity. San Fernando, Mabalacat and Minalin are but a few towns with their own ‘imnu’ (hymn).

Today, our forebears’ musical legacy lives on in these ditties that we still sing today. These songs will always strike a chord in our Kapampangan hearts—every time we sing them in school, on stage or even in a karaoke bar.

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