Monday, June 20, 2011


STRUMMING MY PAIN WITH MY FINGERS. The ubiquitous musical instrument of Kapampangan festivities--the guitar--is toted and played by many Kapampangan music lovers--mamulosa, manarana, mang-gosu. Pampanga's guitar-making industry was started by the Bacanis and then the Lumanogs of Guagua, Pampanga. Ca. 1908.

I learned how to play the guitar when I was about 11 or 12. My elder brother taught me a few chords, using my sister’s beat-up guitar that has seen better days. With just 3 chords (A-E-D), I learned to play the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. Over the next few years, I picked a few more complex chord patterns and learned plucking styles—thanks mainly to Jingle Magazine, the chordbook bible of our 70s teen years. In time, we became a guitar-strumming family—every one of us eight siblings learned to play the instrument in varying degrees of proficiency, making my piano-playing father the odd man out.

The guitar had always been a major part of our musical tradition, starting with the Spanish conquest. There were local stringed predecessors of the guitar: there is the ‘kudyapi’, a 4-stringed instrument used by southern ethnic tribes. In the 1900 Kapampangan zarzuela “Ing Managpe” (The Patcher), author Mariano Proceso Pabalan Byron described an early musical instrument similar to a guitar, called ‘kalaskas’.

The ‘gitara’ became the favored main instrument when one performed ‘harana’, a form of courtship through a musical serenade. Guitar-strumming swains sang to their objects of affection underneath their windows at night, aided by a coterie of instrumentalists. The ‘kundiman’ -- love ballads with musical structures formalized by Francisco Santiago and Nicanor Abelardo (both part-Kapampangans, by the way)-- were sang to the perfect accompaniment of guitars at the turn of the 20th century.

The organization of rondallas (musical bands) made the guitar even more popular with Filipinos. From 1905-13, native string bands like Comparsa Joaquin, Rondalla Apolo and Comparsa Cecilia worked the entertainment circuit, delighting audiences aboard posh American liners with their rousing marches, waltzes, opera pieces as well as kundimans. Even in Bacolor, Orquestra Palma and the David family of musicians--always in demand for social functions and community events--had skilled guitarists in their group.

It is no surprise then that a burgeoning guitar-making industry was started a century ago, in Guagua, along Tramo St. in barangay San Anton. A certain Matuang Bacani is credited for making the first commercially-sold guitars in the area. A local story goes that the old Bacani found an old Spanish guitar discarded in the river near Tramo. He dismantled the unit, studied the parts and reconstructed his own version using available wood and local milk-based glue. Pleased with the result, he replicated more acoustic guitar pieces and were then peddled successfully in Macabebe, Bacolor and San Fernando.

Angel Lumanog, a son-in-law of the old Bacani, took over the fledgling industry , growing the business through the coming decades. The six-string Lumanogs were all the rage in the 70s and 80s and today, the name “Lumanog” and “Bacani” are synonymous to quality Pampanga guitars, holding their own against Gibsons, Yamahas and Fenders. Lumanog Guitar Shops have branches in Pampanga and Manila, while most established music shops carry the Lumanog guitar brand in their inventory.

Proof that guitar-making was an established industry in the province since the early 20th century is the existence of Kapampangan terms for guitar parts. The head which contains the pegs (durutan) is called ‘cabesa’. The frets are called ‘tarasti’, the neck ‘manggu’, held in place by a heel-like wood support called ‘arung-arung’. The ‘caja’ (body) , attached to the ‘dalig’ (rib), is reinforced by ‘pileti’ (lining). On the soundboard, one can find the ‘puenti’ (bridge for the strings) as well as the ‘roseta’ (guitar hole).

Standard guitars are made from hardwoods like apitong and tanguili, but cheaper ones are also made from palo de tsina. The guitar has been modified, innovated on and deconstructed to suit the changing times. The bajo de uñas is a 4-stringed bass guitar of Filipino design spun-off from the basic guitar. The multi-stringed octavina has the distinct shape of the guitar, and so is the smaller ukulele. Bandurias, mandolinas, laud, mandolas—all these are stringed instruments that resonate with the same acoustic feel as the gitara. More contempary are acoustic guitars outfitted with ‘pick-ups’ that can be hooked to sound systems as well as electric guitars for rock ‘n rollers.

The comeback of Kapampangan folksingers and their acoustic music has assured the continuance of the guitar music tradition in the province. Not even high-tech videoke/karaoke can match the thrill of spontaneous sing-along with just “a gitara, a barkada and Ginebra”. Modern-day minstrels like Totoy Bato, Bong Manalo to folk legend Ysagani Ybarra and new campus discoveries Jesileo, are jamming and strumming their guitars to the beat of their song-stories, reminiscent of the pulosadors and manaranas of old, who could literally pull heartstrings with, what else-- guitar strings!

(Many thanks to Joel Pabustan Mallari for information on our local guitar industry. His feature about our Kapampangan guitar tradition appears on Singsing Magazine)

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