Looking Back: Music’s Role in Our History

The crowd waits in anticipation. You can feel it in the room; a heavy aura of silence born from excitement hanging over them. Freddie Aguilar moves his hand to strum his guitar and sings the first verse of “Anak.’ The crowd goes wild, enchanted by the rhythmic melodies and nostalgia they feel. They share in the message that the song conveys. As one of the most enduring aspects of our common history, music has had an influential place in our lives and serves as a window to our past.

Music throughout the history of the Philippines was a reflection of the times. During the pre-colonial era, indigenous Filipinos often used music and dance in tandem with relevant aspects of their life, including work songs, rituals for good harvest, and “harana,” a courtship ritual. Instruments made of wood, bronze, and bamboo, such as the babandil and kulintang, were commonly used. Despite a lack of written records regarding the ancient history of indigenous music, these instruments remain in use by the different indigenous communities of the Philippines. 

When the Spaniards colonised the Philippines, there was an introduction of music tied to the Catholic Church in Europe, with secular music seeing a Hispanic blend. The colonization of the Philippines came with dissent and revolutionary sentiment, which was infused into folk songs popular during that time such as “Jocelynang Baliwang” and “Bayan Ko.” Eventually, the Americans came, injecting pop, blues, and other American genres into local folk songs. 

During the American occupation of the Philippines, music has also taken a much larger role in society, with its inclusion into the public school curriculum, breeding a new generation of musicians influencing the Philippines’ classical music. Instrumental ensembles like bands and rondallas (a stringed instrument ensemble) have also taken root and flourished during this time, paving the way to the establishment of household staples like ‘APO Hiking Society’ and ‘Boyfriends’ in the following era. 

Following the events of World War 2 and a period of stability, the country was under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. While there was a period of turbulence, the emergence of Manila Sound, a distinct genre marked by catchy tunes and relatable subject matter, provided Filipinos with an optimistic outlook. 

The emergence of Manila Sound can be attributed to Marcos’ sponsorship. Interestingly, the music had a dual nature during this era. While it was a source for joy, these songs were also used to protest against the Marcos regime. The popularity of Manila Sound, attributed to bands like ‘VST & Co.,’ ‘Hagibis,’ and ‘Hotdog,’ led to the future popularity of ‘Original Pinoy Music.’ 

As a result of years of lasting colonial influence and Manila Sound, Original Pinoy Music, commonly called OPM, was born. Tied with the popularisation of the songwriting competition Metro Manila Popular Music Festival (Metropop), OPM reached its peak in the ‘70s with hits like ‘Anak’ propelling it to national prominence. Despite OPM being centered in Metro Manila’s Tagalog-English taste, the wave of popularity associated with it led to the rising relevance of Filipino languages like Ilokano and Bisaya in more regional areas. Not only that, OPM spawned a wide variety of local genres still enjoyed up to today, including folk rock, punk rock, death metal, alternative music, and more in succeeding decades. These successes were led by cultural icons such as ‘The Dawn,’ ‘Kamikazee,’ and ‘IV of Spades.’

By the 2000s, however, OPM slowly faded into obscurity. Local tastes have shifted to a more foriegn oriented playlist, with Korean Pop, Electronic Dance Music, and Country taking over the local charts. Starting from a commanding presence in the Philippines, OPM eventually receded to the background. The reason behind the lack of popularity seems to point towards a popular conviction that foreign music is better, most likely due to foreign music being exported across the globe by easier communication. Furthermore, rampant piracy damaged revenue earned by artists, dampening their ability to produce music.

Now, however, it seems that OPM is making a comeback. Streaming sites support the spread of OPM through their international presence. In the case of the commonly-used Spotify, by collecting OPM music into playlists and promoting it to a youthful audience, it allows a whole new generation of listeners to discover old and new artists. The ease of access and convenience of the platform breathes new life into this revolutionary genre, allowing it to transcend borders and reclaim its position in our national identity. From traditional instruments of the pre-Colonial period, to the Manila Sound of the Marcos era, music has had a rich and storied history and has earned a rightfully influential place in our shared identity.