Pre-Colonial Instruments: Kulintang & Kutiyapi

November 11, 2009

There’s no doubt that music is a huge part of the Philippine culture.

Lyrically, rhythmically, and spiritually the Philippine people indulge themselves in music every day. From playing an instrument to singing in a choir, Filipino folks are down with music in every way. It doesn’t matter what genre it is or what time period it’s from, Filipinos tend to gravitate towards the music scene. From pre-colonial times to the present, Philippine people have instilled music down to their roots the best they can. For instance, with pre-colonial instruments such as the “kulintang” and the “kudyapi”, it’s clear that Filipino folks have always embraced the art of creating sounds. So when you fast-forward to present day, it’s easy to understand why Filipinos still have a love for making music. I feel it’s been present in our culture from the start.

*click here for the kulintang video.

It all started in the pre-colonial times. One of the first recorded instruments that Filipinos used was the “kulintang” and the “kutiyapi” (kudiyapi). The kulintang is an instrument that’s been played in the regions of Eastern Malay Archipelago, Eastern Indonesia, Malaysia, as well as the Philippines. It’s classified as a percussion instrument since it contains one row of horizontal gongs all varying in size and ranging in sound. The size of the gongs usually starts off small and as you make your way to the end of the row the gongs get bigger. They usually weigh about two to three pounds each. Some are 6-10 inches in diameter and three to five inches in height. The kulintang is usually made of bronze but is now made in brass. This instrument is played with two wooden beaters and with a simple strike on the “bosses of the gongs,” like a drummer, the kulintang player can either make a high or low pitch noise depending on where the gong is hit and what size the gong is. Often times the musician can play the kulintang sitting down or on the floor. Playing this instrument mimics the motion of a drummer. To be more creative, the musician can even change the order of the gongs to vary the pitches. In addition, they can also cross their hands while they play music or even stroke their gong in rapid or fast motion. All of these have been seen among the kulintang players.

*click here for the kutiyapi video.

Another instrument from the pre-colonial times is the “kutiyapi.” It’s a two-stringed instrument that is described as a “fretted boat-lute.” Originally it is the only stringed instrument of the Maguindanao people. It’s four to six feet long instrument that has nine frets that are made of hardened beeswax. It’s an instrument that’s carved out of wood from a jackfruit tree. The way it’s strum is usually with a “kebit” which is a rattan pluck. It mimics the actions of a guitar and often the melody varies within each string plucked. The way it’s played is different ways depending on the region it’s from. For Maguindanao, it is played in a higher pitch scale similar to a “pelog,” an instrument native to Bali while also using the same style as the kulintang. If used in Maranao, melodies are played using “bagu” and “andung” scales used for epic chants.

These are just a few of the instruments that I feel have affected music in the Philippines. From the start to the present, Filipinos have indulged themselves in anything musical. It’s become a clear apart of our culture because I believe we have always found comfort in playing an instrument or singing a song. Today, you can’t go to a Filipino party without having a Magic Mic present. You can’t turn on TFC without somebody singing or dancing to music. Music is a piece of our roots that from the start has influenced us in many ways. Through these next few examiners I will have explored both Filipino and Filipino-American music I’ve collectively discovered. Groups such as Up Dharma Down along with talents such as Charice Pempengco, Geologic, and Apl.de.Ap to exemplify the wide array of musical talent the Philippine culture has birth.

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