What Kulintang Music Is

Kulintang music is a diverse music played by a wide variety of Filipino cultures on the traditional kulintang instruments of the Philippines.  Typically, these instruments are played in an ensemble of knobbed metal (bronze or brass or steel) gongs.  The music can also be played on traditional wood and bamboo instruments.

Initially, the metal instruments were acquired in trade, and then were manufactured in Mindanao foundries using ore obtained from Borneo (Indonesia).  Historically, once the metal instruments were acquired, the pre-existing music of the Philippines (traditional chanting, vocal music, and boat-lute music) was transferred to the gong ensemble.  Cultural groups which have their own versions or styles of kulintang music include the Maguindanao and Maranao, the Tausug and Sama, the Tboli, the Blaan, the Manobo and the Bagobo, among others.

Kulintang Music of the Maguindanoan People

The most notable, highly recognized, award-winning Filipino American kulintang artist and teacher was Danongan “Danny” Kalanduyan (c. 1940-2016), a man whose Maguindanaon ancestry is well known.

Because of Danny Kalanduyan’s decades of influence in North America, the Dulawan school of Maguindanaon kulintang music is the best known form of Philippine kulintang music in the United States and in Canada, and it is the type of kulintang music that is most frequently performed by North Americans.

Among the many Maguindanaon instrumental music forms, kulintang music is the most frequently performed:

The kulintang instrument is a set of eight small bossed (or knobbed) bronze or brass gongs in graduated sizes, horizontally laid on a rack called antangan (from antang, “to arrange”).  They are played with soft sticks carved from the Maguindanaon tropical wood varieties known as “tamnag” or “alm.”

In ancient Maguindanaon culture, the kulintang instrument was traditionally played by women, and the agung (large hanging kettle gong) was traditionally played by men.

The term “kulintang” refers to the main melody instrument, and also refers to the entire traditional music ensemble within which the kulintang instrument belongs.

In the Philippines, outside the specific cultural areas where kulintang music is traditionally played (Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, and Taguig (MetroManila)), kulintang music is poorly understood.  The music is even more poorly understood outside of the Philippines.

What Kulintang Music is Not

Kulintang Music is not a religious music.  Kulintang Music has nothing to do with any religion.

Long ago, the then-existing Spanish administration in the Philippines misnamed this music as “Muslim Music” although this music, which pre-dates the arrival of any foreign religion to the Philippines, has absolutely nothing to do with Islam or any religion.  This mislabeling was a strategic political act by the Spanish.

The intentional misidentification of kulintang music by the Spanish authorities achieved two purposes:

First, it created the now-prevalent and erroneous belief in many areas of the Philippines that this music is not “really” music of the Philippines.  The Spanish had conquered the populations in the north and central Philippines, but not in the south.  Solidarity was the last thing the Spanish wanted to see between the conquered peoples and the unconquered cultural groups of the southern Philippines.  To misidentify this music as “not Filipino” was intended to deter the conquered Filipinos from valuing this ancient and beautiful music as their own.

Second, by linking this indigenous music to Islam, a religion banned by the Spanish, the incorrect name successfully warned the conquered peoples of the Philippines that this music was not acceptable to the Spanish administration.  The political motivations behind this misidentification of the music also created an instant aversion to practitioners of the music, whether those practitioners were Muslim or Christian or animist.  The Spanish administration encouraged Christian Filipinos to reject this indigenous music without regard to the actual religion practiced by any particular group of kulintang musicians.

History shows that Spanish invaders destroyed all indigenous cultures wherever they went, whether in North America, Central America, South America, or the Philippines.  While the Spanish could not destroy the cultural heritage of kulintang music among the unconquered peoples of the southern Philippines, deliberately mislabeling the music was a successful approach to preventing the conquered peoples of the Philippines from having anything to do with this Philippine cultural heritage.

Calling kulintang music “Muslim Music” is the equivalent of calling Spanish guitar music or Philippine rondalla music “Catholic Music.”   Such misidentification is derogatory and highly offensive.

Not only is labeling this indigenous music as “Muslim Music” absolutely inaccurate and misleading, it is unjust and unfair.

It is an injustice to the traditional practitioners and culture bearers of this ancient indigenous music, no matter their religious beliefs or preferences.  It is an insult to their cultural heritage, to attribute this music to a foreign source.

It is an injustice to all Filipinos because this beautiful and fascinating music should be properly attributed to the ancient Filipinos, a legacy of the ancestors who created this music .

Kulintang music is an international cultural treasure and historical resource.  This music is for the world to enjoy, should not be dismissed and ignored by incorrectly labeling it as a tradition only to be enjoyed or understood in connection with any religion.

Traditional Kulintang Music is not gamelan music.

In the latter part of the 20th century, modern music compositions played on traditional kulintang instruments by academics in the northern Philippines were given a newly-coined name: Philippine gamelan music.

Gamelan music is an ensemble music that is indigenous to the islands of Indonesia.  Indigenous Philippine kulintang music is not gamelan music, and there is no indigenous Philippine gamelan music.

Modern “Philippine gamelan” music was imagined and created in academia.  It does not have the benefit of hundreds of years of refinement, nor is it the music of Philippine ancestors.

Modern “Philippine gamelan” music style was created to satisfy the limited need of academics to use traditional kulintang instruments in a performance setting, without having to research, study, learn, practice, or perform traditional kulintang music of the Philippines.

Click on the links below to learn more:

Archive: The Instruments – brief definitions of the instruments involved in the kulintang ensemble.

Archive: Photos – pictures from performances or other events in the late 1990s and early 2000s.