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Reviewed by:
  • Kulintang: Gong Music from Mindanao in the Southern Philippines (2011, 23 minutes) and Maranao Culture at Home and in the Diaspora (2012, 33 minutes)
  • Mary Talusan (bio)
Kulintang: Gong Music from Mindanao in the Southern Philippines (2011, 23 minutes) and Maranao Culture at Home and in the Diaspora (2012, 33 minutes). Usopay H. Cadar and Yoshitaka Terada. Two related, documentary videos by the National Museum of Ethnology, Japan. Narrated in English and translated into the Maranao language on separate DVDs. Borrow the DVDs free of charge from the museum for educational and research purposes.

The films contextualize kulintang music of the Maranao, the Philippines’ largest Muslim minority group, with differing degrees of emphasis. Kulintang: Gong Music from Mindanao in the Southern Philippines focuses on music making by including six complete kulintang performances to demonstrate a variety of styles. Maranao Culture at Home and in the Diaspora presents kulintang music as one facet in a myriad of traditions slowly fading in the modernizing of lives of the Maranao. I review both films together since they utilize some of the same footage from a single research trip in March 2008 by Usopay H. Cadar, a native Maranao, and Yoshitaka Terada, a professor in the Department of Advanced Studies in Anthropology at the National Museum of Ethnology. Both men received their PhDs in ethnomusicology from the University of Washington.

Kulintang: Gong Music from Mindanao in the Southern Philippines provides a rare glimpse into the context of kulintang music, an indigenous gong-drum ensemble of the Maranao people. Kulintang music was introduced to the world by the Bayanihan, the national folk-dance company of the Philippines, in their signature dance called the Singkil. However, Maranao culture and the people themselves are less familiar even to most Filipinos. Cadar, as both a cultural insider and an American-trained ethnomusicologist, has a unique voice and perspective in the dissemination of knowledge about Maranao culture in general and kulintang music in particular. In several articles, Cadar (1970, 1996) has voiced concerns over the cultural appropriation of Maranao traditions by the Philippine government and academe.

Cadar narrates the film, which begins in his hometown of Taraka, a small village along the shores of beautiful Lake Lanao. As a kulintang ensemble sets up, he explains various contexts for kulintang music, such as celebrations, [End Page 135] life rituals, and courtship. As an elderly woman plays an energetic piece that moves up and down the kulintang’s range of eight gongs, Cadar accompanies her on a drum called daedebowan. Each musical performance in the film is interspersed with panoramic shots of serene Lake Lanao, underscoring to the viewer how intimately tied the music is to the Maranao homeland.

Despite the lake’s serenity, Mindanao’s turbulent political history profoundly impacts Maranao music making. While the great battle between Muslim separatist forces and Marcos’s martial law government took place during the 1970s, the southern Philippines still experiences political instability because of poverty and territorial disputes. There is still much violence due to in-fighting between drug cartels, banditry, and unregulated firearms in the countryside. When people flee rural areas for relatively safer urban settlements on the lake, village communities disperse and with them distinctive styles of kulintang playing.

This film will be valuable to any course that seeks to feature an indigenous music culture of the Philippines. It provides adequate historical background and contemporary contexts while documenting the distinctive playing styles of several kulintang performers. However, more information could have been provided about the types of pieces they are playing and the distinct styles they represent. For example, in the second performance of the film, a younger woman plays faster and more rhythmically than the first player, but it is not clear if this woman’s playing style is characteristic of a particular village or representative of the type of piece being played. Later, an informative scene provides the names of each instrument with an explanation of its role in the ensemble. The two large hanging gongs (agong) support the melody of the kulintang with interlocking rhythms while a medium-sized gong (babndir) provides a rhythmic reference for the ensemble. The goblet-shaped...


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