Fiesta Filipina,
Music of the Philippines
(ARC, 2002)

Based out of Canada, Fiesta Filipina is trying to share the music and culture of its native land with the rest of the world. Music of the Philippines is an excellent ambassador in that mission. The liner notes provide the essential information for people who may never have heard Philippine music before, with a bit of background on the two main styles. There's a brief note about each tune's background. And then there is the music itself.

The more traditional Music of the Philippines sounds very alien to an ear used to European musical traditions. Based around percussion and rhythm as much as melody, these tunes are an opportunity to reconsider the way music can live. From the opening interlude, "Malong-taghing baila," Fiesta Filipina puts the percussion front and center, and shows a delicacy and nuance with the instruments almost never seen in western traditional music. Philippine music uses a rare meeting of rhythm and percussion instruments to create a surprisingly gentle, unexpected sound. Rather than basic drums, there are bamboo xylophone, multiple gongs, castanets and crashing cymbals. The drum- carried "Vinta" charts a fast boat across the waters on rising waves formed of gongs and kulintang. Even the more pounding, familiarly percussion-led tunes like "Dinuy-ya" and the curving, seductive "Tahing baila (Eel Fish Dance)" are a treat for the new realms they provide.

The other major instrument set displayed here is the rondalla, or string orchestra, a deceptively more familiar sound. The two "Filipinized" Spanish jotas, "Panderettas" and "Jota castanetas," both depend on the rondalla for their light feel, though they are given emphasis and energy by bamboo castanets throughout.

The instruments steal the show in Music of the Philippines, but Fiesta Filipina adds some very nice vocal work to the album that should not be overlooked. "Vinta" would lose much of its force if not for the booming waves of the lead male vocalists and the breaker-wave chants of the chorus. The delicate "Sa Kabukiran" absolutely depends on having a female singer who can capture the essence of a trilling bird without resorting to imitation birdcalls. The "Samapaguita," honoring the national flower, is one of only two English offerings on the album, and the unnamed female vocalist who delivers it has such a distractingly lovely voice I didn't notice I was dealing with my native language again.

Many of these songs are meant to be dances, and the energy and rhythm of the music sketches a tantalizing almost-picture of what those dances must be like to witness. "Ka-Singkil" tells of the courtship of a Muslim prince and princess in hesitant, tiptoe rushes of drums and hands, building up to a forceful encounter. The "Tinikling ha bayo" is a much slower dance than expected for a bird-catching routine, but the farmers can be heard, stomping about and clapping a work rhythm for this difficult task. "Malong" is the most frustrating of the invisible dances. Meant to have Filipino women showing uses for their traditional clothing, the tune alone sounds like a great epic drama in the making. Since it's unlikely there's an epic drama about wearing clothes, the imposing drums and gongs and delicate meshing of rhythms must be an echo of the unseen dancers.

Fiesta Filipina has been generous with their efforts on Music of the Philipines. The album is 19 tracks long, performed with great energy and a bright enthusiasm that comes through in every beat. And it leaves me wanting to know more about the culture, the people and the tradition behind it. Which is exactly what this ambassador set out to do.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 2 August 2003

Buy it from