- Title: PHILIPPINES: Filipinos dance to the bamboo beat
- Date: 21st June 2008
- Summary: (L!2) BULACAN PROVINCE, PHILIPPINES (RECENT) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (Filipino) TEOFILO MAGAT, BAMBOO INSTRUMENT CRAFTSMAN, SAYING: "If you try to make brass musicians play bamboo instruments, you'll find out that they often can't, because they're too accustomed to blowing air in producing their music. They don't realize that if you can't sing well, then you'll have a hard time learning to play bamboo."
- Embargoed: 6th July 2008 13:00
- Location: Philippines
- Country: Philippines
- Topics: Arts / Culture / Entertainment / Showbiz
- Reuters ID: LVA3D0WZWZ4UETJZCS2MAVUHMOYS
- Story Text: The Philippines has long had a soft and creative spot when it comes to music. Ample evidence of this affinity for melody can be found in the capital of Manila and its surroundings. But, instead of blaring rock or soulful pop vocals popular with today's youngsters, the bands colloquially known as "musikong bumbong" fascinate audiences with soothing tunes from instruments fashioned entirely out of bamboo.
The "musikong bumbong" bands, literally "bamboo music" in Filipino, employ and even craft their own bamboo versions of instruments such as piccolos, tubas, clarinets, flutes, and saxophones.
"I pray that God would give me more years to my life, because I really love what I do. I even left my former means of livelihood just so I can continue playing in the band, with or without pay," said Lorenzo Calimlim, still an active third-generation member of the bamboo band of Manila's flood-prone Malabon district. He even participates in the carving and construction of bamboo instruments despite his advanced age of 79.
The first of their kind trace their roots to as far back as the Philippine Revolution in the closing years of the 19th century -- an era of Filipinos fighting for independence from the Spanish colonial regime.
The current members of Malabon district's bamboo band, from which the term "musikong bumbong" originated, are descendants of Filipino revolutionaries. Formed in 1896, the first bamboo band in the Philippines was composed of freedom fighters who performed patriotic musical pieces during the meetings of the "Katipunan" revolutionary organisation.
Gilbert Ramos, a fourth-generation member, manages and conducts the Malabon district's band. Descendant of one of the bamboo band's founders, Ramos, said that their band is a tradition that has endured for over a century.
"As a descendant of a revolutionary and a musician, we continue to play because of a promise, a vow that even though our ancestors have passed away, we will keep alive the bamboo music left behind by those that came before us," said Ramos.
Bands using bamboo instruments often perform as marching bands for events as varied as town festivals, visits by local officials and foreign dignitaries, concerts, and cultural shows. As the decades marched on since its birth, "musikong bumbong" has evolved into a generic term for bands using bamboo instruments, as well as flourishing in different paths and places in the Philippines.
But Calimlim and Ramos will not have to wait long and look far for youngsters continuing and adding to the tradition. The Banda Kawayan (Filipino for "Bamboo Band") of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines is made up of students performing bamboo versions of native and modern music alike for national and international conferences and contests.
Banda Kawayan does not limit itself to merely performing music, as the members engage in dancing while playing their music and carrying their instruments with them.
Band director Siegfredo Calabig says that while the instruments are not as expensive as their brass counterparts, bamboo instruments are more than a match for brass when it comes to the quality of music.
"The instruments used by marching bands and orchestras are very expensive. For instance, even a low-end French horn used by a brass band can already cost you 30 thousand pesos. Whereas even if you have only 10 pesos worth of bamboo, you can already emulate the sound of the French horn. Bamboo is very flexible and cheap," said Calabig.
Bamboo instrument craftsman Teofilo Magat agrees with the sentiment.
He also says that a different set of skills is required to play bamboo music.
Instead of the gradations of blowing required to produce music in brass instruments, the ability to sing is a prerequisite to play bamboo instruments.
He explains that bamboo gives its characteristic resonant tone to human voices rather than to blown air.
"If you try to make brass musicians play bamboo instruments, you'll find out that they often can't, because they're too accustomed to blowing air in producing their music. They don't realize that if you can't sing well, then you'll have a hard time learning to play bamboo," said Magat.
Banda Kawayan's young musicians cum students feel that looking forward and exploring new musical forms and combinations is the best way to honour the century-old legacy of bamboo music.
"Teenagers nowadays are more exposed to modern music, to those that they say as having four chords, to those that are repetitive. But here in the band, we have got to learn and recognise a lot of songs, different genres.
Cha-cha, rumba, and the like. We're very grateful that we're here," said Marianne Enriquez, who has been playing for Banda Kawayan since 2003.
Whether the "musikang bumbong" bands will prove to be flexible, versatile, and enduring -- qualities of the tree-like bamboo -- in the ages to come is an open question. But until then, the bands will continue to enthrall their audiences with their bamboo instruments' resonating tunes.
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