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World Music Instrument: The Maguindanaoan Kulintang of the Southern Philippines

A Maguindanaoan kulintang ensemble is a gong-chime collection of instruments important to the musical culture of the Maguindanao people in the Southern Philippines. Kulintang music is used for celebratory occasions such as festivals, weddings, engagement parties, and baptisms, as well as in musical competitions. Certain musical families in the province of Maguindanao specialize in this art form, passing down the tradition from generation to generation, and everyone interested in learning is welcome. Children typically learn through osmosis by observing their elders play at festive occasions. Each kulintang song is family-specific and region-specific, and well-versed musicians can distinguish between regional and family styles of playing. 

Pakaraguian Kulintang Ensemble | Photograph by Ernie Pena

The entire ensemble consists of five percussion instruments played by five musicians at a time.

percussion instruments on wooden rack

Kulintang | Photography by Kingsley Ramos

The main melodic instrument, called the kulintang, consists of eight knobbed bronze gongs that are graduated in pitch. It sits on a wooden stand called an antangan. Each gong is supported by thin cords attached to the antangan, to allow the sound to resonate.
musician and drum

Dabakan | Photography by Kingsley Ramos

The second instrument of the ensemble is the dabakan, a gourd-shaped drum that provides the rhythm to the ensemble. It is typically made from the stump of a palm tree, and the drum head is traditionally fashioned from monitor lizard skin (or sometimes snakeskin). Due to the endangered status of monitor lizards in the Philippines, goatskin is now widely used.

Babandil | Philip Dominguez Mercurio (PhilipDM) Wikimedia Commons

The third instrument is the babandil (also commonly spelled as babandir), the ensemble's timekeeper. It is a medium-sized knobbed gong. The rim of the babandil is tapped with a striker to create the sound.
Hanging gongs

Gandingan | Photography by Kingsley Ramos

The fourth instrument of the ensemble is the gandingan, composed of four hanging gongs also known as the “talking gongs.” Musicians often used the gandingan to send messages, typically romantic, to other players in the ensemble or across distances.
Two musicians with hanging kettle bells

Agung | Photography by Kingsley Ramos

The last instrument of the ensemble is the agung (or agong). These are two very large gongs that provide the bass register to the ensemble.

It is a misconception that kulintang music is Islamic. Islam became the primary religion of the island of Mindanao and the province of Maguindanao in the 14th century, primarily as a result of trade between Muslim Indians, Malaysia, and Mindanao. However, before this time the Maguindanao used kulintang music for animist rituals to appease malignant spirits. 

There are other Filipino ethnolinguistic groups in the Southern Philippines that have their own distinct kulintang traditions. These include the Maranao, Blaan, Tboli, Manobo, Bogobo, Sama, and Tausug. The Indonesian and Malaysian gamelan are related to the kulintang ensemble.

This article is one in a series of reports on the fascinating variety of musical instruments that audience members encounter through Center for World Music programs. 

Unique to the Maguindanao is the use of kulintang music for courtship and in contests between individual musicians or village ensembles. On the gandingan, suitors send their love interests sweet messages through apad, tones that mimic human speech in the poetic language of Maguindanao. Messages may also be sent on the kulintang and agong. This method allows courting without public displays of affection, which is frowned upon in Muslim society.

Gong instrument competition is a modern concept popular with younger musicians. Held during weddings and festivals, such contests occur between individual musicians and/or ensembles, representing different villages. The kulintang, gandingan, and agong are all used in these competitions as musicians attempt to show their virtuosity and skills on each instrument. The winners are determined by who receives the loudest applause from the audience.

Enjoy this video of Magui Moro Master Artists.

Learn more about The Traditional Music and Dance of the Maguindanaoan People in this discussion and video presentation.


— Contributed by Kimberly Kalanduyan, granddaughter of Maguindanao master artist Danongan Kalanduyan.

For more on Kimberly, her mentor Bernard Ellorin, and Kulintang music visit A Journey Home: Kulintang Music from San Diego to Mindanao, an Alliance for California Traditional Arts funded project.

Bernard Ellorin

Bernard Ellorin: Scholar and Teacher of the Music of the Philippines

Bernard Ellorin, Ph.D., Center for World Music teaching artist and board member, is much loved and highly respected as a cultural treasure and leader within the Southern California Filipino community and beyond.

Dr. Ellorin is the leading expert on maritime Southeast Asian gong-chime music in Southern California. He is also a master of the Filipino banduria (a version of the Spanish bandurria, a plucked string instrument similar to the mandolin) and the associated rondalla music. He is versed in the percussion music of the Cordillera Mountains of Northern Luzon, as well as being one of the few Philippine kulintang instructors in the United States. Kulintang is an ancient instrumental form of music played on a row of small, horizontally laid gongs that function melodically, accompanied by larger, suspended gongs and drums. Dr. Ellorin has served the San Diego and Los Angeles communities as a performing artist and educator since 1992, and is the musical director of the Samahan Filipino-American Performing Arts and Education Center.

Kulintang Ensemble

Bernard Ellorin leads his kulintang ensemble. Photo Jonathan Parker

He began his studies in the music of the Philippines at the age of ten, as a young banduria musician with Samahan Performing Arts. At age twelve he commenced kulintang studies with native Maguindanao master artist Danongan Kalanduyan. More recently, he has studied under a number of other master artists from the Philippines, with whom he maintains ongoing professional relationships, thereby keeping up-to-date in contemporary cultural developments.

Photo courtesy of Kingsley Ramos

Ellorin received a BA degree in Ethnomusicology from the University of California, Los Angeles and earned his MA and Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii, Manoa. In 2003, along with a few of his friends and colleagues in San Diego, he founded the Pakaraguian Kulintang Ensemble (PKE), which he now directs. Through PKE, he presents educational workshops for San Diego schools and youth groups. His knowledge and dedication to the proliferation of Maguindanao and Maranao music also enables him to act as a valued resource for many university Filipino cultural organizations. He continues to teach in the San Diego area as a lecturer and faculty member at Miramar and MiraCosta Colleges.

In 2012, Ellorin was awarded a research fellowship under the Fulbright Research and Study Abroad program, during which time he conducted a comparative study on the musical culture of the Sama-Bajau in Semporna District in the Malaysian state of Sabah, and in Batangas City, Philippines. He has subsequently written several scholarly papers on Sama-Bajau performing arts, and also serves as a consultant to Filipino-American diaspora performing arts groups throughout the US. He is now a three-time grant recipient with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA) through their Apprenticeship and Living Cultures program.

Ellorin has been a teaching artist with the Center for World Music since 2016, and became a member of the Center’s Board of Directors in 2020. 

Contributor Kim Kalanduyan is Dr. Ellorin’s former apprentice under the ACTA apprenticeship program, and is the granddaughter of Maguindanao master artist Danongan Kalanduyan.

For more reading about Bernard Ellorin and his teaching, performance, and research:

A Journey Home: Kulintang Music from San Diego to Mindanao

A Career in “Roots” Music from Positively Filipino Magazine

Events

Virtual Encounters: The Traditional Music & Dance of Mindanao, Philippines

The Traditional Music & Dance of Mindanao, Philippines featuring Samahan is the last of six programs in the Center for World Music’s Spring 2021 Virtual Encounters with World Music and Dance series. This presentation of music and dance celebrates Philippine Independence Day 2021. 

The Traditional Music & Dance of the Maguindanao People of Mindanao, Philippines

Featuring Samahan with Ethnomusicologist Bernard Ellorin
Special Guest Appearance by Maguindanao Master Artist Faisal Monal from Cotabato City, Philippines
June 6, 2:00 PM PDT
Free Live Stream– View the Recorded Stream

This music and dance presentation, hosted live, will feature musicians and dancers from the Samahan Filipino American Performing Arts & Education Center and ethnomusicologist Dr. Bernard Ellorin. The program will explore the rich cultural context of the performing arts of the Maguindanao people of Mindanao, Philippines through live discussion and recorded footage of performances. Kulintang musician Kim Kalanduyan-Villanueva, and folk dancer and researcher Nicholas Delmundo-Benton will explore the significance, purpose, and intention of select music and dance pieces. They will also address how the continuation of these art forms in the United States plays an important role in the preservation of the traditional performing arts in the Philippines and for the Filipino diaspora. Dr. Ellorin will provide additional commentary.

These experts will address questions from the audience throughout the program. 

Registration is free. A link to the live stream will be provided in your confirmation email. If you’d like to support the artists and the program, donations will be welcomed.

Download the program notes, here.

About the Presenters

Kim Kalanduyan-Villanueva – kulintang musiciain

Kim Kalanduyan-Villanueva, who identifies as ethnically Maguindanaon, is part of the artistic lineage of kulintang musicians. Kulintang is an ancient instrumental music played on a row of small, horizontally laid gongs that function melodically, accompanied by larger, suspended gongs and drums. Kim’s grandfather, Danongan “Danny” Kalanduyan, was a kulintang master and NEA National Heritage Fellow. He had settled in the San Francisco Bay Area and was critical to the proliferation of the musical form in the United States in the 1970s.

Under a 2019 Alliance for California Traditional Arts apprenticeship program, Kim engaged in an intense study of traditional Maguindanao kulintang music from her grandfather’s village under the mentorship of Bernard Ellorin. As a result of this apprenticeship, she found herself reconnecting with her musical roots and musical family. This led to her passion for sharing her musical heritage with the Filipino American community. Today, Kim is the principal kulintang musician for Samahan’s Pakaraguian Kulintang Ensemble. She is also one of the few direct descendants continuing the Kalanduyan legacy in the diaspora. 

Nicholas Delmundo-Benton – folk dancer

Nicholas Delmundo-Benton is the principal dance instructor with Samahan. As an experienced Philippine folk dancer, Delmundo-Benton has studied regional dance genres as a senior company dancer with Malaya Filipino American Dance Arts, PASACAT, and Samahan. From 2018-2019, under the sponsorship of the Lolita Dinoso Carter Endowment fund, he conducted field research on cultural dances from the Muslim societies of the Southern Philippines and Eastern Sabah, Malaysia. Delmundo-Benton’s work presents his research with artistry, integrity, and respect for the native master artists. Through performances, Delmundo-Benton seeks to educate and entertain audiences unfamiliar with marginalized traditions indigenous to the Philippines.

Bernard Ellorin – interviewer and artistic director

Bernard Ellorin, Ph.D. is the leading expert on maritime Southeast Asian gong-chime music in Southern California. He is also a master of the Filipino banduria (a version of the Spanish bandurria, a plucked string instrument similar to the mandolin) and the associated rondalla music. He is versed in the percussion music of the Cordillera Mountains of Northern Luzon, as well as being one of the few Philippine kulintang instructors in the United States. Dr. Ellorin has served the San Diego and Los Angeles communities as a performing artist and educator since 1992. He is the musical director of the Samahan Filipino-American Performing Arts and Education Center.

Dr. Ellorin began his studies in the music of the Philippines at the age of ten as a young banduria musician with Samahan Performing Arts. At age twelve he commenced kulintang studies with Danongan Kalanduyan. More recently he has studied under a number of other native master artists from the Philippines, with whom he maintains ongoing professional relationships, thereby keeping up-to-date in contemporary cultural developments.

Ellorin holds a Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii, Manoa. He founded and now directs the Pakaraguian Kulintang Ensemble (PKE) through which he presents educational workshops for K-12 students. He serves as a valued resource for many university Filipino cultural organizations and is a lecturer and faculty member at Miramar and MiraCosta Colleges.

In 2012, Ellorin was awarded a fellowship under the Fulbright Research and Study Abroad Program. This fellowship enabled him to conduct a comparative study of the musical culture of the Sama-Bajau in Semporna District in the Malaysian state of Sabah and in Batangas City, Philippines. He has subsequently written several scholarly papers on Sama-Bajau performing arts. Filipino-American diaspora performing arts groups throughout the US have welcomed him as a consultant. Over his career, he has received three grants from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts through their Apprenticeship and Living Cultures program.

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