Kulintang is a modern term for an instrumental form of music composed on a row of small, horizontally-laid gongs that function melodically, accompanied by larger, suspended gongs and drums. As part of the larger gong-chime culture of Southeast Asia, kulintang music ensembles have been playing for centuries in regions of the Eastern Malay Archipelago — the Southern Philippines, Eastern Indonesia, Eastern Malaysia, Brunei and Timor, although this article has a focus on the Philippine Kulintang traditions of the Maranao and Maguindanao peoples in particular. Kulintang evolved from a simple native signaling tradition, and developed into its present form with the incorporation of knobbed gongs from Sunda. Its importance stems from its association with the indigenous cultures that inhabited these islands prior to the influences of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity or the West, and hence Kulintang is the most developed tradition of Southeast Asian archaic gong-ensembles.
Technically, kulintang is the Maguindanao, Ternate and Timor term for the idiophone of metal gong kettles which are laid horizontally upon a rack to create an entire kulintang set. It is played by striking the bosses of the gongs with two wooden beaters. Due to its use across a wide variety groups and languages, the kulintang is also called kolintang by the Maranao and those in Sulawesi, kulintangan by those in Sabah and the Sulu Archipelago and totobuang by those in central Maluku.
By the twentieth century, the term kulintang had also come to denote an entire Maguindanao ensemble of five to six instruments. Traditionally the Maguindanao term for the entire ensemble is basalen or palabunibunyan, the latter term meaning “an ensemble of loud instruments” or “music-making” or in this case “music-making using a kulintang.”
Kulintang belongs to the larger unit/stratum of “knobbed gong-chime culture” prevalent in Southeast Asia. It is considered one of the region’s three major gong ensembles, alongside the gamelan of western Indonesia and piphat of Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Laos, which use gongs and not wind or string instruments to carry the melodic part of the ensemble. Like the other two, kulintang music is primarily orchestral with several rhythmic parts orderly stacked one upon another. It is also based upon the pentatonic scale. However, kulintang music differs in many aspects from gamelan music, primarily in the way the latter constructs melodies within a framework of skeletal tones and prescribed time interval of entry for each instruments. The framework of kulintang music is more flexible and time intervals are nonexistent, allowing for such things as improvisations to be more prevalent.
Because kulintang-like ensembles extended over various groups with various languages, the term used for the horizontal set of gongs varied widely. Along with it begin called kulintang, it is also called kolintang, kolintan, kulintangan, kwintangan, k’lintang, gong sembilan, gong duablas, momo, totobuang, nekara, engkromong, kromong/enkromong and recently kakula/kakula nuada. Kulintang-like instruments are played by the Maguindanao, Maranao, Iranun, Kalagan, Kalibugan and more recently the Tboli, Blaan and Subanao of Mindanao, the Tausug, Samal, Sama/Badjao, Yakan and the Sangir/Sangil of the Sulu, the Ambon, Banda, Seram, Ternate, Tidore, and Kei of Maluku, the Bajau, Suluk, Murut, Kadazan-Dusan, Kadayah and Paitanic Peoples of Sabah, the Malays of Brunei, the Bidayuh and Iban/Sea Dayak of Sarawak, the Bolaang Mongondow and Kailinese/Toli-Toli of Sulawesi and other groups in Banjermasin and Tanjung in Kalimantan and Timor.
The gongs could weigh roughly from two pounds to three and 1/8 pounds and have dimensions from 6–10 inches for their diameters and 3–5 inches for their height. Traditionally they are made from bronze but due to the shortage of bronze after World War II, and the subsequent use of scrap metal, brass gongs with shorter decaying tones have become commonplace.
The kulintang frame known as an antangan by the Maguindanao (means to “arrange”) and langkonga by the Maranao could have designs that could be particularly crude made from only bamboo/wooden poles or highly decorated, rich with artistic designs like the traditional okil/okir motifs or arabesque designs. It is considered taboo to step or cross over the antangan while the kulintang gongs are placed on it.
Generally, performances can be classified as either formal ones or informal. During formal performances adherents follow a traditional set of rules that would govern playing and it usually involved people from outside the home. Informal performances are quite the opposite. The strict rules that normally govern play are often ignored and the performers are usually between people well acquainted with one another, usually close family members. These performances usually were times when amateurs practiced on the instruments, young boys and girls gathered the instruments, substituting the kulintang with the saronay and inubab. Ensembles didn’t necessary have to have five instruments like formal performances: they could be composed of only four instruments (three gandingan gongs, a kulintang, an agung, and a dabakan), three instruments (a kulintang, a dabakan, and either an agung or three gandingan gongs) or simply just one instrument (kulintang solo).
Kulintang music generally could be found as the social entertainment at a host of different occasions. It is used during large feasts, festive/harvest gatherings, for entertainment of visiting friends and relatives, and at parades. Kulintang music also accompanies ceremonies marking significant life events, such as weddings and annual pilgrimages returning to and from Mecca. Kulintang music also plays a significant role during state functions, used during official celebrations, entertaining of foreign dignitaries and important visitors of distant lands, court ceremonies of either the sultanate or village chieftains,enthroning/coronations of a new leader and the transferral of a sultanate from one family to another.
Kulintang music is prohibited from being played inside mosques and during Islamic rites/observances/holidays, such as the fasting month (Ramadhan), where playing is only allowed at night during the time when they are allowed to eat. They also prohibit it during the mourning period of the death of important person, during funerals, and during the peak times of the planting and harvest season.
Kulintang music can be used for communicating long distance messages from one village or longhouse to another. Called apad, these renditions mimic the normal speaking tones of the Maguindanao language, creating a specific message or, through the use of double entendre, a social commentary understood by nearly any adult native Maguindanao speaker. However, apad is falling into disuse because times have changed, and the necessity of its use for long-distance communication purposes has faded away. Anun as a music without a message, is used instead to express sentiments and feelings, and has come more and more into use due to its compatibility with the musical elaborations and idiosyncratic styles of the times.
Kulintang music was also crucial in relation to courtships due to the very nature of Islamic custom, which did not allow for unmarried men and women to intermingle. Traditionally, unmarried daughters were kept in a special chamber in the attic called a lamin, off-limit to visitors and suitors. It was only when she was allowed to play during kulintang performances that suitors were allowed to view her. Because of this, kulintang music was rare socially approved vehicles for interaction among the sexes.
Musical contest, particularly among the Maguindanao, have become a unique feature of these kulintang performances. They occur at almost all the formal occasions mentioned above, particularly weddings. What has made the Maguindanao stand out from the other groups is that they practice solo gong contest – with individual players showcasing their skill on the various ensemble instruments – the agung, gandingan and the kulintang – as opposed to only group contest, where performers from one town and another town are pitted against each other.
This emphasis on improvisation was essential due traditional role of the music as entertainment for the entire community. Listeners in the audience expected players to surprise and astound them by playing in their own unique style, and by incorporating improvisation to make newer versions of the piece. If a player simply imitated a preceding player, playing patterns without any improvisation, the audience members would believe she/he to be repetitious and mundane. This also explains why set performance pieces for musical productions are different in some respect — young men/women would be practicing before an event, therefore rarely relying on improvisations.
Though allowing such a variety of rhythms would lead to an innumerable amount of patterns, generally one could categorize these rhythmic modes on the basis on various criteria such as the number of beats in a recurring musical phrase, differences in the melodic and rhythmic groups with the musical phrase, differences in the rhythmic emphasis, and differences in the opening formulas and cadential patterns. For the Maguindanao, three to five typical genres can be distinguished: Duyug, Sinulog, Tidtu, Binalig and Tagonggo. The Maranao on the other hand have only three typical genres — Kapromayas/Romayas, Kapagonor/Onor, and Katitik Pandai/Kapaginandang.
These general genres could be further grouped among each other into styles/subcategories/stylistic modifiers, which are differentiated from one another based on instrumentation, playing techniques, function and the average age and gender of the musicians as well. Generally, these styles are differentiated by what is considered traditional or “old,” and more contemporary or “new.”
Old styles are considered slow, well-pronounced and dignified like the Maguindanao’s kamamatuan and the Maranao’s andung. Genres classified under this style have moderate tempos, are rhythmically-oriented, balanced, lack many improvisations and are usually played by the older folks and are therefore always played first, to give due respect to the older generation.
New styles such as the Maguindanao’s kagungudan and the Maranao’s bago, are considered fast, rhythmic and showy. Generally genres under this classification have faster tempos with an emphasis on power and speed, are highly rhythmic and pulsating, and are highly improvised with musicians employing different rhythmic/melodic formulae not used with old patterns. “Young” musicians, specifically young men, gravitate toward this style because of its emphasis on virtuosity and one’s individualism. Generally played after all kamamatuan pieces have been played to give younger musicians the opportunity to participate. Tagunggo not classified under one of these styles, being more ritualistic than recreational in nature. Tagunggo is a rhythmic mode often used to accompany trance and dance rituals such as sagayan. During the playing of these pieces, a ritual specialist would dance in rhythm with the music calling on the help of ancestral spirits (tunong).
Such issues made attempts to codify the compositions in a uniform manner impossible. An example of this could be found among the Maguindanao where the word binalig is used by contemporary musicians as a name for one of the rhythmic modes associated with kangungudan but it has also been used as a term designating a “new” style. Another example concerns the discrepancy among “old” and “new” genres. With “new pieces” continuously proliferating even up till now, pieces only created decades ago are now considered “old” even though this is considered a tradition spanning many centuries. These differences could sometimes make discussing this repertoire and the modes and styles within it a bit confounding.
As ancient as this music is, there has never been substantial data recorded regarding the kulintang’s origins. The earliest historical accounts of instruments resembling those of the present day kulintang are in the writings of various European explorers from the 16th century who would have seen such instruments used in passing.
Because of limited data concerning gong music prior to European exploration, theories abound as to when the prototypes of what is now the present day kulintang came to be. One theory suggest that the bronze gong had an ancient history in Southeast Asia, arriving in the Malay archipelago two or even three thousand years ago, making its way to the Philippines from China in the 3rd century AD. Another theory lays doubt to the former claim, suggesting the kulintang could not have existed prior to 15th century due to the belief Javanese gong tradition, which is what the kulintang was believed to be derived from, developed only by the 15th century.
Though different theories abound as to the exact centuries the kulintang was finally realized, there is a consensus that kulintang music developed from a foreign musical tradition which was borrowed and adapted to the indigenous music tradition already present in the area. It’s likely the earliest gongs used among the indigenous populace had no recreational value but were simply used for making signals and sending messages.
Kulintang music likely evolved from this simple signaling tradition, transitioning into a period consisting of one player, one-gong type ensembles (like those found among the Ifugao of Luzon or Tiruray of Mindanao), developing into a multi-gong, multiplayer ensemble with the incorporation of concepts originating from Sunda and finally transforming into the present day kulintang ensemble, with the addition of the d’bakan, babndir and musical concepts of Islam via Islam traders.
The kulintang gong itself is believed to be have been one of those foreign musical elements incorporated into kulintang music, derived from the Sundanese kolenang due to its striking similarities. Along with the fact that they play important roles in their respectively ensembles, both the kulintang and kolenang show striking homogeneity in tapered rims (as opposed to pronouncedly tapered Javanese bonang and non-tapered Laotian khong vong gongs). Even the word kulintang is believed to be just an altered form of the Sundanese word kolenang.
It was these similarities that lead theorists to conclude that the kulintang was originally imported to the Philippines during the migration of the kolenang through the Malay Archipelago. Based on the etymology, two routes have been proposed as the route for the kulintang to Mindanao: One from Sunda, thru Banjermasin, Brunei and the Sulu Archipelago, a route where the word “kulintangan” is commonly used for the horizontal row of gongs; The other from Sunda, thru, Timor, Sulawesi, Moluccas and Mindanao where the word kolintang/kulintang is commonly seen.
Today, the existence of kulintang music is threatened by the influence of globalization, and the introduction of Western and foreign ideals into the region. Younger generations would rather listen to American music, or bike in the streets with other children than spend time practicing and imitating on the traditional instruments of their parents.
However, due to the work of master musicians such as Master Danongan Kalanduyan and Usopay Cadar, kulintang music has had a revival of sorts. They are responsible for bringing kulintang music to the shores of the United States during the late 20th century in an attempt to use the music to help connect contemporary Filipino American culture with ancient tribal traditions. They were impressed by the fact those who were not of Maguindanao or Maranao background and some who were not even Filipino were enthusastic in picking up an alien tradition from a foreign land. When either of them brought their own students, from universities such as University of Washington or San Francisco State University, to Mindanao to play the kulintang in front of their own people, a renaissance of sorts occurs. Many of the younger generation of Maguindanao and Maranao were encouraged to play their traditional music by the sight of outsiders playing the kulintang. Such appreciation on the part of the Filipino Americans of a music that exist halfway around the world is now giving a jolt of life to a dying tradition and had become a symbol of pan-Filipino unity.
The makeup of kulintang ensembles throughout the region can vary wildly from group to group. Generally, they consist of five to six instruments dominated of course by a melody-playing gong row that functions as a lead/central melodic instrument for the entire ensemble.
|Group and their ensemble name||Horizontal gongs||Suspended gongs||Drums||Other gong or drum||Other gong or drum|