The Dadap Aguilar Duo

Fun with my mentor maestro Michael Dadap. We’re preparing for a series of performances and a recording this year. Enjoy!

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Still a Classical Geek at Heart

Sylvius Leopold Weiss was a rock star lutenist in the 1700s, equal to JS Bach on playing fantasies and fugues. He remains one of my fave composers, albeit a little unheralded.

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Florante Aguilar Interview At the New York Premiere of Harana

Florante Aguilar’s interview at the Asian American International Film Festival’s New York premiere of HARANA. The original publication can be found here.


Harana is a long-abandoned Filipino courtship serenade, which originated in the Spanish colonial period. In this award-winning documentary, guitarist Florante AGUILAR returns to the Philippines from the US for the first time in twelve years to discover three of the last remaining harana masters: a farmer, a fisherman, and a tricycle driver. HARANA emotively weaves their performances to exemplify the past and present, the here and there, and the rural and urban.

CineVue: The film is first and foremost a roots-seeking story, or can be read as a confrontation/reconciliation with one’s roots. What is the importance of yearning and nostalgia of a so-called homeland in films like yours? What function does this serve in your story?

Florante Aguilar: I think this question is particularly astute because HARANA in its deepest level, is a love affair with the homeland. It is the innermost driving force of the movie. Being a musician, the only way I knew how to express that love is through music.

One of the things that we did not cover in the film is the fact that I left the Philippines in 1987 because I hated everything about my country – the politics, the rampant corruption, the over-reliance on religion, the hopelessness, etc. I felt that I could not live and belong in a culture like that. Inwardly, I renounced being a Filipino and left for the US ready to embrace the western culture.

But the death of my father forced me to return after 12 years of absence. And that’s when the reconnection happened. This time around, I saw the Phlippines in a different prism and I was suddenly in love with the Philippines. Suddenly, I felt like I belong.

So, it’s not nostalgia per se but rather the power of that transformation – from hate to love – that moved me to do it. Maybe it’s also an apology and an attempt to make amends for renouncing the homeland.

CV: Because of the power of music, the beautiful melody and the tenderness and sorrow in the voices of the singers, many would agree with the proverbial saying that “There 
are no languages required in a musical world.” How have you utilized music in your film? Could you describe how music has affected your creative processes (from preproduction to production to post-production)?

FA: During pre-production, all I had was this notion that these authentic harana practitioners or haranistas must still be around, very old, and living in far-flung provinces.

Musically, all I had were the remnants of harana music or songs I happened to know that survived through the ages. I heard them when I was growing up in the province and also through the pieces my mother played on the piano.

During my so-called transformation, I started playing harana which I arranged for classical guitar, resulting in three solo albums. But I also felt that this was just the surface, that there must be many more unheralded songs. I fantasized about unearthing a treasure trove of beautiful courtship music and forming an ensemble of authentic haranstas. Well, I wanted that fantasy to come true. And I determined to look for them in the provinces where harana was prevalent.

As we were traveling from province to province during the production shoot, there were points when I realized that I must be just fantasizing – that this search is just some romantic notion. And that if we did not find anyone, I was ready to conclude that harana was truly dead.

Then we met Celestino Aniel, a farmer from the province of Cavite. I can’t describe the first time he sang for us as I accompanied him on the guitar. I think the whole crew was in tears – he sang in such a heartfelt and humble way that could only come from being a true haranista. We all realized we were in the presence of great master. Then we were truly blessed to find two more amazing haranistas – one a fisherman, the other a tricycle driver.

CV:”When you do harana, you rarely get turned down.” When the harana masters are singing, there always a few shots of women as audience members, who appear to be quite touched and moved by the music. How does gender figure into the musical scene?

FA: It’s interesting because I was just reading an article about the science of music and why humans play music. It concludes that men who are able to play musical instruments advertise to potential mates that they are in top physical, emotional and spiritual shape. That’s pretty Darwinian. It is the same as the peacock displaying his plummage to advertise to females what an amazing specimen he is!

So there! Music was “invented” for courtship purposes. And that is what harana is.

CV: When you were making the documentary, what was the reaction of the local audiences? In many scenes when you perform for the audience, there are genuine interactions between you and the locals. Do the general public still feel attached to the old-school melodies and performances?

FA: There is a scene in the film when I was playing at Plaza Morga in Tondo, an area in Manila known for gangs, prostituion and poverty. It’s like the favelas in Brazil. When we set up there, we just did not know what we were going to get. Our director Benito Bautista was fantastic in connecting with the locals, making them feel comfortable in the film crew’s presence and allowing us to shoot incident-free.

Placing a classical guitarist in the middle of traffic in Manila is pretty crazy but I wanted to do it because I’ve always believed it’s a more powerful experience when you bring music to the people’s elements, as opposed to a concert hall. Most people in Tondo probably never heard of a classical musician, much less see one playing in their streets.

And their reactions was deeply humbling. Gang members were asking me to play some of the old songs that they still knew. When the crowd surrounded me and started singing along, I knew we caught a very special moment. I like to think that for those few moments, they were transported to a space where they forget about their dailty grind and hardships, and were momentarily inspired and hopeful.

CV: Could you describe you interactions with the three masters during production? What was it like? What were some eye-opening things you endured, experienced and will remember forever?

FA: We were at a beach house in Ilocos Norte. We weren’t shooting that day. I was recording the haranistas on my laptop, just basically documenting their songs. I was so moved by their singing that at one point I started to well up. I guess I was too embarassed to cry in front of these men so I had to excuse myself and headed for the restroom. I cried like a baby in that dingy bathroom.

CV:Is this film raising any awareness of the legacy? What’s at stake now to preserve it?

FA: I was at a film festival screening of HARANA a few months ago. During the closing night, it was announced that HARANA had won the Audience Award. The festival organizers said a few words about HARANA. What struck me was that they talked about the harana custom like they have known it all their lives. I mean the harana tradition, prior to the movie, was just an obscure custom nobody paid attention to, and now they are talking about the harana custom in the international stage. I thought that was an important moment – that harana has arrived.

I actually didn’t set out to create the film in order to preach preservation. And I made sure that the film does not come off preachy. It was driven by my desire to discover, learn and record these beautiful yet unheralded music. And I was expressing a reconnection to the homeland the only way I knew how – through music.


Posted in Featured Articles, Harana Music, Kundiman, Press Releases | 1 Comment

Top 10 Misconceptions About the Custom of Harana (Filipino Serenade)

By Florante Aguilar and Fides Enriquez

Harana is the vanished tradition of serenading prevalent in old Philippines. While most Filipinos are still familiar with this custom, it is mostly that – only a passing familiarity exists. We can hardly be blamed because there truly was no in-depth study ever done of this once-important part of Philippine social fabric. Most of what we know came from stereotypical and romanticized versions depicted in old movies and paintings. Certainly, the citadels of academia did not pay much attention to this courtship ritual perhaps because they never considered it an art form and relegated it more as plebeian endeavor of the popular culture. Thus, herewith we debunk the top ten misconceptions about harana.

10. Harana is performed by a lone suitor
The image of a lone singer/guitarist under the window at night (which I am guilty of perpetuating on the cover of my first album The Art of Harana) probably happened more often in the movies than in real life. The truth is harana was indeed a bigger social event. In fact, it was a call for an evening soiree, with the interested party bringing along his friends for moral support. And for those with the taste for extravagance, hiring the best musicians in town. It’s an instant party should they be lucky enough to be invited inside.

9. Water (or worse) is frequently thrown at unwelcome visitors
There is one thing we guarantee Filipinos will mention during any talk regarding harana – they will drop a lighthearted comment about toilet water being thrown at the haranistas during a serenade. Banish this thought forever! This notion was perpetuated and became fodder for comedy skits by bad movies and televisions shows. This image probably single-handedly devalued and prevented from surfacing the true elegance and cultural importance of the harana ritual. The image of the yellow water is stuck forever in the minds of many Filipinos. According to the harana practitioners we interviewed, in their thirty or more years of serenading, never once did this happen. In fact, they said it was unthinkable. The whole endeavor was respectful and formal, with everyone on their best behaviour observing the protocols. One haranista mentioned that if the window was not opened after a few songs, they simply proceed to sing a Pamaalam or farewell song containing a gentle apology for any inconvenience caused.

8. Men were the only ones who sang during the nocturnal ritual
It’s a little known fact that haranistas have scouting reports on which women in their town can be expected to join in the singing. This was at least true in Cavite province where we were introduced by the haranistas to an elderly lady whom they used to serenade and sing duets with.  One haranista from the same province claimed that women who can sing were more likely to be serenaded than those who cannot. In fact, when joined by the woman, the whole night becomes a ritual of call-and-response singing, with the woman choosing appropriate songs to serve as playful clues to her true sentiment. Women were indeed known to be active participants rather than passive listeners.

7. Some haranistas show up drunk and behave badly
True master haranistas follow a code of honor. The term they used was “magalang at maginoo” (respectful and gentlemanly), the epitomy of chivalry.  After all, they were representing the young men who requested their services. They come well-groomed and in their best clothes. They were also known to gently coach young suitors too shy to express themselves. As with anything, there will always be bad apples but it is more of a rare occurrence.

6. Harana is an unstructured, anything-goes event
Harana was a formally structured event with a set of protocols to observe. There are different stages with each stage containing a specific set of songs, and the master haranista leading the way based on how the evening is progressing:

  1. Panawagan (Calling or Announcement) – Haranistas sing a set of songs announcing their presence outside the house. Songs like Dungawin Mo Sana (Wishing You’d Look Out the Window), Dungawin Mo Hirang (Look Out the Window, My Beloved), Sa Gitna Ng Dilim (In the Midst of Darkness), etc.
  2. Pagtatapat (Proposal) – If  the haranistas are invited into the home, the lyrical content of the songs change. This is where the singer used songs that openly declare admiration and describe the virtues he values in a woman. Many popular love songs of the day are sung here (Ibig Kong Magtapat Sa Iyo Paraluman, (I wish to Propose to You, My Muse), Lihim Na Pagibig (My Secret Love) and Kung Ika’y May Alinlangan (If You Ever Doubt Me).
  3. Panagutan (Response) – It is at this point where the woman responds in song if she is inclined to. She may respond with “Ang tangi kong pagibig ay minsan lamang...”  as a diplomatic ‘I’m not ready’ sentiment. Or she may respond with  “O kay sarap mabuhay lalo na’t may lambingan” which can be taken as a sign of reciprocity. If it appears the woman is not interested, haranistas in turn choose their next song accordingly – songs like Ako’y Isa Na Ngayong Sawi (I am Now Brokenhearted) or Pusong Wasak (Shredded Heart).
  4. Pamaalam – Haranistas have a set of farewell songs upon the conclusion of the evening. Songs such as Winawakasan Ko (I Hereby End It) and Bakit Di Kita Maiwan (Why Do I Find it Hard to Leave You).

For more on this topic, please read The Different Stages of Harana here.

5. You can sing any song you want in a harana
During a serenade, one can pretty much sing any love song he likes, even English ones, and still get away calling it a harana. But if you are going for a truly authentic harana experience like they did in old Philippines, you have to use a particluar set of songs specifically written for the endeavor. These were harana and kundiman songs written by some of the best-known composers in the last hundred years such as Santiago Suarez, Constancio de Guzman, Nicanor Abelardo, as well as other traditional songs specific to a region.

4. The suitor is also the singer
The Philippines may be a nation of singers but not all singers are created equal. And since the success of the endeavor depends largely on the skill of the singer, men sought the services of master haranistas – the best in town. It is these master-level artists we sought after that became the heart of our documentary film HARANA.

3. Haranistas show up unannounced
While harana certainly happened unannounced perhaps more often than not, there are many instances when a suitor would ask permission from the parents to serenade in advance. This ensures the lady is home in addition to receiving advanced blessings from her parents.

2. The woman decides whether or not to invite the haranistas in
While the object of harana is certainly the maiden, it is a fact that any courtship endeavor must be under the watchful eyes of her parents in conservative old Philippines, especially so in rural settings where private meetings between men and women were frowned upon. With sentiments expressed under the guise of the songs, free of malice, and with everyone on their best behavior, harana became an outlet and a parent-sanctioned way for youngsters to meet the opposite sex.  As such, it is the parents who have the ultimate say whether to let the haranistas in or not.

1. Men used harana to declare their love for a woman
Contrary to this popular notion, the most common instance that sets a harana in motion is the arrival of a woman from a big city (like Manila) who is in the province for a vacation. Also, maidens from nearby villages who are in town for the harvest. The glimpse of a new arrival signals the men to organize themselves and bring out their guitars. Harana then was not necessarily only about the declaration of romantic love but more often a social call for young men to introduce themselves.

Posted in Featured Articles, Harana Music | 14 Comments

Press Release for HARANA KINGS US Tour

Hi-­‐Res Image Available Upon Request

New Art Media Presents

San Francisco, CA June 29, 2012 – Master artists discovered in the soon to be released documentary “HARANA” coming to California as they embark on a rare concert series to promote the film and their debut album with world music guitarist Florante Aguilar.


Time & Date: July 8, 7pm
“Apl de Ap Takes You to the Philippines – A Celebration of Global Filipino Music”
Location: Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA

Time & Date: July 11, 6:30pm
CD Release Concert to Benefit the Filipino American WWII Veterans Memorial
Location: War Memorial Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Blvd, Room 207, San Francisco Suggested Donation: $25 at the door

Time & Date: July 14, 7:30pm “An Evening With the Harana Kings”
Location: St. Bonaventure Catholic Church, 5562 Clayton Road, Concord, CA
Tickets: $10 at the door

Time & Date: July 17, 7:00pm “Harana Kings Concert”
In Collaboration with OACC and PAWA Inc.
Location: Oakland Asian Cultural Center, 388 Ninth Street, Oakland, CA
Tickets: $25 at the door

The Philippines’ tradition of harana has been rapidly vanishing in its home country and most people throughout the world are completely unaware of its influential music that for many years had inspired the Philippine country with hope, beauty and love. Harana was a traditional form of courtship in which men serenaded women by singing underneath her window at night. It is famous for its set of protocols, a code of conduct and most importantly, a specific style of music. An important custom of Filipino culture, harana has been teetering on the edge of disappearance for some time, but through the untiring and valiant efforts from a group of filmmakers, harana has been given a chance for survival.

World music guitarist Florante Aguilar along with producer Fides Enriquez and director Benito Bautista have been hard at work producing Harana, a documentary highlighting and saving the tradition that will once again reignite the passion and treasure that is harana. Together, they discovered Felipe Alonzo, Celestino Aniel and Romeo Bergunio, three men with simple lives in the Philippines who exemplify the definition of a true harana master. Now known as the Harana Kings, not only do these master haranistas star in the upcoming documentary, but they have been formally invited to perform in an exclusive concert series in California. Having never been far from their humble lifestyles, coming to American is surely a once-­‐in-­‐a-­‐ lifetime dream come true. They will begin their exclusive tour in Los Angeles by participating in the unprecedented July 8th concert “Apl de Ap Takes You to the Philippines – A Celebration of Global Filipino Music” at the Hollywood Bowl alongside big acts such as Martin Nievera, Nicole Scherzinger, Sandwich, and Apl de Ap with members of the Black Eyed Peas, before coming to the San Francisco Bay Area for three more not to be missed performances.

The concerts will also launch the release of the album Introducing the Harana Kings, a result of the Harana documentary film. The Harana Kings will join Florante Aguilar to perform a number of tracks from the album and this will be the only time the Harana Kings will be performing live in the United States in what will surely be an event that not only celebrates Filipino history, but a momentous occasion for anyone that has ever dared to dream.


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HARANA the Movie Synopsis

HARANA – The Search for the Lost Art of Serenade

Upon his father’s death, Florante, a classically trained musician returns to the Philippines after 12 years of absence. During his stay he rediscovers the music of Harana – a long-forgotten tradition of Filipino serenading when men sang under the window at night to fearlessly declare their love for a woman.

Intent on unearthing these unheralded songs, Florante travels to the remote provinces where he discovers three of the last surviving practitioners – a farmer, a fisherman and a tricycle driver. Astounded by their golden voices, Florante asks them to travel with him to perform and record these unknown songs. During their travels, the haranistas meet Brian, a shy young man who for years has been secretly in love with a schoolmate. The haranistas, who have not serenaded in the last 30 years, offered their services to serenade Brian’s object of affection, resulting in one of the most tender moments of genuine harana captured on film.

Word soon spread around Manila of leathery faced men whose style of sincere and expressive singing touch the hearts everywhere they sang, culminating in a series of triumphant live performances – from a small village to prestigious concert halls to recording the first authentic harana album in the last 50 years. But the question remains – can the harana tradition be restored to its former glory or is it doomed to vanish silently into the night forever?


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The Great Denigration of Composers

I recently had the opportunity to watch this video clip that became viral. It is a 6-minute video based on Don McLean’s anthem of a song American Pie. It is an elaborate set-up that employs a single take which must have required prodigious amount of coordination. It is nice and heartwarming.

But I do have one problem with it – they have completely ignored the composer! Nowhere in the rolling credits did they mention Don McLean. They only credited him in the YouTube tag, like an afterthought.

You have to remember that each scene and image in the video is a direct representation of Don McLean’s innermost thoughts, which he poetically put into words and set to music. It is a little bit like setting War and Peace to movie and they forgot to mention Tolstoy. The video dedicated two full minutes of credits to corporate sponsors and every little minor person involved but no mention of Don McLean!

To me, this broke the camel’s back. Amidst the backdrop of massive looting of intellectual property, they kick the composer in the groin by not acknowledging him. If you’re not going to pay us, at least give us the credit!

I have been cognizant of the long and slow denigration of credits in a musical composition and performance on recorded music. If you download a track from iTunes, there is no information, even in the meta tags of who the composer is, much less the musicians involved. Gone are the days when you can read about other contributors such as the arranger or that inspired line from the bass player.

When I like a piece of music, I am very interested about the person who wrote it. He or she is a mystery to me. I am interested in getting to know a little bit about this individual who brought a little magic to my daily life. I mean, wouldn’t you be?

In this great information age where digital contents are measured in giga, tera and peta bytes, what is the excuse for not embedding a measly few kilobytes to credit the creator?

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Harana the Movie Production is Completed

Hello everyone. I know I have not blogged for almost a year. But the answer will be obvious as the fruit of my labor on various projects slowly unfold one by one this year.

The most significant among them is the completion of Harana the movie which I co-produced with Fides Enriquez. Six years in the making and directed by Benito Bautista, Harana is a documentary of my search for the last surviving practitioners of a vanished Filipino custom of serenading. Although my interest in it lies more towards discovering previously unheralded songs, no movie about harana will be complete without highlighting the romantic endeavor itself.

We are happy to report that we’ve successfully staged a true harana where we helped a young man from Vigan, Ilocos Sur serenade the unsuspecting woman he’s been in love with for 2 years. He finally declared his love through harana accompanied by the most authentic practitioners that we found from our search. What a night  – everything was caught on film! You’ll just have to wait and see it when Harana is released later this year.

In the meantime, here is the official trailer. Enjoy!

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Harana and the Latin Rhythms

Pandangguhan/Lawiswis Lawayan – Florante Aguilar EnsembleI was once chastised for using a distinctly Latin rhythm on a popular Filipino harana song ‘Sa Gitna Ng Dilim’ on the opening scene of the Harana The Movie trailer. “Travesty!” they say, a bastardization of the noble harana rhythm. “This guy should be shot”, etc. One person even said that I used the cha-cha rhythm on a harana, never mind that the rhythm was nowhere near a cha-cha.

But one remark stood out in particular that became the seed of this blog topic – “the harana is a Filipino original and should not be treated with Latin rhythms”, proudly wrote an anonymous poster.

The rhythm I applied to “bastardize” the harana song and which caused so much consternation among “purists” is called tempo de bolero. Particularly, Cuban bolero in 2/4 (not to be confused with Spanish bolero which is in 3/4 as in Ravel’s Bolero).

Firstly, it is important to remember that the harana is and has always been Latin music derived.  In the Philippines, the harana rhythm is referred to as danza (Listen to this rhythm: ). We don’t know how that started – it seems only Filipinos refer to this rhythm by that name. Outside the Philippines, the very same rhythm is called tempo de habanera from the old Spanish port of Havana, Cuba. I suspect that Filipinos came to call it danza as short for danza española.

The danza is a variation, if not an exact copy, of the Cuban habanera and the Argentine tango. Considering that all these rhythms are of Latin origin, it is therefore, not such a travesty to apply other rhythmic variations such as tempo de bolero on a harana. In fact, the haranistas themselves used it to liven things up. (Listen to master haranista Felipe Alonzo singing the Ilocano song ‘Dardarepdep’: ).

So, if Filipinos don’t own the danza rhythm at all, aren’t we just being copycats? Well, no. What Filipinos did was to take that rhythm, put their stamp on it, and made it their own. Specifically, we slowed that rhythm down to a grind and symbiotically paired it with the poetry of the Tagalog language to form courtship songs.

And it is clear the same process had been happening during Spain’s Magical Mystery Grand Colonization Tour. At each stop, the natives took the Spanish rhythms, played with it and made it their own. And the result? Argentina has tango. Cuba has son. Mexico has mariachi. And Philippines has harana.

Once, during a rehearsal for the Manila Galleon Guitar Music concert, the Latin musicians I worked with laughed when I casually remarked “lets use this rhythm, it’s more Filipino sounding”. They say there is no way that rhythm is Filipino. To which I respond, “oh yes it is ours as much as it is yours. We just put our own flavor to it the same way you put your stamp on salsa, rumba, cumbia, merengue, mambo, etc.”

I don’t think they bought it. But we had a hell of a time performing Filipino music using Latin rhythms. It worked like magic which in itself proves the point (see video below).

And to the detractors and harana “purists”, they certainly do not have to like it. But denying a clear commonality with other Latin rhythms is at best unenlightened and at worst having a misplaced sense of righteousness.

We do agree on one thing though –  that the harana is truly our own.


Florante with Latin musicians playing Philippine folk dances from the Manila Galleon Guitar Music CD launch concert:

Related Links:
Harana the Movie –
The Manila Galleon Guitar Music –
The Art of Harana –
The Difference Between Harana and Kundiman –

Posted in Featured Articles, Harana Music | 3 Comments

Why do Filipinos Love Sad Pensive Songs?

We love corny ballads!

Admit it. If you’re Filipino, you are a sucker for corny ballads. You go teary-eyed on some of the sappiest American pop songs. Even boxer Manny Pacquiao belts out an old tune from the 70s (Sometimes When We Touch by Dan Hill) on late Night with Conan.

When I was growing up in Cavite in the 70s, all the jeepneys blared slow American rock songs with sad undertones (e.g. Scorpion’s Always Somewhere, Deep Purple’s Soldier of Fortune, etc). Now these songs were never that popular in the States but Filipinos picked it up like their own. I come to Manila 20 years later, they are still playing the same songs. And don’t get me started with Barry Manilow, who to this day is considered a demigod in the Philippines.

But have you ever wondered why? Is it because pensive songs befits the slow pace that the weather dictates? What is it about Filipinos that get attracted to corny ballads like moths to a flame?

If you’ve read my past blog entries, I think you know where I am going with this.

I believe there is such thing as national identity through music.  If you look at Brazil, their songs are almost the opposite – more joyous, celebratory and extroverted. While Portugal’s music almost has the same penchant for sad songs as Philippines. Of course I am not generalizing, but merely pointing out patterns of inclination and predilections (isn’t that the same thing?).

I submit that the Filipinos’ penchance for sad and pensive songs is a manifestation of the primeval kundiman sentiment. It’s a direct result of the national affinity for sad songs dating back to precolonial times. Unfortunately, it was soiled and diluted out of its original sentiment – a victim of devaluation of its own culture in exchange of adoration of the western’s.

I have discussed this topic with the pre-eminent composer and Philippine music scholar Bayani Mendoza de Leon and would like to share excerpts of our email correspondence. He writes:

“The general pensiveness and dolorous character of our music was an offshoot of our kinship with Malayan, Java, Hindu, and Arabian racial stock. The earliest, oldest manifestation of this kinship is the song form ‘Tagulaylay’, which is a lengthy melodic succession of monotonous lamentations with a theme that depicts grief over some tragic events. It might be due to this lamentable character that the song was best adapted to the ‘pabasa’ or reading of the Passion of our Lord. The word ‘tagulaylay’ might have been derived from the combination of two Tagalog words–‘taghoy’, meaning lament and ‘alaylay’, which means ‘sustain’. Portuguese songs, best exemplified in their national song form, Fado, also drew greatly from Arabic sources, hence their affinity with our own.”

So, if you’re thinking “that’s ridiculous, there is no way my love for Barry Manilow’s music stems from my ancestors appreciation for sad songs”, I say don’t be so sure!

Posted in Featured Articles, Harana Music, Kundiman | 2 Comments