Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.






Monday, June 6, 2011

The Kundiman



An email exchange regarding kundimans and Filipino love songs sang in movies of old reminded me of the first Filipino song I loved.... I was eight or nine years old then. We had just come to the Philippines, having lived in the US all of my young life. My grandfather decided that his grandchildren need to experience the Filipino way of life. He did not want us to grow up as purely Americans. So as an obedient son, my father packed up his family and we embarked on a long cruise on the Dona Nati from NY to Manila.


I was ensconced in school (Philippine Normal School) right away so that i can get exposed to other kids my age. I guess today they call this total cultural immersion. It was an adjustment and a challenge not speaking the language and trying to play with other kids during recess. And even in class, my NY accent was frowned upon by the teachers. I was pulled out from classes a few hours a day for a special Eliza Doolittle-like treatment to remove my accent. I realized much later that I served as a guinea pig for the teachers and the student teachers, this is after all a college for those aspiring to be educators. I guess their experiment was a success. Eventually, by the time I graduated from elementary school I talked like any other child in the playground.


Back to my song. My family owned a movie theater in Tanauan, Batangas, my father's family hometown.  One of our treats was to watch shows there. The theater showed both English and Filipino movies. This movie house was also used as a vaudeville stage where live performances were featured to the accompaniment of a piano ( or was it an organ?) situated just below the stage on the right hand side. This is where I saw my first Filipino movie which featured the song, 'Irog, ako ay mahalin.' I don't remember the movie title nor the actors but the song was sang against a backdrop of the setting sun and I was captivated. I saw the movie again and again until I memorized the song.


I did not know that this would be the start of my lifelong love affair with the uniquely Filipino musical genre known as the kundiman. It was the first real complex Filipino words I was able to learn and say, more like sing. Before that, everything was the basic 'Oo, hindi, kamusta, kain, laro...' (yes, no, hello, eat, play...) I'm not sure I knew the meaning of the song at the time but even at a young age, I could infer by the emotion of the singers that this was about being in love. I, steadfastly, tried to have anyone that would listen translate the meaning of the words for me. It made up for a quick, albeit limited study of Tagalog. Up to now the song ' Irog Ako ay Mahalin' still haunts me and pops up in my head once in a while. I do not remember all the lyrics anymore but I still love it and it will remain one of my all time favorite Filipino love songs or kundiman.


I consider the kundiman, one of the best art forms of the Filipinos and deserves to be preserved, cherished and shared. These plaintive, melodic songs always evoke happy memories and nostalgia for the Philippines. Even here in the US, it has been part of our life. We would still gather around the piano or guitar and sing kundiman songs.


The kundiman, 'Irog, Ako Ay Mahalin', was written by Tito Arevalo and was based on a Visayan Folk song.

These are a couple of links to video recordings of this song:

Irog, Ako Ay Mahalin

Kung langit ang pag-sinta
Kung pag-ibig ay pag-asa
Kailan pa liligaya
Ang palad kong sawi't aba

'Di mo ba nababatid
Lubhang tunay ang pag-ibig
Maawa sa akin
Irog, ako ay mahalin

Sabihin, ituro...
Landas sa iyong puso
Ako'y iyo, iyo lamang
Magpawalang hanggan

Dapat mong mabatid
Lubhang tunay
Ako'y bihag ng iyong pag-ibig
Maawa sa akin
Irog, ako ay mahalin


The Kundiman (from Wikipedea)
Kundiman is a genre of traditional Filipino love songs. The lyrics of the Kundiman are written in Tagalog. The melody is characterized by a smooth, flowing and gentle rhythm with dramatic intervals. Kundiman was the traditional means of serenade in the Philippines.


The melody and sentiment of the Kundiman tends not only toward the melancholy but also the cheerful, and the commitment of the heart to passion is celebrated in every piece. The singer of the kundiman expresses the pain and beauty of love felt by every listener, for the kundiman is not merely entertainment but an embodiment of collective emotion.

Endowed with such power, the Kundiman naturally came to serve as a vehicle for veiled patriotism in times of colonial oppression, in which the undying love for a woman symbolized the love of country and desire for freedom.



The Filipino composer, conductor and scholar Felipe M. De Leon Jr., wrote that the Kundiman is a "unique musical form expressing intense longing, caring, devotion and oneness with a beloved. Or with a child, spiritual figure, motherland, ideal or cause. According to its text, a kundiman can be romantic, patriotic, religious, mournful. Or a consolation, a lullaby. Or a protest and other types. But of whatever type, its music is soulful and lofty, conveying deep feelings of devotional love." [F.M. De Leon Jr., "But What Really Is The Kundiman?"



Some well-known examples of kundiman: 

To listen. please click on song name.

“Anak Dalita” (Child of Woe) by Francisco Santiago (1917)
”Mutya ng Pasig” (Lady of Pasig) by Nicanor Abelardo

“Bituing Marikit” (Beautiful Star), with music by Nicanor Abelardo and lyrics by Servando de los Angeles (1926)
"Madaling Araw" (Dawn) by Dr. Francisco Santiago 
"Maalaala Mo Kaya" (Will You Remember)  by Constancio De Guzman
(This song is particularly beloved as it is sort of an anthem of my high school class.)


Note: The image above was found on the web. I do not know who the artist is.

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