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Kundiman: A Guide to the Beloved Filipino Love Songs

Born and raised in the Philippines and now living in Sydney, I am proud of my heritage and love to write about Filipino culture.

"El Cundiman" (1847) by José Honorato Lozano

"El Cundiman" (1847) by José Honorato Lozano

The Traditional Song Serenade of the Philippines

Kundiman is a genre of traditional Filipino love songs and the traditional song of serenade in the Philippines. It has its origin among the Tagalog of Luzon and is truly an expression of their sentimental nature.

Today, it stands as one of the most popular genres of Filipino music, not only because of the intense feeling that it conveys, but also because of the high degree of musical artistry to which the country’s composers have elevated it.

The origin of the kundiman is that of an old story of young men serenading a young woman.

The origin of the kundiman is that of an old story of young men serenading a young woman.

Origin of the Word "Kundiman"

According to an old story, this is how the genre got its name.

One bright moonlit night, during the Spanish regime, a group of young romantic men went out together to serenade a young woman whose house was very close to the church convent. They started their serenade with one of the most popular songs of the time. It was a beautiful tune with a very enchanting and simple melody, but its verses were somewhat monotonous due to the constant repetition of the three words, "kung hindi man”.

As a priest slept nearby, he was awakened by the young men’s voices. Upon hearing the three words over and over, he asked his servants to make them stop singing their “kundiman.” Because of his inability to say the three Tagalog words clearly, the priest thus gave the song its popular name.

"It is thought that kundiman is a contraction of three Tagalog words: 'kung hindi man' ('though you may not')—something of an expression of humility on the part of the suitor."

The Beginnings of the Genre

The word kundiman itself was first applied to the verses and then later to the music itself. It is thought that kundiman is a contraction of three Tagalog words: “kung hindi man” ("though you may not")—something of an expression of humility on the part of the suitor.

In the olden days in the Philippines, a young man did not resort to writing love letters on linen paper. He would simply get his guitar, tune it, and hastily dedicate a torrent of songs to his lady love.

"Jocelynang Baliuag": Kundiman of the Revolution

During the Spanish revolution, one of the most popular songs was a kundiman called “Jocelynang Baliuag.” It was dedicated to a beautiful lady named Pepita, which is the nickname of Josefa Tiongson y Lara, a young Filipina from the town of Baliuag, Bulacan who symbolized the beautiful country of the Philippines.

It has been called the “Kundiman of the Revolution" for it was actually an expression of love for the motherland and the hope of setting her free from the Spanish conquistadors.

During the revolution, it was a melody the fighting men sang and hummed in the camps, reminding them of their loved ones left behind and the reason why they were fighting for their motherland.

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Famous Kundiman Composers

For a time, kundiman went the way of much popular music, no famous composer paid much attention to it—until Bonifacio Abdon.

Bonifacio Abdon: Father of the Modern Kundiman

Born in 1876, Bonifacio Abdon studied violin and later conducted with an Italian conductor from an Italian opera company that was in Manila at the time. He is considered the father of the modern kundiman and wrote many of them in 1920.

Abdon gave the songs a certain expansion of the melodic line, novelty in rhythmical pattern, and an unusually rich harmony, thereby liberating it from its old monotony. He was inspired by Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Schubert in utilizing and incorporating native themes into different genres and complex compositions.

Dr. Francisco Santiago: Father of Filipino Musical Nationalism

After Abdon, Dr. Francisco Santiago took up the lowly kundiman and transformed it into a number entitled “Kundiman,” becoming a trailblazer for Filipino composers in the process.

Dubbed the “Father of Filipino Musical Nationalism,” Santiago declared that the kundiman is a love song par excellence of the Filipinos, the kind of song that dives the deepest into their hearts and brings out untold emotions.

For Santiago, however, it also served as a vehicle to express patriotism in times of colonial oppression, in which the undying love for a woman symbolized a love of the country and a desire for freedom.

Nicanor Abelardo: Legendary Composer and Teacher

The man who brought the kundiman to its closest degree of relationship between the poem and the music was Nicanor Abelardo. He learned to play the bandurria at age five and was already teaching music at the university level when he was only 15 years old.

He composed famous numbers such as: "Nasaan Ka Irog," "Bituin Marikit," "Pamimakas," "Kundiman Ng luha," and "Magbalik Ka Hirang."

Modern Expansions of the Kundiman

Since its modest beginnings, the kundiman has taken many steps further beyond being merely a piece of vocal music.

Today, the country’s composers have used it widely in their major works in sonatas, concertos, overtures, symphonic poems, symphonies, and choral music.

The kundiman has grown from its grassroots origin of a highly emotional and romantic love song into a highly developed piece of art with a universal appeal.

Even if you don't understand a single word, you'll likely find classical Philippine music to be a great way to relax and enjoy this unique style of Filipino culture.

Comments

Rudiza on September 07, 2017:

I love kundiman

In my whole life i will never forget kundiman song

ueryaninon on August 04, 2014:

pag talaga may pag ibig ganyan ginagawa kundiman nga talaga

Fred on February 12, 2014:

Without the kundimans there would have been no OPMs now. Kundimans are original Filipino love songs that reflect the romantic and classical period of our time.

jazer martin on November 12, 2012:

sayang, ganda sana pero kulang sa definitions!at least!im still ispired !thank sa gumawa nito!malaki talaga tulong nito sa paggawa ng aking assignments!!!agan,thank you a lot!!!

Jho on September 13, 2012:

more smple of kundimn songs , .

avegail castañeda on August 16, 2012:

it's a wonderful song for my school event like also the "Bwan ng wika" just love our language I'm proud to be PINOY but if i have a chance to sing this also our kundiman cyempre gagawin kuh akuhh pa!!!!!!!!

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on August 11, 2012:

What a lovely piece. The Kundiman is part of our culture, but I never knew there was a story behind it until now.

lyn de leon on June 02, 2012:

The best of Filipino kundimans deserve a new diva soprano who can/should help revive the beauty of our culture. She is none other than Rachelle Gerodias now at the prime of her singing career! We heard her the other night at Greenbelt 5 with nostalgic pictures of Old Manila and she melted our hearts! Bravo Rachelle! Bravo! We hope you come out with a CD of both old and newly composed kundimans. This is now your time to be the new Queen of Kundimans. Atang de la Rama, Conching Rosal and Sylvia la Torre have found someone who can carry the tradition. Please take on the task! We will never tire hearing you over and over again.

celebrity cainta on April 15, 2012:

On the occasion of the 60th Founding Anniversary of the Province of Zamboanga del Norte, the YES Program under the leadership of the Provincial Governor, Atty. Rolando E. Yebes, will sponsor the 1st ZaNorte Pop Music Festival, Cebuano and English Song Writing Contest with the theme: Beautiful ZaNorte: A must go tourist destination and a place to be called home.

We would like to invite you to join the Contest. Big Cash Prizes await the winners.

The Mechanics for the Contest. For more information please contact the YES Program at (065) 212-2597, or check our website, www.zanorte.gov.ph.

inaniLoquence from Singapore on March 26, 2012:

Makes me wish I'm still in the Philippines looking out of the window, listening to a handful suitors singing kundiman to me. :)

Joy on March 17, 2012:

I also support kundiman songs. These original and classic songs from the past are very precious to me. It reminds me of my childhood days. :)

I also found a great blog about kundiman songs here: http://filipinosongsatbp.blogspot.com/2007/11/kund...

minie betty on February 24, 2012:

great!its my 1st time to hear kundiman songs....now i know how filipino are very artistic....

andi on February 24, 2012:

kundiman songs are the best!

naturalsolutions on September 12, 2011:

As i know kundiman songs of the filipino are really amazing and touching. It really makes them feel the message of the songs. It is often inspirational, romance, nationalistic or sometimes summarize the traditional daily lifestyle of the them.

If would i have a chance to sing one of this kundiman song i will count it as one of my greatest achievement.

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