CULTURAL LECTURE REVIEW: Himig ng Pilipinas sa Nakaraang Siglo (Contributions of Filipino Women to Philippine Pop Music in the Last 100 Years)

The lecture described the contributions of Filipino women to Philippine pop music over the last 100 years.

Photo by Allan Alvarez

by Rose Cruz Churma

Held on March 22 which is the Philippine National Women’s Month, this lecture was led by Paul Gabriel L. Cosme and held at the Honolulu Sentro Rizal on the historic building on the Philippine Consulate grounds along Pali Highway.

Co-sponsored by the Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu and the Filipino Association of University Women (FAUW) the lecture described the contributions of Filipino women to Philippine pop music over the last 100 years.

Popular music was chosen as the theme since it offers insight into culture and public consumption and is indicative of mass trends that are pervasive in Philippine daily life.  It also hints at collective identity and consciousness.

During the pre-1900s, there was Dolores Paterno who composed La Flor de Manila. But from 1898 to 1946 during the American colonial period saw the popularity of bodabil with Katy de la Cruz emerging as the “Queen of Bodabil and Jazz.”

During this period, the University of the Philippines (UP) was established in 1908 which eventually formed the UP Conservatory in 1916. From 1934 to 1938, efforts were made at UP to collect and retrieve folk music and dance as the university’s flagship project.

The establishment of the Philippine Women’s University in 1919 (led by Francisca Tirona Benitez with six other women) led to the Filipiniana Folk Music and Dance Collection spearheaded by Lucrecia Kasiglag in music and Lucrecia Ursula in dance.

For baby boomers who grew up in the Philippines, Sylvia La Torre is a recognizable name—known as the “Queen of Kundiman” and “First Lady of Philippine Television” for hosting the Big Show and Oras ng Ligaya. She studied “serious” music at the UST Conservatory and was associated with the Manila Grand Opera House.

By the 1960s to the early 80s, there were Pilita Corales, Nora Aunor, Sharon Cuneta and Odette Quesada who won MetroPop in 1983 and who composed several karaoke hits sung by popular singers like Kuh Ledesma and Regine Velasquez.

One segment of the lecture discussed the development of Original Pinoy Music (OPM) and its roots in the Filipino national identity to the emergence of rock bands like Aegis (who performed several times on O’ahu—at the FilCom Center in 2013 to SRO crowds).

Sarah Geronimo and Angeline Quinto are some of the women vocal artists who are now popular in the pop music scene in the Philippines. There’s also Moira dela Torre, the duo called Leanne and Naara, Stef Aranas, and Billie de la Paz of Oh, Flamingo!.

What this lecture established is that women have always significantly contributed to Philippine pop culture, and its reinvention into new forms, new sounds and use of new technology. The lecture concludes with the following: “Without her, what we know as Philippine pop music would never exist.”

However, discussing this topic in the absence of the Filipino men’s contribution is a disservice to truly understanding the evolution of pop music within Philippine culture. Perhaps in the future—not during Philippine National Women’s Month—this lecture could take place once more, with the men’s contributions acknowledged.

Paul Gabriel L. Cosmeis a student at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (UHM) as a graduate degree fellow at the East-West Center (EWC) and the recipient of the Elizabeth Spann Award in the College of Arts.

He graduated with highest honors from Macalester College where he majored in Music and International Studies and is a winner of the Lila Bell Acheson Wallace Endowed Prize in Music.

As a scholar, his area of interest can be described as aspiring “to make connections and elucidate shared histories between various cultures and communities that he has since called his home” because he is at the intersections of his homeland, its diaspora and its neighbors around the Pacific.

As a musical composer, he combines various formats and sounds “from Asian and Western traditions with classical, pop & rock, jazz, and traditional artists from the United States and through Asia and the Pacific.”

He likes to improvise on the kulintang and currently works on two projects: the Pagsamba (To Worship), a mass setting by Filipino National Artist José Montserrat Maceda; and how various Filipina popular singing voices resist colonial modernity in the Philippines.

This lecture, which was followed by a sumptuous spread of food and wine, was made possible through the auspices of Vice Consul Leizel Caasi and the Consulate staff and the FAUW officers led by its current president, Bey Aquino Lontoc.  

Some historical tidbits regarding the venue of the lecture—at the spot where the lecture took place—was where Mr. & Mrs. Renjes, the original owners of the historic Philippine Consulate building, welcomed their guests which included President and Mrs. Dole and Honolulu’s “high society” at a reception for the Dutch artist Hubert Vow on March 23, 1898.

Heinrich Renjes built this historic structure and completed it in 1890 for his bride, Elizabeth Kekaeikapuokalani Coney of Kauai.

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ROSE CRUZ CHURMA established Kalamansi Books & Things three decades ago. It has evolved from a mail-order bookstore into an online advocacy with the intent of helping global Pinoys discover their heritage by promoting books of value from the Philippines and those written by Filipinos in the Diaspora. We can be reached at kalamansibooks@gmail.com.


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