The folk music of the Philippines reflects the variety of tribes and influences that have shaped the culture of the Asian archipelago. This can be seen in the numerous percussion instruments that are used for tribal dancing, entertainment and even for tasks such as alerting villages of emergencies. From the mound-shaped gongs of the southern islands such as Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago to the flat Asian-influenced instruments of the northern tribes, Filipino percussion instruments vary in origin, size, use and more.
Consisting of a row of small, horizontally laid gongs, the kulintang is an instrument that can be played by a solo performer or as part of an ensemble. The wooden frame used to support the kulintang is typically set just a few inches higher than the seat of a dining chair. The various gongs of the kulintang are tuned to a five-tone scale, with the gong of lowest pitch usually found on the player’s left side. Kulintang is also the term used for a repertoire of music found in the southern part of the Philippines, particularly on the island of Mindanao, and the kulintang instrument serves as the main instrument of kulintang ensembles.
The agung is another type of gong used in kulintang ensembles. It is usually the largest gong used and typically is played either in pairs or just one alone. Kettle-shaped and about 2 feet in diameter, the agung is hung vertically from a tall wooden frame at the waist level of the player. The agung is used in Mindanao as well as among people of the Palawan and Mindoro regions, which are located in the western part of the Philippines.
The dabakan is a wooden drum typically covered with goat, lizard or snake skin. Like the kulintang, the height of the dabakan is similar to that of the seat of a dining chair. The person playing the dabakan typically sits on a chair or bench and strikes the drum with bamboo sticks. The dabakan drum is also part of the kulintang ensemble and varies from conical to hourglass-shaped.
Gangsa is a gong used popularly by Cordillera groups of Luzon in the northern part of the Philippines. Unlike the kettle-shaped gongs used by tribes in the southern Philippines, the gangsa is flat. Usually made of copper and iron alloy, gangsa gongs are used in traditional folk dances by tribes such as the Kalinga to summon the gods for good fortune.