Searching for Chinese Elements in Philippine
music and dance
by Pio Andrade
Chinese influence runs deep
in Philippine life and culture permeating Philippine
language, religious rituals, family relationships,
games, customs, crafts, paintings. Although less written
or heard about, Chinese elements have also crept into
Philippine and music.
Bayanihan, the country's
premier dance troupe, has been researching this area in
preparation for a dance performance called "La Elegancia
Binondo." It hopes to present at the Cultural Center of
the Philippines this year. "La Elegancia Binondo"
will highlight Chinatown's rich cultural heritage and
feature Chinese influences in Philippine music and
Last March, I got an
unexpected call from Guillermo Gomes Rivera, the premier
Spanish Dance Instructor in the Philippines, who
invited me to join him and several other Bayanihan
members in a guided tour of Binondo on Holy Thursday.
Rivera is a mestizo terciado: Filipino, Chinese blood
through his maternal grandfather.
Visits Bahay Tsinoy (from
left) Helen Legion
(assistant to costume
director), Kaisa Heritage
Center Executive Trustee
Teresita Ang Se, Kaisa
President Ang Chak Chi, and
Leo Lorilla (performing
Rivera arrived at the
Binondo Church, the meeting place, with five
Bayanihan members: music director Melito Vale Cruz,
dance director and choreographer Ferdinand Jose and
dancers Macky Mangasi, Maggie Mae Castro and
Because of parking problems
in Binondo, we decided to drive to Intramuros to grab a
bite before embarking on the tour. But all the
restaurants there were closed, so we headed back to
My first choice, Sincerity
Restaurant, was closed. We proceeded to Cafe
Mezzanine at Nueva and Ongpin streets and were happy to
find it open. Cafe Mezzanine is also referred to
as the Firemen's Restaurant because its proceeds benefit
the volunteer firefighters. Over tasty
refreshments, Rivera talked about several Filipino
songs, the melody and rhythm of which are recognizably
Chinese. One of these, "El Collar de Sampaguita,"
a Francisco Buencamino composition, was popular in the
19th century and was usually sung in celebrations where
the honorees were presented with sampaguita garlands .
The songs was later eclipsed by the famous sampaguita
song composed by Dolores Paterno whose roots are
When Rivera identified "Sitsiritsit
Alibangbang" as another such song, I was surprised.
But when he sang it in Chinese rhythm, I was
As for dance, "Sakuting,"
from the sound itself, is of Chinese origin.
I contributed my two cents'
worth about the origin of the folding Spanish fan, which
despite its name, is of Chinese origin. This, I
told the members of the Bayanihan dance troupe, leads me
to believe that Spanish dances where the fan figures
prominently are of Chinese influence.
I also recommended a study
of dances that use small bells, having heard
recorded Chinese music with bells ringing.
I likewise suggested that
includes harp playing.
The harp was a favorite
musical instrument of the
mestizas in Manila in the
19th century. A
European traveler in Manila
at that time wrote of harps
being played in Chinese
homes. There is an
account about the daughter
of an American and a
Chinese mestiza playing for
guests in their Binondo home
in 1850. The Chinese
version of the harp is the
lute. In old
Philippine towns like Lopez,
Quezon where Spanish,
Chinese, Filipino presence
is prominent, there are a
lot of harps. Kaisa
member Rosalinda Tu once
told me that harp repairmen
still operate in Aparri,
(from left) Castro, Sr.
Guillermo Gomez, Jose,
Mangasi and Vale Cruz at the
Sta. Cruz de Longos Shrine