(Little) history of Akustik music in the Philippines

A huge following of the Filipino Y-generation –the millennial generation that makes up the demographics of 1980 through the present –dedicate their weekends (and paydays) to trooping to bars for a sampling of music from the likes of Nyoy Volante, Paolo Santos, Jimmy Bondoc, DJ Alvaro, to name a few. These emerging breed of young and brilliant musicians are emblems of Akustik, a colloquial take to acoustic music—Filipino-Style.

Akustik harps on simple tessitura vocals accompanied by electro-acoustic instruments but with strong reverence to the natural acoustic music that has sprouted from its progenitors—Folk music, especially included.

Heber Bartolome, one of the Filipino folk music greats in the 70s believes that Akustik has its roots from the folk music genre that dominated the late 60s to the 70s era of the rockabilly, Woodstock, and bluegrass genii, which include Bob Marley, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Marc Almond, and Joni Mitchell, among others.

The lead of Banyuhay, a local folk music group formed in the early 70s, Heber Bartolome begun playing his few first gigs in various folk houses, including the defunct Butterfly (then located in Diliman, Quezon City), My Father’s Moustache, Kola House, and Bodega ( the latter three were located in Ermita, Manila City), would also do covers of western folk songs with an “unplugged” acoustic guitar, and microphones. “The guitars and other acoustic instruments were not plugged to any amplifiers then. We only had microphones to amplify our vocals and instruments”, he relates. This, he says, is what deviates Akustik music from the folk music he has been playing. He further defines acoustic music—technically speaking—as a melding of acoustic instruments that include flute, guitars, drums, piano, flamenco, mandolin; and vocals. This diversity of instruments also show that folk music is not monotonously acoustic guitar rendered nor it is stuck to the country and blues tempo. The variation is also inherent to the sounds of folk-rock and ethnic music icons like ASIN, Joey Ayala, Lester Demetillo, Bayang Barrios, and Susan Fernandez.

Veteran folk singers Willy San Juan and Art Galero who also started breaking grounds in Hobbit House—also a popular folk house who still claims steady patronage in its location along Mabini Street, Manila City—describe acoustic music in one word: unplugged. While both musicians agree that Akustik shows a strong affinity to folk music, they, however, differ in the lyrical approach. They say that folk music tells of ordinary activities, events, environment in a more specific and straightforward—even fearless—language, such as Banyuhay’s “Tayo’y mga Pinoy (We are Filipinos)”, stressing that having a flat nose is not a gauge to inferiority of race ; Whereas Akustik, while mostly touching on themes like love, romance and existentialism, shows the flexibility of using words that are relatively prosaic and metaphoric, such as local acoustic singer, Paolo Santos’ song, “ Moonlight Over Paris”. The character embodying Akustik is easy listening melody, amorous lyrics, and predominantly acoustic guitar strains, reminiscent of a modern-day Kundiman. Nonetheless, the use of electro-acoustic enhancements is marked in this genre.

Akustik, as is popular today, is a synthesis of the music genres from the previous decades—a subtle mix of influences from jazz, blues, rock, reggae, to name a few. With the emergence of new ideas and terminologies –a natural phenomenon to an evolving culture, Akustik communicates the Filipino sentiments to the world, in a straight-from- the-gut mode.

It may have been strongly rooted in folk music but it is likewise a unique result of the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual responses of the Filipinos to their changing environment. No one generation can own the music it has been associated to, as it can only claim to the influence it has on fine-tuning the successive music genres. After all, music is a continuum, as it is free expression.

Disclaimer: This is an unedited version of the article “From folk to akustik: The saga continues”, published in Mabuhay Magazine (2008). For knowledge purposes.

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