Fancy flutes from Philippines

Last Updated 29 August 2015, 18:30 IST
A trip to Philippines is any beach bum’s delight. With over 7,000 islands to explore, it is a pleasurable archipelago to visit. However, if you are an aficionado of music, like me, you will have more reasons to celebrate your trip. Because, you will see a different musical instrument in each island, which makes you wonder at the uniqueness of them all. The natives guard their musical culture from foreign influences to preserve their ethnic identity, even as they appreciate world music.

The first instrument that caught my fancy was tongali, a flute that is played by streaming air through it by the nose. Made of bamboo, this end-blown flute produces shrill notes. It was intriguing to note the player playing it with one of his nostrils blocked. A four-holed flute, it is generally played by the residents of northern Philippines, especially in Kalinga of the Luzon region.

There’s an interesting story around this instrument. In days of yore, it was played in the paddy fields by farmers who believed that rice grew better listening to the flute’s melodious strains. Being a musical instrument much sought after by students, I was told by my local friends that tongali is one of the few nose flutes that’s actively played and taught at the University of Philippines.

A tongali is called kaleleng by the Bontok people, and ungiung by the Ifugao people. This nose flute is played in some parts of southern Philippines. And, in the Province of Palawan, the largest in Philippines, the nose flutes have tubes much larger in diameter than those found in Luzon.

Another interesting flute I came across was the lip-valley flute, believed to be the most difficult flute to play. The mouthpiece is fashioned in a way that follows the contour of the player’s lips, from where it gets its name. This flute is known by different names by different linguistic groups — palendag, bangsi, falandag, pulalu and tulale are just a few.

The instrument, played in both southern and northern Philippines, is quite attractive to look at as it is decorated with carvings blackened by burning.

Similar flutes include the ring flute, the whistle flute and the chip-on-tube flute. The lip-valley flute, also known as the notched flute, and the ring flute, are longer instruments, I was told, generally used by professional musicians as they produce lengthy melodies that can change from one octave range to another by overblowing.

Though I was lucky enough to witness a musical performance that used a variety of instruments, I found it difficult to identify the octave shift. So well was the synchronisation of the musical instruments.

So the next time you are in Philippines, don’t miss attending a musical performance to enjoy the many unique instruments the beautiful island nation is home to.

(Published 29 August 2015, 16:23 IST)

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