Ethnic Pop

In the 1980s, a trend in Philippine music emerged—“ethnic pop.” In essence, ethnic pop “seeks to integrate ethnic elements (musical structures, instruments, costumes) into pop music culture” (Santos 1994).

Among the artists who ventured into this genre are Ryan Cayabyab; Emil Sanglay who used Muslim-inspired rhythms in 1970; Lokal Brown and Grupong Pendong, known for the use of indigenous instruments such as the kubing, kulintang, tongatong, agung, and faglong; Pen Pen; and Asin, who used rock beat in traditional folk songs and were popularly known for the song “Masdan Mo ang Kapaligiran” which advocates the environment.

Edru Abraham and Kontra-Gapi (Kontemporaryong Gamelang Pilipino) fuse Philippine pre-Christian and rural folk music traditions with modern song styles for their new compositions. UP Musika Asya of Kristina Benitez and Felicidad Prudente also made use of pre-Christian music. Another popular artist in this genre is Joey Ayala who together with his Bagong Lumad (new native) made use of traditional instrumental sounds from Mindanao.

Ethnic pop music mostly tackled contemporary problems in society, particularly the environment, human rights, and social justice. As a country whose culture has been shaped by various colonial influences, there is always a quest for a unique and “national” identity and liberation from colonial standards. Through ethnic pop, Filipinos are reminded of their ethnic musical roots as well as the current concerns affecting their daily lives.


Hila, A. (1992). Musika : An essay on Philippine ethnic music. Manila : Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Santos, R. P. (1994). Musika : An essay on the American colonial and contemporary traditions in Philippine music. Manila : Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Tiongson, N. (Ed.). (1994). CCP encyclopedia of Philippine art (Vol. 6: Philippine music). Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines.

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