Forgive Us Our Sins but not Theirs: On Kundiman — Mangal Media – [Excerpt]
By Katherinna Mar
— Researching the kundiman further, at first I could only find technical specifications. Meter, instrumental accompaniment, melody. Then, that it’s widely recognized as the Philippines’ original serenade. That its lyrics are always about love and longing. And given the patriarchal and machismo-rife culture it was born from, kundimans were sung by a man, about a beautiful young woman.
Looking even further, the first kundimans seem to be folk songs, likely originating in the Visayas region of the Philippines. They’re precolonial, which means they’re at least half a millennia old. So I’d have to take back what I said about the machismo-rife, patriarchal culture. If the songs predated colonialism, then we could be talking matriarchal culture.
I couldn’t find any lyrics for precolonial kundimans. But between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the 20th, the kundiman was “rediscovered” and formalized as an art song, heavy with Western and Spanish influence. I listened to a few renditions and these art songs sound strikingly similar to their more modern counterparts: melodramatic, over-the-top, again, embarrassing. And the old poems I did find translations for seemed so one-sided, lacking.
When I finally discovered that kundimans were also coded anti-colonial songs, everything started to fall into place.