Harana or Kundiman?

If you are one of the Filipinos having a hard time distinguishing between harana and kundiman music, don’t be ashamed – you are not alone! It is very easy to confuse the two.

It is common to hear people refer to ANY old Tagalog love song as kundiman or harana. Though I cringe every time, I often don’t bother to correct them because I’m in no mood to start a dissertation type of explanation. But a blog, now there’s the perfect soapbox to indulge.

So, herewith is my attempt to correct some fallacies. To Philippine music scholars out there, feel free to chip in at the Comments section below.

Harana

During a serenade, one can pretty much sing any love song he likes, even English ones, and still get away calling it a harana. But if you are going for a truly authentic harana experience like they did in old Philippines, you have to use a particluar set of songs specifically written for the endeavor. These songs were written by some of the better-known composers in the last 75 years such as Santiago Suarez, Constancio de Guzman and Antonio Molina, to name a few.

Harana music has its very own distinctive style and a clear stamp of authenticity. In musical terms, the rhythm is habanera which is in 2/4 time. Interestingly, none of the haranistas I met knew what a habanera was. That term is used mostly in western classical music. Instead, the haranistas refer to this rhythm as danza. To hear a sample of this rhythm, click here.

The arrangement is simple and straight forward. It always starts with an introduction of solo guitar, then verse 1 followed by verse 2, then a little bit of solo guitar in the middle, then back to verse 2 until the end. Occasionally, there are short exchanges between the guitar and voice in the middle, like they do here.

Another area to look for signs of authenticity is in the lyrics. True harana songs place the singer in the act of serenading such as when he implores “Dungawin mo hirang” (Look out the window, my beloved), “Natutulog ka na ba, sinta” (Are you asleep, my love) or “O Ilaw, sa gabing madilim” (Oh light, in a night so dark).

My favorite aspect of the harana lyrics is its use of pure, unadulterated and archaic Tagalog. They use words you and I will never hear in a daily conversation in Manila. Words such as idampulay (to offer or give), tanglaw (luminous or luminosity), or pagkagupiling (a light sleep). You will also never encounter even a hint of Spanish word – a characteristic shared by kundiman songs. Harana and kundiman may be the last refuge of the ancient Tagalog language.

Instrument-wise, the guitar is the most trusted companion. Though other instruments were known to be used such as the violin and banduria most recordings of harana from the 1940s to 1960s featured only a guitar (or two) accompanying the vocals.

There are many popular Filipino love songs that don’t meet these requirements but nevertheless were used in harana. Songs such as the popular Dahil Sa Iyo by Miguel Velarde, Jr. or Dahil Sa Isang Bulaklak by Leopoldo Silos. Stylistically, the haranistas never refer to them as harana, instead they just call them ‘love songs’.

Things to look for: when you hear the danza rhythm played on guitar combined with lyrics that place the haranista in the act, using archaic Tagalog, that’s a dead giveaway that you are listening to a true harana.

Kundiman

One of the main reasons kundiman is mistaken for a harana is because haranistas would oftentimes sing kundiman songs during a harana. See how easy it is to get confused? But make no mistake, harana and kundiman are stylistically different.

Whereas harana is in 2/4/ time, kundiman is in 3/4. The formula is verse 1 on minor key (e.g. C Minor) followed by verse 2 on parallel major key (C Major) midway through. This is intractable. Stray from this formula, and you no longer have a kundiman.

As mentioned, the language is also in archaic Tagalog but the theme subject is different from harana. Kundiman songs have a fatalistic woe-is-me streak to it. He is always heartbroken, very poor with nothing to offer other than his undying love, and willing to suffer, even die, to prove his love. In fact, the word kundiman is said to be the contraction of the phrase “kung hindi man” (if not, or if not meant to be).

If there is a single art form that captures the Filipino character, kundiman would be it for it is said that the Filipino’s humble nature and willingness to be trampled on is the main reason we allowed years of colonization and oppression from Spain, America and Japan. Even a fellow Filipino dictator was in on the flogging. Perhaps a controversial statement if not an exaggeration.

Whereas harana were sung exclusively by men, the history of recordings might give you the impression that kundiman were more often sang by women. This is attested to by recordings and accounts of luminaries such as Conching Rosal, Atang dela Rama and Sylvia la Torre. This is because it happened during the advent of recording in the early 1900s as well as the rise of the formalization of kundiman art form championed by Nicanor Abelardo, Bonifacio Abdon, et al. These composers were trained in the west and were very successful in integrating the operatic aria style into the kundiman. It is sung by a soprano and accompanied by full orchestra or the piano. This is the kundiman most of us know today (samples below).

However, there was a more basic form of kundiman that existed prior to that. They were songs the commonfolk could sing, and not operatic in style. This is the kundiman that existed long before the Abelardos and the Abdons. It uses just the guitar and voice and often sung by men. These were the kundimans sung by the haranistas during a harana.

It is based on the kumintang, a true indigenous (pre-colonial) style of song and pantomime that originated in the Tagalog region, probably Batangas. The guitar was later incorporated upon the arrival of Spain. The kumintang is a whole different subject that warrants an extensive research.

Things to look for: the kundiman is in 3/4 time, starting in minor key, switching to major key in the middle, uses archaic Tagalog, with the subject matter that revolves around being heartbroken.

Chances are, you probably won’t hear true harana or kundiman in our daily lives because they are not played (or seldom played) on the radio, television, internet or live performances. And if you hear one, chances are it is kundimanin (pseudo-kundiman) and treated more like cheap ditties rather than art form.

On top of distinguishing between the two genres, I also want us to make a clear distinction between authentic harana and kundiman. There are many versions out there, including some of my own recordings, that do not exactly meet these requirements. I am not saying that other versions are not valid, in fact, I encourage evolution and modern iteration of these genres as long as they are done well and they retain the spirit. I castigate them not for being inauthentic but for being truly horrific. But that’s another topic.

So, the next time you hear an old Tagalog song, try not to automatically categorize them as harana or kundiman. Chances are they are neither because true ones are hard to come by. But should you encounter one, you may now consider yourself armed with the knowledge to distinguish between the two.

Music Samples
(Note: To avoid copyright infringement, all music samples below are truncated to about 60 seconds)

Hear an example of a true harana song:
Kay Lungkot Nitong Hatinggabi (written by Santiago Suarez and sung by Ruben Tagalog from the album ‘Harana ni Ruben Tagalog’)

Hear an example of formalized kundiman as championed by Nicanor Abelardo, et al. This example uses a string orchestra accompanying a soprano:
Nasaan Ka Irog (written by Nicanor Abelardo, sung by Sylvia la Torre from the album ‘Kundiman’)

Hear an example of kundiman in its most basic form of guitar and male voice:
Bituing Walang Ningning (composer unknown, sung by the haranista Romeo Bergunio from the upcoming documentary film Harana)

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20 Comments

  1. Mark A. Galang says:

    Hello. I’m very happy to have found your site and the information it contains regarding Harana and Kundiman. The information will really help me in composing pieces in the near future.

  2. ramil "plok" chavenia says:

    Thanks Sir Florante Aguilar for your very educational blog. I am also a researcher of harana (Bicol). True, there are lots of haranistas (especially the “later” generations) who really are confused of the harana as a song and as a tradition. Tagalog and Bikol haranas have lots in common even the use of tagalog repertoire “adopted” in the Bikol harana (probably because of the popularity of published tagalog harana songs during the 19th century). Lyricwise, old Bikol harana songs do have some Spanish lyrics (amor, corazon and other love-related words). A common and significant observation is the use of the archaic language which to my dismay are rarely used and understood by the present generation. More power to your site/blog and hope to hear more from you.

  3. Pete Lacaba says:

    You write: “You will also never encounter even a hint of Spanish word” in a harana. Never? But “O Ilaw,” one of the songs you call a harana, has the line: “Buksan ang bintana.” So should that line be “Buksan ang durungawan”? 😉 Bintana, after all, comes from the Spanish word ventana.

  4. […] historical info on the lost practice of ‘kundiman’ and ‘harana’, go here and here; harana is an extension of kundiman. May this beautiful practice of […]

  5. Robert Welsh says:

    Excellent writings here and on your other pages, very informative!

    You wrote:

    “He is always heartbroken, very poor with nothing to offer other than his undying love, and willing to suffer, even die, to prove his love.”

    So, is Kundiman almost a Filipino Blues?

  6. dbella says:

    to add to Apicio’s comment, yes, it’s about word usage – Harana is often used as a companion to “ligaw” – to court. Harana and Kundiman are both beautiful traditional Filipino love songs. we could say that Kundiman are the songs used for unsuccessful courtships. my favorite line from a Kundiman song (thank you, Florante, for the enlightenment) is ” mabuti pang mamatay, tuluyan na sa hukay…” deliciously tragic and dramatic. always makes me chuckle a bit.

  7. Apicio says:

    I suspect that much of the confusion stems from the fact that users of the word Harana do not bother to disambiguate the two major usage of the word, Harana as a song genre and Harana as a social ritual.

  8. Mar says:

    Thanks for the clarifications! I think Harana sometimes also starts with minor and end with major key. I also noticed that the 2/4 time of danza is different from Tango tempo and the 3/4 time of kundiman is different from waltz.

  9. madel says:

    what’s the explanation about those 4/4 or 3/4 or 2/4…?what are those and its functions to music…?please need an anwer…4 the sake of my report….thank you……

  10. LedAm says:

    ,….tHank you so much,..!!a great help 4 my report…love the samples of songs..!!!!!!godbless,…!!

  11. jo cruz says:

    are o ilaw and dahil sa iyo classified as kundiman songs?

    • O Ilaw is classic harana (it’s in 4/4 and the context of the lyrics places the singer right in the middle of serenading). O Ilaw is not a kundiman, it doesn’t follow the kundiman characteristics (3/4 time, starts with minor/ending in major key, lyrics/theme doesn’t fit the kundiman sentiment).

      Dahil Sa Iyo is classified by haranistas as just love song. It is neither harana nor kundiman. By that, they mean it is more along the line of pop song rather than a traditional song.

      But of course, who’s to stop anyone from singing any song one desires during a harana? 🙂

  12. Chichi Navar Andrade says:

    I found this spot today hoping to find the real words to a song my father used to sing (he’s 86 yo now) which starts w/: “natutulog ka na ba sinta? sa dilim nitong hatinggabi, ay dinggin ang harana…..: Thank you for this enlightening article. I want to teach my WarayWaray husband the song since he is quite a singer. Dios mabalos po saindo.

  13. Mirla Hugo says:

    First of all, I feel so lucky to find your website. Thank you for all the useful information. I am a big fan of Pilipino classical songs. Sylvia dela Torre is my idol, but I swoom over the other sopranos, too. I appreciate and love the songs of Ruben Tagalog and the other haranistas. I will certainly get my friends know about you. We have to keep them alive and I appreciate you for doing that.
    I have bee wanting to buy music accompaniment for these songs especially that of Sylvia, Conching Rosal, Ruben Tagalog, etc. Is there a link you can connect me to

  14. simeon Ylagan says:

    Thanks for the information.I can play more kundiman and harana on my classical guitar

  15. Robbie Herrera says:

    Thanks for sending. What an interesting read. It’s nice to see it in writing. I’ve been learning kundimans as part of my repertoire from my voice teacher, Minda Azarcon. She did explain to me these differences as I also sing a couple of harana songs in my shows with Kariktan Dance Company.

  16. Cielo says:

    thanks!Helped me a lot with my report..:D..now i understand it…

  17. Jan says:

    Thanks for the information, and for keeping Filipino music alive!

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