Victor Eco

Nikki Santiago

English 165

Ms. Liza Erpelo

Essay 4



“Cultural Activism Through Kulintang Music”



            A teacher wherever the classroom is would teach a student who is willing to learn.  There has not been a very wide scope of learning Filipino culture in the United States.  Most Philippine history classes focus on the events that transpire under foreign rule, not many discuss the pre-colonial traditions and unblemished cultures of certain people in the Philippines.  Kulintang music is one of these pre-colonial traditions that remain uninfluenced by western ideas, and this music is prevalent in the southern islands of the Philippines where the Spanish were unsuccessful in their conquests.  One sunny, fall afternoon during one of our free class periods at Skyline College, while in the band classroom Victor and I interviewed Master Danongan Kalanduyan, an esteemed educator of kulintang music at Skyline and S.F.S.U., and focused on how his music educated and brought together the Filipino American community in the United States.

            Master Danongan Kalanduyan or Danny as we fondly call him, was born and raised in a small fishing town called Datu Piang in the southern islands of the Maguindanao region in the Philippines.  The article simply entitled “Maguindanao” by Jose Arnaldo Dris tells us about Maguinadanoan literature and performance art, “For the Maguindanao, riddles promote friendship in a group… The Maguindanao believe in a basic unity underlying the various aspects of the environment and this belief is reflected in the use of often conflicting image and subject in the riddles (Notre Dame Journal 1980:17).”  Performance art lies in Danny’s veins, for most of his family are renowned Maguinadano musical artists with a various scope of instruments and media; he was exposed to kulintang music by holding down the agungs and gandingans as their village elders played.  Soon, Danny became active in the musical community in Maguindanao by joining gandingan and agung contests.  He began his teaching career by being involved with the Darangan Cultural Troupe, which enabled him to travel and see parts of the world.  In the last years of the brain drain in the 1970s, an ethnomusicology program in the University of Washington brought Danny from the Philippines to the United States through the help of Dr. Robert Garfias and a Rockefeller grant.  Danny’s migration from the Philippines to the United States is an uncommon one in the Filipino American community in the United States.  Most Filipinos who immigrated to the United States had to go through a screening process to get into the United States; applying for a visa, lining up at embassies and looking for employment and living accommodations.  Danny did not have to go through all of that, his papers, employment and living accommodations, as well as his flight tickets were all taken cared of by the University of Washington where taught in their ethnomusicology program.  He had several teaching invitations as an artist-in-residence at New York, University of California Los Angeles, and San Diego State University, and finally found his “home” while teaching at San Francisco State University and Skyline Community College after moving to the Daly City-South San Francisco Area in California.  Although Danny has found a home in South San Francisco, he still considers Maguindanao his homeland having current communication and relations with his extended family that still reside there.  This kind of transnationalism is explained in Yen Le Espiritu’s book called Home Bound where the author states, “Recent empirical research indicates that amid this transnational flow, many immigrants anchor themselves by carrying ‘home’ on their backs.  This practice is most apparent in the case of immigrants, refugees, and exiles who continue to invest in ‘back-home’ lives and ties even as they establish social, economic, and political relations in their new country.  Post war Asian America is populated with transnational migrants… whose households, activities, networks, ideologies, and identities transcend the boundaries of the nation-states between which the migrants move.” (Le Espiritu, 9).  It is through this kind of transnationalism that Danny has been able to further promote the Filipino pre-colonial traditions of the Maguindanaon people ultimately bringing together the Filipino American community in the United States.

            Through teaching kulintang music and ethnomusicology in the United States, Danny has been able to educate the Filipino American youth and has stirred them to learn more about their culture and heritage, for as he mentioned in his interview with us, Danny believes that, “We are all Filipinos.  It doesn’t matter where I came from.  It doesn’t matter what religious belief we have.  We are all Filipino…”.  Various teaching engagements throughout the United States have given him the opportunity to provide a spotlight for the pre-colonial Filipino traditions that remain unblemished by western ideals in the American society, which eventually brought the scattered Filipino American community together by promoting their culture on a stage.  In his own way, Danny has given light to a certain cultural activism that was not very rampant in Filipino immigrants who migrated during the same era that he did, “By the late 1990s, according to my estimate and that of those I interviewed, the number of Filipino American community organizations in San Diego County has risen to between 150 and 175 – an exponential increase from the handful that existed prior to 1970.  The majority are hometown or provincial organizations, some of which have been started anew, while other have been revived by the influx of new immigrants from their hometown.  The proliferation of community organizations in San Diego – and elsewhere – is commonly perceived by Filipinos as evidence of divisiveness and disunity within their community.” (Le Espiritu, 122).  Danny’s perseverance in educating both the Filipino American and American communities about kulintang music and life in Maguindanao has created an awareness, equality and deeper understanding on the differences between the varying influences on Philippine culture, may they be foreign or religious ideals; thus, attracting a more united front for the Filipino and Asian communities in the United States as recognized by Vicente Rafael in his book White Love, “In an era marked by diaspora, nationalism has provided a language for organizing and mobilizing overseas and immigrant communities in response to racial and sexual discrimination and often in alliance with other similarly marginalized groups, both in the host country and the Philippines.” (Rafael, 13).  Danny’s work in promoting his music and culture in an American setting has provided unity by allowing Filipinos to celebrate along with him and the various groups linked to him like, the Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble, Ating Tao and the Skyline College Kulintang Ensemble and a generous amount of P.C.N.s, “As such, these organizations – through their activities – more often than not build linkages rather than erecting divisions within the Filipino American community.” (Le Espiritu, 123).  Danny’s presence in the Filipino American community has strengthened students learning and encouraged them to be proud of their identities as Filipinos or diasporic Filipino Americans.

Kulintang music and its teaching are important to Filipinos and Filipino American culture because kulintang music is a strand in Philippine culture that was not influenced by any foreign ideals.  The Maguindanao region of the Philippines is a region rich in its own pre-colonial tradition without context from the Spanish influence, for they were able to protect their land from the Spanish conquistadors of the 1500s.  The popular Filipino traditions that are widely practiced in both Filipino and Filipino American fiestas and gatherings are that of the northern Philippines whose islands were influenced not only by the Spaniards but also by the Americans who annexed the Philippines in the early 1900s and the Japanese who took control of the Philippine government in the 1940s.  It is important for Filipinos to find an identity that is truly theirs without relation to that of the Spanish, American, Japanese or any other foreign influences.  That is why Danny’s music and teachings are still well received by the Filipino and Filipino American youth of today, for most of us unfortunately undergo identity crises due to the diasporic nature of our families and are in dire need of finding ourselves within our own cultures that we have created by adapting cultures from different people and including them to our own.   

Although the pre-colonial traditions of the Philippines are not widely discussed in more books and classrooms both in the Philippines and in the United States, Master Danongan Kalanduyan is a teacher and educator who made classrooms out of garages, workout rooms, and halls in order to fulfill the curiosities of his students who wanted to learn more about kulintang music – the pre-colonial tradition of the Philippines – and made way to make a more united Filipino American community in the United States.















Works Cited


Dris, Jose Arnaldo.  “Maguindanao”.  November 2005.


Kalanduyan, Danongan. Personal interview.  November 29, 2005.


Le Espiritu, Yen.  Home Bound: Filipino American Lives Across Cultures,

Communities, and Countries.  Berkeley, California: University of California

Press, 2001.


Rafael, Vincente L.  White Love and Other Filipino Events in Filipino History. 

Durham: Duke University, 2000.