The real bamboo makes history, and beautiful music

Here’s an inspiring story about bamboo making beautiful music. No, not the celebrity Bamboo singing about talismans flowing in our “Noypi” blood, but the real, phenomenal grass we call “kawayan” in the vernacular.

More than 120 years ago, a bamboo band in Malabon played an important role in the Philippine revolution against colonizer Spain in 1896. At a time when the use of the bolo was banned, the Malabon Musikong Bumbong helped the rebel Katipunan movement by hauling and sneaking away weapons. It also played the revolutionary songs “Alerta Katipunan” and “Veteranos dela Revolucion.”

Three generations later, Retired Col. Gilbert Ramos– the great grandson of Felix Ramos, one of the founders of the Malabon Musikong Bumbong–continues the legacy not only by playing but by crafting bamboo musical instruments (BMI) as well. The band is now known as Musikawayan, and continues to make music beyond its hometown Malabon.

Apart from being the conductor and musical director of Musikawayan, Ramos also trains members of the Binan Kawayan Music Ensemble.

This year, the Department of Science and Technology-Forest Products Research and Development Institute (DOST-FPRDI) started the Bamboo Musical Instruments Innovation R&D Program to improve the quality of locally made BMI. And with this, Ramos and his bands have made patriotism not just a matter of musical connections with government, but that of a sustainable technological endeavor as well. 

“We make various types of instruments such as tipangklung, angklung, marimba, bumbong, bamban and gabbang, mostly for our clients from schools and music stores,” shared Ramos. He admits that, though there is a steady demand for their products, one of the challenges has been maintaining the quality of the raw materials, especially since bamboo poles are prone to bukbok (powderpost beetle) infestation.

According to Program Leader Aralyn L. Quintos, “The DOST-FPRDI program aims to provide science-backed solutions to BMI problems on sound and structural qualities, playability, tuning and durability.”

The program seeks to develop technologies that will prolong the life of bamboo without negatively affecting the musical instruments’ sound quality; standardize the production of selected BMI; develop prototype design; analyze raw material sources and existing markets; and build a BMI processing facility.

“As an offshoot, we hope to raise public awareness and appreciation for the cultural importance of these musical instruments,” Quintos added.

Program partners include the University of the Philippines-Center for Ethnomusicology and Philippine Normal University. Funding will be provided by the DOST Grants-in-Aid.

With Filipino ingenuity and ample R&D support, craftsmen and musicians like Ramos can look forward to making more beautiful music, intertwined with Filipino history, with bamboo. (DOST-FPRDI Technical Services Division).