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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Addendum Part 8: Guitar Players in 19th & 20th Century Paintings

Music was and is an important part of Philippine culture. The Spanish brought their music traditions like the rondalla, a stringed orchestra with various wooden instruments played with plectrum or picks, to the Philippines. Guitars and other similar-looking instruments were included in those orchestras. Rondalla music accompanied many forms of Spanish-influenced songs and dances. Harana, the popular lyrical songs used in courtship rituals, were based in Spanish and Mexican music traditions and often involved singing accompanied by guitar.

Filipinos often used music to soothe, relax, break the monotony, pass the time, win a woman’s heart or celebrate, among many other reasons. So the guitar player played an important role in many social functions, bringing joy, amusement, entertainment, affectionate feelings and other emotions out of their audiences.

 

Artists of the 19th and 20th centuries painted common scenes of musicians in everyday life. Guitar players were portrayed as working or lower class commoners in art, usually not wearing fancy colorful clothing that stood out, like the higher classes. Their clothing, which often included off-white barongs or camisa de chino, pants suited for work and straw hats for protection from the sun, looked practical and were worn for comfort in the tropical climate.

“Indio Guitarrista” painted by Felix Martinez y Lorenzo, 1887. A native Filipino guitar player tunes his guitar in his barong

“Indio Guitarrista” painted by Felix Martinez y Lorenzo, 1887. This native guitar player tunes his guitar in the middle of the countryside. He wears a Barong Tagalog with neckerchief, rolled up pants, and a straw hat to protect his face from the sun. His barong appears to be made of a light and translucent material.

“A Little Serenade” painted by R.B. Enriquez, 1948. Guitar player performs in his Barong Tagalog, red pants and hat

“A Little Serenade” painted by R.B. Enriquez, 1948. This guitar player sits and performs a song under a tree as the sun sets. He wears a translucent off-white barong, rolled up red work pants, and straw hat.

“El Ciego” (the blind man) painted by Fernando Cueto Amorsolo, 1929. A blind man in a barong plays guitar as a young woman leans towards him and looks

“El Ciego” (the blind man) painted by Fernando Cueto Amorsolo, 1929. This painting shows an interior scene of a blind man gently playing his guitar as a woman leans in towards him with an adoring gaze. He wears a striped work barong and dark blue work pants.