|About the Music of Harana
by Florante Aguilar
(as published in Filipinas Magazine, 10/07)
For a tradition that is widely known in the Philippines, the harana yields surprisingly little documented history. It is often heard in passing, seen depicted in old paintings, referred to in Tagalog literature and in modern times, almost always made fun of as passe.
One thing is certain. Nobody practices it anymore. Yet the list of harana songs one can dig up on Google suggests an evocative time in old Philippines - Natutulog Ka Na Ba Sinta? (Are You Asleep, My Love?), Kay Lungkot Nitong Hating Gabi (How Sad is This Night), O Ilaw (Oh Light), Umaga Na Pala (Morning Has Arrived).
Another thing certain is that some of the songs filtered through time and are heard in various incarnations, often as pop or jazz songs by current Filipino singers.
The songs are sometimes in the kundiman form, evoking the haranista's humble origins, his offer of unequaled love and always assuming that such love is unrequited. In fact, kundiman is a composite of the phrase Kung hindi man (literally, "If It is Not"), a declaration that implies, "if it's not meant to be" or "if you do not love me". Such proclamations suggest that harana was performed in a rural setting, sort of a poor man's way to date a 'dalagang Pilipina'. A son of a wealthy sugar cane hacienda owner can hardly be expected to sing such songs. Depictions of harana done in front of a small hut also support this notion.
Describing harana music itself is a study in Philippine colonial history - both from Spain and the United States. The rhythm is almost always in habanera. Think of the rhythm from the popular aria Habanera from Bizet's opera Carmen. Played on solo guitar and slowed down to a grind, the result is a lilting tropical rhythm . Crooning a la Bing Crosby on top of that, you get harana in the Ruben Tagalog style of the 1940's.