by Jose Buenconsejo

Fulgencio Tolentino’s vernacular zarzuela Walang Sugat and Jose Estella’s ‘Ang Maya’ (The Sparrow) from the 1905 zarzuela “Filipinas para los Filipinos” recorded by Maria Carpena in 1913. It is believed to have been done in a room at the newly-finished Manila Hotel.

Originally marketed as a device for embalming the human voice afterlife and as an aide to assisting what is said in court proceedings, audio recording technology would find its way into commoditizing music and song that reaped in great profits for the Euro-American venture capitalists. The Enrico Caruso recordings created a global paradigm shift in early 20th century as the recorded technologization of song bedded with the easy partner of capital and advertising, propelling the unprecedented human desires that were sold as a panacea for a perceived lack in the consuming (but missing the refined or civilized) self and as aid to building character (Bildung).

The first two Philippine popular music ever recorded were Massaguer’s ‘La Bella Filipina,’ in 1905, and Paterno’s ‘La Sampaguita’ in 1910. The former was renamed to ‘Belle of the Philippines’ (the first word indicating French-ification). Sadly, as these were produced in the USA, names of composers were deleted. Massaguer as composer was not credited and it was reworked into ragtime music that was the dominant style at that time. Paterno’s music was rendered by the famed Philippine Constabulary Band during a pause in their American concert tour when they were invited to play in the inauguration of the American President. These were commercial projects unlike that of Frances Densmore who recorded indigenous music among participants in the St. Louis Exposition in 1904 for anthropological research.

The early commercial recordings were done on Edison blue amberol cylinders. An advertisement in Almanaque Manila galante para el año 1912, page 207, shows that the hardware called Fonografo Edison (for playing the cylinders) was already available at 100 C. Alkan Street in Escolta Manila as late as 1911.

The preservation of these recorded sounds debunks current knowledge that the first Philippine recorded music was in 1913, sung by the tandem Maria Carpena and Victorino Carreon, singing songs from Fulgencio Tolentino’s vernacular zarzuela Walang Sugat and Jose Estella’s ‘Ang Maya’ (The Sparrow) from the 1905 zarzuela Filipinas para los Filipinos under the supervision of Major William Hart Anderson, who was not a musician. This was believed to have been done in a room in the newly-finished Manila Hotel. That might be true if Anderson, equipped with the portable Victrola machine, was “commissioned” to do the recording by the company. However, this was very unlikely because Victor Talking Company, based in Camden New Jersey, was very meticulous in the quality of their recordings. By 1913, Anderson was the supplier of Erlanger and Galinger store, which was the main dealer-distributor of Victor Talking company’s mechanical playback machines in the Philippines. His competitor was another expatriate businessman named Isaac Beck who was the dealer of the German trademark Odeon recordings. Nonetheless, Maria Carpena, who died in 1915, is listed in Richard Spottswood’s catalogue of “ethnic music” (see volume 4) with given dates of 1920s but qualified with a question mark. The plausible theory then is that, had there been an acoustical recording of Carpena’s voice in Manila itself, then this must have been reissued in 1920 by Victor and then marketed back to the islands.

It was only after the invention of the condenser microphone in the mid-1920s and the electricity-driven gadgetry that converted acoustic signals to electro-magnetic waves did the acceleration of commercial recording of Philippine music started. This was the age of the American vaudeville or what Peter Keppy said as the “Jazz Age” in Southeast Asia. Not long after, radio broadcasting followed suit and it immediately went into the commercial sphere reaching in the 1930s only to the hands of the rich and landed Filipinos and the salaried bureaucrats.

The impulse to record local music was the order of the day. After all, records cannot be sold without the hardware of the electricity-powered gramophone. This began to sideline the music-making furniture that was the piano of the previous generation. The rhetoric of using Western classical music was also shouted out as a means for appreciating music of the masters and links between the Bureau of Education and commercial distributors were signed.

Enriquez, Elizabeth L. Appropriation of Colonial Broadcasting: A History of Early Radio in the Philippines, 1922-1946. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2008.

“Maria Carpena” from E. Arsenio Manuel, Dictionary of Philippine Biography. Quezon City: Filipiniana Publications, 1970.

To cite this page:
Jose Buenconsejo, “[Sound Bite] Early Commercial Recordings of Composed Philippine Music (1905-1929)”, Sonic Entanglements Website, 19.03.2021,

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