Sunday, August 30, 2015


A distinctive part of the culture here in the Cordillera is the ganza—small, brass, flat gongs ranging in size from about 10 inches in diameter to about a foot and a half. They're usually held in one hand by a rope thong and beaten with a stick held in the other, and while playing the ganza players also dance. Traditionally the gongs are played exclusively by men, who, at least in certain dances, dance and play in an inner circle while the women dance in a larger ring around them. In the community dances everyone follows the same motions, the rings circle, reverse directions, contract and expand all simultaneously (or not so simultaneously based on the knowledge and skill of the dancers). To me it all seems like a big game of follow the leader.
The individual gong rhythms are fairly simple, but they blend together in wonderful and unexpected ways, combine this with the different timbres of each individual set of gongs and every iteration of the same melody will be different. I keep asking people if the players know the rhythms beforehand or if they're improvised, and I keep getting the same answer “uuum...well they kind of just know”. So did they get sat down one day and get taught the individual rhythms of this or that song? Maybe, but probably not, I expect it's more just a case of hearing the same rhythms from childhood, and finding ones place.

I'm having some trouble explaining the ganza so generally, partially because I'm woefully ignorant, but also because ganza styles are so diverse. Everyone plays the same type of gongs, but every tribe has their own rhythms, and their own ways of playing. In some tribes one of the men will hang the gong from his belt and play it with two hands like a drum, while others play the normal way. Some tribes add a solibao drum, or bamboos which are struck against the ground to get a sound that reminds me of bull frogs. The dances are different, with different ways of stepping, and different motions made by the women's hands (remember that the men's hands are busy) Then there are all the different functions of the ganza. There are community rhythms which I've mentioned, there are wedding rhythms, courtship rhythms, and war rhythms. I'm sure there are more but those are the ones I've seen so far. Of course each of these has its own dance, some for a whole lot of dancers, some, such as the courtship dances, only two. One particular dance I love to see is the scarf dance, where a young lady dances with her shawl, until a young man comes and takes an end, and they dance off together each holding the shawl. The symbolism is rather clear. (any Filipinos reading this can help me, is this an Ibaloi dance? I can't remember.)

So why did I feel it was worth it to write a blog about ganza, other than my natural musicians curiousity. I love the ganza because to me they personify so many of the best things about the Philippines. Anyone can join the dancing, or the playing if you're brave, it's not so involved or difficult that a stranger can't join in. Am I saying that it's simplistic? No not necessarily, there are subtleties to the ganza and the dancing which is where the beauty is. Like many Filipino dishes, the recipe is simple, but the details and the skill of the cook is what makes the meal delicious. In the dancing, the steps are simple, but the grace of movement makes it beautiful. Is grace the right word? Grace is often used to mean something slightly effeminate, and fluid. We call ballet dancers graceful. Dancing for the ganza is not like ballet. There is something blocky and ...fierce about it, especially in the male dancing, which I find fascinating. But the movement is still graceful; joyous and free.

A friend of mine told me that the gongs traditionally are a call to a feast, that anyone who could hear the gongs was invited. It seems to me that this is still true. The gongs are loud, obnoxious, and joyful; they beg you to participate, and they are always accompanied by food. In these ways they are just like Philippino parties, and that's why I love them.

I stole all these pictures from the internet.... I know I have some of my own...just wait till I find them