BALITAW, the Visayan folksong

 

The balitaw is the song traditionally associated with the Visayas region in the same way the kundiman and kumintang are associated with ancient Tagalog music.


The music of the balitaw is usually written in 3/4 time.  It is also danced to, although it originally was something that was merely sung. This folk air has a more developed form called balitao romansada. The traditional instrument used to accompany the balitaw was a three-string coconut-shell guitar; later, a harp was adopted as the instrument of choice because more chords could be played on it. When performed today in modern rendition, a five-string guitar is used.


The balitaw  is a debate or dialogue song in which a young woman and a young man compete to see who is better at improvising romantic verses. These verses are sometimes memorized in advance. Using song to disguise the intimate sentiments of courtship reduces the embarrassment involved in meeting potential mates. 

 

These witty exchanges of balitaw used to be a prelude to courtship and marriage, but this tradition had faded away by the 1930's and is no longer observed in contemporary Visayan society, although the songs are still  performed for the sake of performance. Pedro Alfafara was the famous singer who popularized the balitaw as a performance song before the outbreak of World War II.