Every time I read news about the government these days, I hear the “Kill Bill” sirens going off in my head like a Pavlovian response. The Duterte administration has been speeding up the signing of the Anti-Terror Bill while many Filipinos continue to suffer the consequences of their snail-paced COVID-19 crisis response and skewed prioritization. It’s valid to be angry while demanding accountability but I’m scared I might pop a vein if I don’t give my brain more options for sounds to associate with my rage against injustice. Luckily, I’ve found plenty of alternatives. Our country has a rich history of protest music and there are contemporary artists keeping the tradition alive.
In an interview with South China Morning Post, singer-songwriter Jess Santiago shared that during the Martial Law era protest music spread throughout the country quickly because they were easy to learn and perform during street demonstrations. Fellow artist slash activist Bonifacio Ilagan said, “Early on, youth leaders had become aware that for their messages to reach the masses, it should also take on cultural forms. Even before I was an activist I had already seen protest performances at school and on the streets.”
Killing two birds with one stone, protest music keeps that fire inside you burning while encouraging political engagement. Here are some albums to get you started on creating your own protest playlists.
“Hindi Isasatelebisyon Ang Rebolusyon”
The Axel Pinpin Propaganda Machine sound is made up of Axel Pinpin’s spoken word poetry on the realities of the oppressed mixed with “aggressive fuzz-driven guitar riffs played over odd time signatures.” The eleven-track album “Hindi Isasatelebisyon Ang Rebolusyon” is full of imagined and real-life stories—listening to it is like getting a crash course on some of the pressing issues of the past decade. The title is a nod to the Gil Scott-Heron poem and song called “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”
Axel Pinpin left the band in 2013 to focus on organizing in peasant communities. After his departure, the group started integrating self-produced documentaries in their live performances. This year, they released the single “Ano ang Aming Kasalanan?” in response to the Duterte administration’s failure to provide aid to many Filipinos and how its action plans exposed widespread inequality. If you’re a fan of references and sampled clips in music, you should definitely give them a listen.
A product of two years’ worth of research, each track on the album “KOLATERAL” is “backed by real data and narratives gathered from media reports and key informant interviews from communities at the front lines of the Philippine Drug War.” The project is released by artist collective Sandata which is headed by rap artists and activists BLKD and Calix. Among the artists part of the collaboration are Kartell’em, Because and Kiyo.
You’ve probably seen the picture used on the album cover before when it was circulating on the internet. It’s a photograph by Kimberly dela Cruz of a mural by Archie Oclos in the urban poor community of Sitio San Roque. Apart from releasing music, Sandata also holds talks on the drug war and fundraisers for families who are affected by it.
“Ang panggagahasa ay lumalala,” sings contemporary folk artist Bullet Dumas about the “Noli Me Tangere” character Sisa on the title track for his album “USISA.” In an interview with Tempo, he spoke about the motivations behind the song. “She is Rizal’s ode to our motherland tattered to shame and misery just because she loved too much,” he said.
Dumas has gained a dedicated following for his raw vocals that pour emotion to scat singing paired with a messy guitar style. It’s a disarming combination that is hard to pull off but Dumas makes it work while choosing themes highlighting the need for change. As the name of his first full-length album suggests, his music is an inquiry that honors the folk tradition of protest music.
He has been likened to Joey Ayala who uses Filipino ethnic instruments in his modern pop songs. Dumas has shared the stage with the likes of Johnoy Danao, Ebe Dancel, Gary Granada, Gary Valenciano and Clara Benin.
The 1997 self-titled album “The Jerks” remains one of the best Philippine rock protest albums. The album contains the song “Rage” which won “Rock Song of the Year” at the 1998 Katha Music Awards. On the track, Chikoy Pura sings “Rage against the dying of the light,” a line borrowed from a Dylan Thomas poem. Another fan-favorite is “Sayaw sa Bubog” where the band asks whether the lives of the marginalized actually changed after the EDSA revolution.
The Jerks’ sound is inspired by groups such as The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Doors. Couple that with topics like poverty and government inefficiency and you have a discography that embodies its genre’s anti-establishment and anti-institution roots.
Plagpul calls itself the Philippines’ one and only progressive boyband and I think they live up to the goofy title. The group’s most requested song is the light-hearted love song “Pula ang Kulay ng Pag-ibig” about having an activist as your S/O. The song is on their EP “Indie Kikita” which they released in 2013. Often mixing humor with politics, they are proof that activism can be fun too.
Recently, Plagpul has been sharing new content for its Compo/Cover/Collab-Video (COVID) series. So far, they’ve posted five songs for it. “Walang Machow” is a parody of Bella Ciao (Yes, the song popularized by Money Heist) which was first released in Concerned Artists of the Philippines’ and Altermidya – People’s Alternative Media Network’s Lockdown Sessions. Another single in the series is “BummedTrack” which is a “faithfully Taglish-ified” version of Rage Against the Machine’s “Bombtrack” with the frontman of equally funny Datu’s Tribe. Their latest release? A mañanita parody of a Camila Cabello song titled, “I Hate It When You Call Me Terorista.”
Looking for more artists to check out? Try Asin’s “Himig ng Lahi” which contains the song “Bato-Bato sa Langit.” Tubaw Music Collective’s “Paragas” album is available to download for free. Included in the album is “D’yandi,” a song calling to stop the violence against indigenous groups.