Since taking office in May 2016, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has actively pursued his “war on drugs”. Although the war is framed as benefitting the common good, its objectives extend Duterte’s authoritarian rule over the country. The war on illegal drugs and drug traffickers has been a major issue in the Philippines in recent years, and Duterte’s supporters argue that it has made the Philippines safer by rooting out criminal behavior. Others attest that the name itself is a misnomer, instead calling it a war on the poor since it has largely been the urban poor who have been the targets of extrajudicial killings carried out by the police.
Philippine National Police (PNP) statistics put the total number of people killed in the war on drugs at around 8,000 since July 2016. Others suggest that the actual number is closer to 30,000 killed, and the killings have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic due to unnecessary arrests made under lockdown. Public figures who have openly criticized Duterte and the drug war have been punished and silenced. For instance, it is suspected that a court convicted Maria Ressa, head of the Philippine news website Rappler and 2021 Nobel prize laureate, in June 2020 on politically motivated charges of cyber libel due to Rappler’s consistent coverage of the drug war. It is also strongly suspected that the forced closure of ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ largest television network, in 2020, was due to their coverage of the drug war.
Besides these well-publicized cases, the effects of the drug war have been primarily felt by low-income families who, in many cases, have become poorer due to the loss of a father or brother. In addition to experiencing the psychological distress of losing a loved one, families have had to leave their homes and take children out of school. Further stress has been placed on the remaining parent and on family members who, in many cases, have had to take on additional jobs to support the family. The aftershocks of the killings resonate for years to come.
Musicians and artists have been at the forefront of resistance to Duterte’s drug war. Two Manila rappers, BLKD, whose stylized name derives from the Tagalog word balakid (obstacle, barrier), and Calix have become quite popular in the underground Philippine hip-hop scene through Manila’s FlipTop Battle League, a showcase for some of the country’s best local hip-hop talent. BLKD and Calix have performed at several benefit concerts and have worked together as the group Kolateral to release the concept album, Kolateral (Collateral) in 2019 and an EP, Kolateral: Buelo (Collateral: Buzz) in 2018, which explore the machinery and bureaucracy behind Duterte’s war on drugs. Themes for their music draw directly from government memoranda, executive orders, and “mission orders” to expose the government organizations who have carried out Duterte’s decrees.
“Makinarya” (Machinery) begins with a sound clip from a Duterte speech encouraging police to kill suspected drug dealers openly in the streets. The song’s initial beat is inspired by the sound of police knocking on doors as they search neighborhoods for suspected drug users. The lyrics to “Makinarya” explore how Duterte’s words are weaponized, literally transforming into bullets. The lyrics insist that although Duterte may not be the one personally pulling the trigger, he is responsible for the thousands killed. The song also explores the perspective of government employees who translate the Duterte regime’s ideas about the drug war into actual state policy. They describe how these orders travel through the government bureaucracy, culminating in orders given to police, local government officials, and barangay (neighborhood) leaders to eliminate suspected drug users and sellers.
Listen to the song “Makinarya” (Machinery) here.
Listen to the album Kolateral here.
BLKD at a 2016 FlipTop Battle League event:
– Russ Skelchy, Associate Editor, RILM
Searching through the literature related to music and protest in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, we find articles, books, and edited volumes focusing on protest songs across the globe, including some on the Philippines and hip-hop respectively. The following annotated bibliography highlights a few of these works.
- Talusan, Mary. “From rebel songs to Moro songs: Popular music and Muslim Filipino protest”, Humanities Diliman: A Philippine journal of humanities 7/1 (January–June 2010) 85–110. http://journals.upd.edu.ph/index.php/humanitiesdiliman/article/view/1614/1542. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2010-734]
Rank-and-file supporters of the Bangsamoro rebellion (the fight for a breakaway state in the Philippines, 1972–77, among indigenous Muslims) articulated their personal sentiments about the war in a genre called rebel songs. The lyrics reveal that fighters’ personal aspirations often diverged from the official aims of separatist leaders. An analysis examines how rebel songs transitioned into Moro songs (a song repertoire of the Moro people) in the post–martial-law era, and why they came to more narrowly reflect the movement’s official goals of Moro unity and Islamic renewal.
- La Rosa, Alma de and Anna Leah de Leon. “Protest music: Before, during and after EDSA”, 1789-1989: Musique, histoire, démocratie, ed. by Antoine Hennion. Recherche, musique et danse 6–8 (Paris: Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1992) 803–806. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1992-7501]
Examines songs before, during, and after the successful revolt against Ferdinand Marcos (1986); the revolutionary songs were not Philippine in origin but came from the U.S.
- Maxino-Baseleres, Rosario and Zeny Sarabia-Panol. “Bayan ko and other songs: The soundtrack of Philippine political activism”, Music as a platform for political communication, ed. by Uche Onyebadi. Advances in media, entertainment, and the arts (Hershey: Information Science Reference, 2017) 1–30. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-53133]
Using historical and content analysis, this essay examines the role of music in the political awakening of Filipinos through the years. The researchers are mainly interested in popular music, and anchor the study on concepts of popular culture and the process of meaning-making. This study therefore recognizes the intersection of music as a universal element of popular culture and politics. It argues that politicized music in the Philippines is a contested site where meanings are negotiated and where the music of colonizers or a despotic ruler collides with songs of protest or resistance. While samples of the songs that defined various historical periods are analyzed, focus is on the anthems of the student protest movement of the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s that led to the People Power Revolution. Attention is given to the message and why the lyrics resonated and galvanized Filipinos to action.
- Bodden, Michael. “Rap in Indonesian youth music of the 1990s: Globalization, outlaw genres, and social protest”, Asian music: Journal of the Society for Asian Music 36/2 (summer–fall 2005) 1–26. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-7366]
In 1995 B.J. Habibie, the Indonesian Minister of Research and Technology, sharply criticized the rising popularity of rap, punk, and hard rock among Indonesian youth. He considered rap a vulgar and inappropriate North American influence on Indonesian culture. Rap artists asserted that their use of rap in Indonesia as a form of protest against oppressive conditions in an authoritarian state distinguishes it from North American rap. A reprint is cited as RILM 2012-15686.
- Saavedra Casco, José Arturo. “The language of the young people: Rap, urban culture and protest in Tanzania”, Music and protest, ed. by Ian Peddie. The library of essays on music, politics and society (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012) 273–292. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2012-15681]
Briefly recounts a history of rap in Tanzania, the social and political contents of Tanzanian hip-hop songs, the characteristics of the messages, and their impact on Tanzanian youth. It also describes local elements, besides the use of Swahili language, contained in Tanzanian rap that were inherited from pre-colonial Swahili poetry. Finally, it gives several examples of the social and protest contents in songs of remarkable Tanzanian hip-hop artists, such as Mr. II, Professor Jay, and Wagosi wa Kaya.
- Norton, Barley. “Vietnamese popular song in 1968: War, protest and sentimentalism”, Music and protest in 1968, ed. by Beate Kutschke and Barley Norton. Music since 1900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013) 97–118. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-4247]
Examines how the experience of war influenced musical expression and how musical protest was configured in relation to the fractious politics of war. Although much musical activity in both Vietnams around 1968 was connected in some way to the conflict, this essay is restricted to an examination of Vietnamese popular song, known as ca khúc. Ca khúc was one of the most influential mediums for protest and for the expression of sentiments about war.
- Illiano, Roberto, ed. Protest music in the twentieth century. Music, criticism & politics 1 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-15649]
This collection is about protest music and dissident composers and musicians during the twentieth century, with a particular focus on the forms with which dissent may be expressed in music and the ways in which composers and performers have adopted stances on political and social dissent. In 21 articles, scholars of different nationalities explore the way protest music is articulated in artistic-cultural discourse and political matters, as well as the role it played in situations of mutual benefit. Moreover, the phenomenon of dissent is investigated in the context of musical historiography and criticism, approaching the topic from historical, sociological, and philosophical points.
- Onyebadi, Uche, ed. Music as a platform for political communication. Advances in media, entertainment, and the arts (Hershey: Information Science Reference, 2017). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-53131]
A comprehensive reference source for the latest scholarly perspectives on delivering political messages to society through musical platforms and venues. Innovative research topics on an international scale, such as election campaigns, social justice, and protests, are highlighted.
- Ellison, Mary. Lyrical protest: Black music’s struggle against discrimination. Media and society (London: Oxford University Press, 1989). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1989-5948]
The coupling of Black music and protest happened naturally. Since the first songs by blacks were heard in Africa, black music has expressed resistance to oppression. Black music reflects life in a very balanced way. Music explores the human choices for black people through the words of the songs, supported by the music of the songs.
- Lewis, George H. “Storm blowing from paradise: Social protest and oppositional ideology in Hawaiian popular music”, Popular music 10/1 (January 1991) 53–68. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1991-10789]
Hawaiian protest music originated as a reaction to the negatively perceived cultural and ecological impact of the commercialization of Hawaiian culture and music beginning in the early 20th c. The main view was that commercialized music trivialized the Hawaiian people and supported the destruction of their land and past. Lyrics sung in Hawaiian and expressing hostility towards tourists and criticism of their impact on Hawaii became characteristic of Hawaiian Renaissance music.
- Samson, Valerie Brooks. “Music as protest strategy: The example of Tiananmen Square, 1989”, Pacific review of ethnomusicology 6 (1991) 35–64. http://ethnomusicologyreview.ucla.edu/sites/default/files/prevol6.pdf. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1991-11064]
A first-hand account of the role of singing, chanting, recorded music in uniting the populace during the struggle for control of the square from April to June 1989, from the early demonstrations through the imposition of martial law to the military invasion; the singing of the Internationale assumed particular significance.
- Sharp, Chesla. “Coal-mining songs as forms of environmental protest”, Journal of the Appalachian Studies Association 4 (1992) 50–58. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1995-9321]
Many of the Appalachian miners’ protest songs were written during the Harlan County coal strikes of the early 1930s. Over time the nature of these songs changed: Early songs expressed cries of desperation, or the awareness of a problem without commitment to action; later songs urged audiences to connect with a movement or ideology.
- Treece, David. “Guns and roses: Bossa nova and Brazil’s music of popular protest, 1958–68”, Popular music 16/1 (January 1997) 1–29. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1997-459]
Traces developments in Brazilian popular music between 1958 and 1968, with close attention to the interaction of politics, economics, and culture. Antonio Carlos Jobim, Carlos Lyra, Baden Powell, Edu Lobo, Geraldo Vandré, and many other figures are discussed, with analysis of musical examples.
- Grossman, Alan and Áine O’Brien. “Kurdish lyrical protest: The terrain of acoustic migration”, Journal of ethnic & migration studies 32/2 (March 2006) 271–289. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691830500487365. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-50515]
Foregrounds acoustic memory and migration in the production of a performative ethnographic documentary about the exiled Kurdish singer and composer Muhamed Abbas Bahram, one of many accomplished Kurdish musicians residing in Western Europe. The title of the documentary, Silent song, alludes to a poem written in 1976 by a Kurdish radio and television broadcaster commemorating the musician’s refusal to perform in a concert at the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad before an audience of Ba’ath party members.
- Makina, Blandina. “Re-thinking white narratives: Popular songs and protest discourse in post-colonial Zimbabwe”, Muziki: Journal of music research in Africa 6/2 (November 2009) 221–231. https://doi.org/10.1080/18125980903250772. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2009-11523]
The economic and political meltdown in Zimbabwe over the past decade have given rise to protest songs as artists became the mouthpiece of a population that is enduring economic hardships. One such artist is Samm Monro, popularly known as Comrade Fatso. He is one of the emerging young musicians who, through his protest music, has become an inspiration to ordinary Zimbabweans from all walks of life because his songs are insightful commentaries on what is happening in their country. The protest discourse that his wide audience finds appealing is discussed, focusing on the lyrics from excerpts of four songs on his album Chabvondoka.
- Peddie, Ian, ed. Music and protest. The library of essays on music, politics and society (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2012-7257]
Brings together some of the best writing on music and protest from the last thirty years. Encompassing a variety of genres, from classical to many different kinds of popular music, the collection selects articles on a broad range of topics–including revolutions and uprisings, environmentalism, class, identity, struggles for self-determination as well as rights and the historical legacy of protest music–and from at least 15 different countries, confirming the contention that music is one of the primary languages of protest.
- Friedman, Jonathan C., ed. The Routledge history of social protest in popular music (New York: Routledge, 2013). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-4309]
This collection of essays analyzes the trends, musical formats, and rhetorical devices used in popular music to illuminate the human condition through a history of social protest music.
- Mostafa, Dalia Said and Anastasia Valassopoulos. “Popular protest music and the 2011 Egyptian revolution”, Popular music and society 37/5 (December 2014) 638–659. https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2014.910905. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-9178]
Music and performance have been at the heart of the ongoing Egyptian revolution since its outbreak on 25 January 2011. Popular protest music in particular has helped to shape and articulate emerging desires and aspirations, as well as participating in criticisms and grievances at the site of political change. We aim to demonstrate, through the analysis of popular protest songs, how the 2011 Egyptian revolution has been imagined, articulated, and defined in popular culture. We trace the links between older revolutionary songs and how they have impacted new ones, while engaging with a number of theoretical issues on the role of popular music during periods of revolutionary struggles, to contextualize the domain of protest songs representing the Egyptian revolution.
- Ibarraran, Amaia. “African-American and Mexican-American protest songs in the 20th century: Some examples”, Journal of popular music studies 29/2 (June 2017) 17p. https://doi.org/10.1111/jpms.12211. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-23982]
The construction of the United States as a nation has always been linked to agriculture and the possession and exploitation of the land. The African slaves’ work during the 17th and 18th centuries in the Southern territories and the efforts of Mexican braceros in the Southwest after the annexation of the Northern territories of Mexico are essential to understanding the history of U.S. agriculture. The exploitation of these workers has always been accounted for and justified in historical, literary, and journalistic texts. This essay begins with the premise that popular songs produced by African Americans and Mexicans offer an important corrective to biased ofﬁcial texts, providing key historical and sociocultural information without the distortions arising from the need to justify the subjugation of a people in the name of economy and patriotism. The article aims to understand the relevance of popular song for the denunciation of the difficult working conditions in agricultural ﬁelds, as they were experienced from the colonial era through the 20th century.
- Budji Kefen, Ivoline. “Utilizing sounds of mourning as protest and activism: The 2019 northwestern women’s lamentation march within the Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon”, Resonance: The journal of sound and culture 1/4 (winter 2020) 443–461. https://doi.org/10.1525/res.2020.1.4.443. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-54124]
Examines how women of the northwestern Grassfields of Cameroon transpose and deploy lamentation sounds as a means of nonviolently resisting, challenging, counteracting, and controlling the audio-sphere hitherto militarized through the weaponization of the sounds of war. The main argument is that contrary to the popular narrative of African women as passive recipients of sociocultural norms and traditional political powers that propagate female marginalization and oppression, African women can and do consciously draw from these same norms to achieve their sociopolitical aims.