Culture

This Filipino Rap Album Tells the Story of the Country's Drug War

Not only is the music good, it’s also backed by two year’s worth of research.
02 July 2019, 6:09am
kolateral-album-art
Photo by Kimberly dela Cruz courtesy of Sandata

Art is political and music has long been a conduit for protest. We know this. Hip-hop, in particular, has a long history of artists like Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples who have used the medium to expose society’s harsh realities.

Kolateral, a 12-track hip-hop album about Duterte’s war on drugs in the Philippines, continues this rich tradition.

This isn’t your average music release. Kolateral backs up its compelling bars with meticulous research culled from on-the-ground interviews with drug war victims.

The experiences of the victims are made visceral to the listener. In “Makinarya” ("Machinery"), the album’s first single, piercing cries follow the sound of gunshots. In “Papag” ("Pallet"), a young child reads a poem detailing his father’s murder at the hands of the police. Another song, “Distansya" ("Distance"), poignantly recounts the real-life story of a struggling domestic worker in Kuwait whose sick son was shot dead after being tagged as a drug dealer.

Kolateral is the brainchild of artist-research collective Sandata. Alongside rappers Calix and BLKD, Sandata, which means “weapon” in Filipino, is composed of playwright Mixkaela Villalon and researchers Tanya Quijano, Abbey Pangilinan, and Ica Fernandez. They banded together in 2016 “as a response to the growing trend of social media-led disinformation and the brutal Philippine Drug War.” As a group, they’ve organized events that paired presentations on the drug war with riveting music performances. It’s this interdisciplinary approach that separates them from other efforts.

But make no mistake: The music can stand on its own, too. The album is thematically dense and sonically tenacious because of the careful music production by Serena D.C. of NOFACE RECORDS, of which Calix is also a member. Like the rest of Calix and BLKD’s collaborations, each track bares its political bite without getting too preachy.

The album may be the collective’s biggest project yet. Earlier this year, they embarked on a US tour, including speaking engagements at UC Berkeley, Columbia University, and Harvard University.