Fresh from their US tour, the Sandata rappers are interviewed by KARL DE MESA about their collective’s eye-opening new album.K olateral is a rap and hip-hop album that was released last June, tackling and illustrating the effects of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs through its 12-tracks. It’s free to download and stream on a number of platforms.
The LP is a concerted effort by activist and artist collective Sandata, spearheaded by Filipino rappers BLKD and Calix. What sets Kolateral apart from your garden variety hip-hop LP is that the songs are based on hard data, statistics, and on the ground accounts of tokhang killings, casualties, and cases where the suspect allegedly fought back against authorities, or “nanlaban.” The research for the album spanned two years and was collated from media reports as well as key informant interviews.
It takes its cue from the long tradition of using hip-hop as protest platform, from 2Pac, Public Enemy, NWA, and Rage Against the Machine, or more recently Kendrick Lamar. In true community effort, the album features collaborations with BLKD and Calix’s friends, other local rappers like Kartell’em, 1Kiao, and the soaring vocals of Tao Aves.
More than just a lo-fi barkada project, Kolateral is versatile, polished, and steeped in nuanced song craft. The sleek production sound of which was accomplished through the mixing and mastering of Serena D.C. of NoFace Records. It spans the creative gamut of the genre, from the collaborative rap mayhem of its closer track “Sandata,” the powerfully elegiac “Hawak,” and what’s arguably its swan song “Makinarya”—BLKD and Calix’s murder ballad to the agonies and cruelty of “tokhang.”
The album garnered enough attention that the two rappers were eventually invited to talk and perform at universities, schools, and venues in the United States. It also led the artists to connect with minority organizations as well Filipino-American communities at their host cities. They flew abroad after garnering enough for the flights through a series of fund-raising activities.
Having recently returned from their US tour, we sat down with BLKD and Calix, days away from President Rodrigo Duterte’s 4th State of the Nation Address.
Your “Lakbay Kolateral USA” tour just ended and through it, you gave talks and did performances. How was the trip and where exactly did you guys go?
CALIX: Na-imbitahan kami sa University of California, Berkeley through Miss Joi Barrios, one of the faculty there. [We got invited to the University of California, Berkley through Miss Joi Barrios, one of the faculty there.] We grabbed the opportunity and we raised funds so we could fly there. Yung class ni Miss Joi, ang pinuntahan namin, tungkol sa Southeast Asian Arts [We went to the class of Miss Join which was about Southeast Asian Arts.]
BLKD: Two weeks din kami sa San Francisco, tapos nagkaroon din kami ng speaking engagement sa isang community sa New York. [We spent two weeks in San Francisco and we had a speaking engagement at a community in New York.]
CALIX: Noong nasa San Francisco kami ng ilang araw, naigala kami nung mga nakilala naming mga Fil-Ams na, yung iba sa kanila, community organizers. Nagkaroon din kami ng speaking engagements sa iba’t ibang lokasyon tulad ng high schools. [When we were in San Francisco for a few days, we got toured around by Filipino Americans that we met who also happened to be community organizers. We had different speaking engagements there in different locations like high schools.]
Any lessons and takeaways from interacting with the Fil-Am communities?
CALIX: Iba din yung bubble na ginagawa ng nasa kabilang side ng mundo; yung mga Pilipino doon walang kaide-idea dun sa scale ng nangyayari dito sa bansa natin. Syempre, meron doon na born and raised na nagugulat tungkol sa atrocities na ganito. [Living in the other side of the world creates a different bubble. There are Filipinos there who have no idea what’s happening in our country. There are people born and raised in the US who were shocked by the atrocities that happen here.]
BLKD: I think yung pinaka learning ay yung way of communication ng mga communities doon at dito. Continue exchanging information para na din hindi sila magkaroon ng bubble resulting sa ignorance. Pareho lang siguro ang kinakaharap nila doon and here, pero iba lang how the respective powers that be finesse them. Iba din kasi ang finesse-ing dito sa atin kesa sa kanila. [I think that the lesson here revolves around the manner by which our community here and their community there communicate. We need to continue exchanging information so that the people living there don’t end up in a bubble resulting in ignorance. Maybe they face the same struggles we face here but the difference is how the powers that be in their country finesses them. We experience a different kind of finessing here.]
CALIX: Noong nandoon kami, natutunan din namin yung struggles nila. On a personal note, first time kong mag US at iba rin pala ang mga kinakaharap nilang problema doon; di tulad ng palagi nating iniisip na mas madali ang buhay sa States. Mababansagang “First World Problems,” pero ibig sabihin lang nun ay endemic sa kalagayan nila doon ang problema tulad ng malalim na discrimination. [When we were there, we learned about their struggles. On a personal note, this was my first time visiting the US and I learned that they face a different problem there. It’s not like how we often see it in the Philippines, thinking that lives are better in the US. We call their struggles “first world problems” but it only means that such problems are endemic to their situation—like deeply rooted discrimination.]
Can you elaborate on this “bubble state” you mentioned?
CALIX: Yung isang example ng bubble nila doon ay yung hindi nila alam ang scale, at numbers, at kung saan saan nangyayari ang tokhang casualties. Hindi mo din sila kaagad masisi kasi kahit naman dito hindi lahat alam yung data. Maraming nagke-kwento sa amin na yung naririnig nila ay galing sa internet o sa mga parents lang nila. Kaya doon pumapasok ang project namin na kung hindi kaya ng hard news ay baka kaya ng songs. [One symptom of the bubble there is that they don’t know the scale, the numbers and where the tokhang casualties happen. You can’t blame them immediately because, even here, we don’t know the exact data. A lot of people talk to us saying that what they know is from the internet or their parents. So, that’s where this project comes in; if we can’t inform people through hard news, maybe we can do it through songs.]
Were the performances well-received, though?
BLKD: Definitely highlight yung last gig namin sa San Fancisco. Na meet din namin yung mga respetadong artist doon. For that night, sila yung nagfa-fan sa amin. Yung isa pang pinaka nagustuhan ko ay yung sa New York na gig kung saan yung crowd ay mas mixed. Tuwang tuwa ako. Hindi man nila nage-gets yung words pero yung music talaga yung nagbibigay sa kanila ng sense of meaning. Nakakatuwa kasi first time nilang marinig yung songs. Iba kasi kung kilala talaga kami tapos alam nila yung songs, people will, of course, sing along. Pero yung doon lang pero they were responding and interacting with the music… [The highlight was definitely our last gig in San Francisco. We met respected artists there. For that night, they supported us. Another gig that I liked happened when we were in New York; the crowd was mixed. I was really pleased by that because even though they didn’t understand the lyrics, the music gave them a sense of what the songs meant. It was pleasing because this was the first time they heard the songs. It’s a different feeling from when we’re performing at a place where people really know us and they know the songs; people will, of course, sing along. But there, people were responding and interacting with the music.]
CALIX: Hindi naman kami ganoon ka-sikat, honestly, para maimbitahan doon. Pero dahil sa advocacy ng aming project, nakapag-organize kami ng isang gig sa California at isa sa New York. [We’re not so famous as to be invited there. But, because of the advocacy of our project, we managed to organize one gig in California and another in New York.]
Sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any musician.
BLKD: My favorite was the last day ng San Francisco, kung saan sobrang warm ng mga tao. [My favorite was the last day in San Francisco when people were so warm.] There were people jiving to our songs. Even if they didn’t know or understand what we were saying, they were able to chant some of the words. Some of our songs are chant-able, I guess. Is that a word? Of course, iba yung nuances ng language natin. [Of course, the nuances of our language is different from theirs.] Just being an artist from the Philippines, being able to perform there and having local Americans, we didn’t feel like we were isolated especially since we were playing mixed gigs with bands and other acts. We felt at home. As cheesy as it sounds.
Hip-hop and rap have a long tradition in the civil rights movement, as protest music, and as a platform for social critique. Do you feel that, with “Kolateral,” you are now firmly adding to that tradition in a Filipino way?
CALIX: Bago kami artists ay citizens kami, mamamayan kami. Ito yung kaya naming i-ambag sa nakikita naming problemang kailangang solusyunan. [Before we are artists, we are citizens. This is what we can contribute to the problems we see that need solutions.] I grew up listening to the classic hip-hop protest albums. I think I come from the tradition of conscious or progressive hip-hop, na ginagamit to tackle social issues. Sana makatulong yung music namin; sana marinig din ng ibang tao para gawin ang kanilang parte. Pero, it takes a whole nation. [I think I come from the tradition of conscious or progressive hip-hop that uses it to tackle social issues. I hope our music helps; that people listen to it so that it inspires them to do their part. But, it takes a whole nation.]
BLKD: I wouldn’t say art is an essential way to critique social ills but it’s one of the avenues to combat it–para maihayag yung dissatisfaction at criticism mo. At the same time, art is weak kung mag-isa lang siya. Kailangan ng concrete foundation, tulad ng organization at ng actual people on the streets for it to be of any use. [I wouldn’t say art is an essential way to critique social ills but it’s one of the avenues to combat it– to share your dissatisfaction and your criticism. At the same time, art is weak if it’s alone. It needs concrete foundations like organization and actual people on the streets for it to be of any use.]
Please take us through the birthing of this album, from conceptualizing the theme to creating the songs.
CALIX: Mainly kami ni BLKD ang nanguna, pero may mga nag-collaborate din na singers at rappers na nagbigay ng sarili nilang interpretation sa research at data. Yun ang nagbigay ng iba’t ibang flavor sa album. [Mainly, BLKD and I lead it but there are other rappers and singers who collaborated to give their interpretation of the research and data. That’s what gave different flavors to the album.
BLKD: Yung iba, gawa na yung beat at kung ano ang parameters ng sasabihin tapos, noong pinasa sa ibang artist gagawan na lang nila ng flavor nila at papano ipapag dugtong-dugtong. Dahil maraming artist, pwedeng sabay sabay ginagawa yung iba’t ibang songs. Madaming mga tracks na ginagawa in parallel. It’s not one track after the next. Hindi siya linear na proseso. [In some cases, the beats and parameters of what needed to be said were already ready and when they were passed to other artists, they just had to put their flavor in it while deciding on how to arrange it. Because there were a lot of artists, made multiple songs at the same time. A lot of tracks were made in parallel. It was not one track after the next. It wasn’t a linear process.]
“Makinarya” is easily one of the best out of the 12-tracks. Anything you can tell us why you structured it in multiple musical suites?
BLKD: It’s structured into three parts because of the three branches: executive, legislative, judiciary. Another trivia about the album is that on the song “Gera na Bulag” yung outro na madaming sumisigaw ay mga crowd-sourced na around 150+ voices mula sa mga kapatid namin sa internet. [Another trivia about the album is that on the song “Gera na Bulag,” the outro that involves a lot of screaming was crowd-sourced. It came from around 150+ voices from our collaborators on the internet.
Might you have a message to our leaders as the third year SONA of the Duterte Administration approaches?
BLKD: Stop the killings. Madaming anak na tatanda na galit sa society dahil, para sa kanila ay pinabayaan sila. [A lot of children will grow old angry with the society because they feel like they got abandoned.]
“Kolateral” is available for streaming and download on the following platforms: