Ruby Ibarra: The Battlecry of the Modern Filipina Warrior

by Gelo Salanga

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'Filipinas are no strangers to wielding our own power. Of all the privileges that exist in this world, none of which you may be a benefactor of, there is at least one you bear, and that is the privilege of having been born a Filipina'. - Us (Ruby Ibarra ft. Rocky Rivera, Klassy, Faith Santilla)

*please click to watch the video

"Us" is the collaborative single of Filipino-American rapper Ruby Ibarra off of her 2017 album CIRCA91. The track also features verses and hooks from Klassy and Rocky Rivera as well as an arresting spoken word bridge by Faith Santilla- all women tracing off their Filipino roots and asserting their pride and bravery as women of color, strength, and empowerment.

Ibarra, a Tacloban born, moved to the United States with her family at young age back in 1991. As influenced with her new multicultural life, Ibarra counts Francis Magalona, Lauryn Hill and Tupac Shakur as artists she is heavily inspired by- crossing her now own mixed identities, experiences, and struggles to music that play as forms of activism, education, and expression. Her music tell stories of immigrant crises, racial discrimination, colorism, self love, women pride, and heritage appreciation through fuses of rap, pop, hip hop, urban, and contemporary. Oftentimes, she mixes English, Filipino, and Waray as vernacular vehicles for her songs.

In "Us", Ibarra deliberately gathered a group of female artists to show unity and sisterhood at an industry that most often pits women against each other for spotlight. The track is unabashedly Filipino, female, and feisty. Upholding dominance, recognizing individual and collective pains, and inspiring present and future generations of modern Filipinas to stand proud and mighty of their roots and unique heritage as they move along different stages in life and places.

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“Island woman rise, walang makakatigil (nothing can stop you). Brown, brown woman, rise, alamin ang yung ugat (know your roots), They got nothin’ on us” opens the song as it calls upon women of the Philippines to listen and take heed onto what the song is about to say. The accompanying music video, also directed by Ibarra, starts with a silhouette of a majestically clad singkil dancer bathed in stage lights as it cuts into a present day hip hop cliché of street and car shot of the four artists. This juxtaposition of the traditional and the modern plays throughout the video with various Philippine indigenous clothing peppered throughout the visuals through tableaus and stills- paying homage and connecting the ancestral to the new generation akin to saying that the plight still remains the same and the fight for acceptance, respect, and survival continues.

The music video production made an open call for women of Filipino descent to come and join the project to show solidarity in numbers and the turnout, needless to say, is truly spine chilling as it filled the theatre location. This call to action does not only reflect the brute support of Filipino women for fellow Filipinas but also for all other marginalized immigrant people residing especially in the United States who share the same experiences as the Filipino-American diaspora.

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Rocky Rivera's verse particularly called out to women to fight for their freedom to exist and be respected:

'We pullin' up in a Jeepney
All of my soldiers greet me
Hand me bandanas and pull back my hammer
It’s warfare, when you see me
Skin you alive for my country, I live and die for my country
I kill a pig in a white hooded suit on the low for my country
They got evil plans in the devil’s hands, but I don't pray coz I organize
They got new ways to impose strength
But I teach mine how to mobilize
We don’t fight for the money, for the greedy, for the white man
All we want is our freedom
And the right to live on our motherland'

This particular passage holds an association with the past women heroes who fought different battles such as nation's independence, women's rights, and gender equality. This 'in-your-face' aggressive line rings a much needed cry towards mothers who are passionately willing to protect their families at any cost.

As Ibarra's second stanza descriptively states:

'Yo fuck a story arc if it don’t involve no matriarchs
Our mothers work from the ground up, they craftin' air like ATR
With butterfly sleeves in Filipiñana

Klassy's verse echoes this same sentiment at the latter half of the song:

'Reclaiming what's ours, the high and the low
These women are Gods, you already know
Roots deeper than water that run in our village
The river runs red, you’ll be dead in a minute
Like Nieves Fernandez, have you beheaded
Fuck with my tribe, quickly regret it'

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As Faith Santilla's spoken word part kicks in, the video shifts into a grungier turn. Simulating a picket line through monotone visuals, Ibarra and the rest of the group is shown in combative jaunt. 

'So let it be known, if you don’t already
Pinays have always been part, and parcel, if not, imperative and critical to the struggle
Filipinas are no strangers to wielding our own power
Of all the privileges that exist in this world, none of which you may be a benefactor of
There is at least one you bear
And that is the privilege of having been born a Filipina
Your DNA contains building blocks made from the mud of over 500 years of resistance and survival
And when you are ready, sis, we’ll be right here'

This part of the song assures itself of the collective efforts of all the women that has come before and those who are presently defying against odds to make way for a better life for the current generation and those of the future.

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The whole project is a triumph not only for Ibarra and the Filipino heritage but more so in forwarding the discussion on immigration rights, colorism, racial bias, and gender inequity. It affronts the sensitive subjects through meaningful anecdotes, straightforward action, and creative improvisations that not only affect through sonic interpretations but through a more pronounced visual accompaniment that highlights and put more emphasis on the importance of these dialogues.

As Ibarra puts it,: Island, Brown Women Rise!

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