The recent national elections may have been the most polarizing and divisive one in recent memory. While I’m disappointed, I’m not that surprised by the results. With all the miseducation, disinformation, historical distortion, and blatant lies we have been fed over the past years, it’s not far-fetched why many of us still fall for the ruse and game of cacique democracy, patronage politics, and political dynasties. (Related: “Why Filipinos Should Read: ‘Elites and Ilustrados in Philippine Culture’ by Caroline Hau”)
Although it’s hard to see a silver lining in this situation, given that we have elected the heir of a dictator who’s one of history’s worst plunderers and human rights abusers, I still want to highlight what I liked the most about the election period. I liked that many people from all walks of life, including but not limited to industry leaders, celebrities, personalities, artists, and influencers, used their platforms and shared their talents for this important socio-political exercise. They put their reputation and careers on the line, and faced the possibility of being “canceled,” rather than to “play safe” because they want to fight and stand up for what they think is right. They want to make an impact not only within their crafts but to the society as a whole.
One of these artists who stood up and fought for their principles is Filipino rapper, singer, and songwriter Aristotle C. Pollisco, more popularly known as Gloc-9. In a recent interview, Gloc-9 revealed that despite the outcome of the elections, he had no regrets with his decision to support the presidential bid of Vice President Leni Robredo because he didn’t want his children to think that it’s okay to play safe. He said that if we believe that something is right, then we should stand up and fight for it. That’s what he wants to leave for his children. Regarded as one of the greatest Filipino rappers of all time, Gloc-9’s songs revolve around the narratives and experiences of the ordinary Filipino and are known for their sharp socio-political commentary.
For National Heritage Month, a celebration that aims to create consciousness, respect, and love for our nation’s cultural history, I would like to pay tribute to one of the legends of Original Pilipino Music and share about Gloc-9’s book Akin Lang Naman: Mga Tula. Published in 2017 by ABS-CBN Publishing, it features his songs as poetry. If you want to awaken your mind and senses, then scroll on because here is why Filipinos should read Akin Lang Naman: Mga Tula by none other than the master of words at makabagong makata, Gloc-9.
Art and everyday life
When we say art, we tend to think of it as something we only see in exhibits or museums rather than a part of our everyday lives. I think this is because of our usual depiction of it as something physical, visual, and tangible reified in paintings, sculptures, or architecture. We often picture “doing art” with an image of a painter in front of a canvas but less likely a singer singing a song or a writer writing a poem. But come to think of it, we call our singers “artists” for a reason. We even call the actors and actresses we see on TV or movies “artista.”
The point is that we should be reminded that art is everywhere and an inherent part of our lives. Art encompasses not only visual art like paintings and drawings but also music, poetry, cinema, theater, dance, and other performance art. So that makes poets, authors, dancers, singers, songwriters, and rappers like Gloc-9 artists because they also create and their creations permeate our society. We consume their creations through the movies we watch, the ads we see, the clothes we wear, the books we read, the music we listen to, the food we eat, and so on.
Furthermore, art as a form of expression and application of our creativity is also inevitably political. However, we should not confuse this term with politics in the context of governance. Art being political simply means that it does not operate in a vacuum as it is also subject to power relations between the creator and the consumer. When we consume art, it has an effect on us in one way or another. For example, listening to Gloc-9’s songs like “Upuan,” which has a vivid portrayal of the current Philippine political landscape, can make us think why we still elect and let the same people have the figurative “upuan” while expecting change to happen.
Awakening our senses through art and poetry
Released in 2008, “Upuan” was one of the songs that introduced me to Gloc-9 and I’ve been a fan ever since. I can even still rap some of his songs from memory. Apart from the catchy rhythm, his songs are descriptive and representative of the challenges ordinary Filipinos face in their everyday lives. Some of my favorites to sing and listen to are “Lando,” “Hari ng Tondo,” “Sirena,” and “Magda” which tell powerful narratives of life struggles. Some of his songs are also personal and are inspired by his own experiences and humble beginnings as an emerging artist.
Apart from his music style and sharp delivery, what I enjoy about Gloc-9’s music is the message he imparts. He bravely tackles pressing issues like poverty, corruption, gender violence, discrimination, and social inequality. He also critiques the prevailing social structures that cause these issues to exist. So when I learned about Akin Lang Naman: Mga Tula, I had no second thoughts on getting my copy.
Arranged and edited by Katrina Stuart Santiago, coupled with illustrations by Chamtamaria and Mervin Malonzo, reading the songs as poems in Akin Lang Naman: Mga Tula evokes a different kind of experience that will make you appreciate Gloc-9’s artistry even more. This will make you realize that he’s not just a singer and songwriter but a makabagong makata, as acknowledged by the late National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera. Savoring every letter and word in Gloc-9’s poems can awaken our senses and satiate our souls, and will remind us of how effective and powerful poetry is as a medium.
Hard work is not enough
One realization I had while flipping through the pages of Gloc-9’s book is that hard work, while an admirable virtue, is not the panacea for everyone’s problems. That’s why it sometimes bothers me every time I hear someone say, “magsumikap ka lang at mararating mo lahat ng mga pangarap mo” or “hindi mo kasalanan ‘pag pinanganak kang mahirap, pero kasalanan mo na ‘pag namatay ka pa ring mahirap” or anything along those lines.
Those sayings can indeed be inspirational and can push us to work hard toward our goals. I also understand that people who share those mottos mean no harm. They just believe that pure hard work pays off and I acknowledge that it really does for some. Gloc-9 himself is an embodiment of such a narrative of persistence and I commend him for that. On the other hand, it makes me think that if pure hard work trumps all life obstacles, then our farmers and minimum-wage earners would have been millionaires by now.
But some might argue that the poor lack proper education; they don’t know how to manage their finances well; they’re lazy; they have vices; they have big families; they don’t have “diskarte;” or they just don’t work hard enough. For me, these justifications are hubristic and speak volumes about our own privileges that make us out of touch with social realities.
The truth is hard work might be more effective for some because of their privileges, but might not be enough for the less fortunate due to unfavorable and inequitable social conditions. Because in the first place, why would we need to have “diskarte” to save ourselves from poverty if our society and its institutions are working just fine and are actually equitable? Having the need for “diskarte” only shows the inefficacy, inefficiency, and weaknesses of our social institutions. That’s why despite the hard work of many of our kababayans, they remain poor and marginalized.
Creating toward genuine unity
Picking up from an earlier thought, art is political and can be a powerful means to inspire others, and Gloc-9’s poems are a perfect example of this. This thought should make us realize that we have the power to create not only for ourselves but also for others. This means that we can also foster a kind of culture and consciousness that can contribute toward our personal growth and, of course, the development of our society.
Hence, this should serve as a challenge for us to use our talents and harness our potential by creating. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re a professional artist, an amateur dancer, a hobbyist, a photography enthusiast, or a newbie painter, just do it because being able to create is a gift that everyone has. Just imagine if Aristotle Pollisco from Binangonan hadn’t made his first demo tape, then we wouldn’t have had the Gloc-9 songs we enjoy today.
Realizing our dreams for our nation
Akin Lang Naman: Mga Tula is not only a mere collection of poems but also a reflection of the realities, dreams, and aspirations of the Filipino people. The narrative of struggles and joys in Gloc-9’s work is a reminder of the work that we still have to do as we move forward. Thus, I hope that we bring them with us as we move along in our pursuit of nationhood. It’s going to be a rough and tough road ahead. Pero okay lang dahil nandito naman ako, ikaw, sila, at tayo. Kaya sana’y magpatuloy lang tayo sa pagtindig. ☁️