By singing in her native dialects, HanHan stays true to herself. (Photo: Fruhlein Econar, Grid)

Vancouver, B.C.

 Songs grapple social issues faced by immigrants.

Patricia Chan

This July, Filipina Canadian rapper HanHan will be coming to Vancouver to perform at the Indian Summer Festival 2019, which is an eleven-day festival of arts, music and ideas running from July 4-14 in Vancouver, British Columbia. HanHan’s  performance will take place on July 6th, and tickets are available at:

HanHan, also known as “The Nurse Rapper” (due to the fact that she is both an operating room nurse and a talented rap artist), is a “Cebuana Filipina / Canadian in the diaspora who writes poetry and translates them into music. She saves lives by day and slays dragons by night.”

HanHan’s music offers her own unique perspective on life as a woman and an immigrant, and her songs often grapple with various social issues. As a Filipina artist, she chooses to sing almost exclusively in her native Filipino languages (Tagalog and Cebuano), and in doing so she stays true her herself and shows pride in her culture.

In an interview with GRID Magazine, HanHan shared about how her experience as a Filipino immigrant in Canada influences her music:

“When you go to another country, there’s always this tension of identity. The colonial mentality is everywhere. It’s like we don’t like who we are, like we’re not enough. We have to be somebody else to be amazing. When I was in Canada, I felt all that and I was trying to explore all these questions. I used to be so active in social activism for migrant workers, and protests. That experience influenced my music. Our stories needed to be told.”

HanHan immigrated from the Philippines to Toronto, Ontario in 2006, after which she participated in an ongoing poetry workshop which helped to draw her into the city’s music and arts community. She self-released her debut album – Han Han – in 2014, “which was praised by NOW Magazine, the Huffington Post, and the CBC.”

Furthermore, her single ‘World Gong Crazy’ (featuring DATU) “was nominated for “Best Song” in Berlin Music Video Awards  2017. The record also led to a publishing deal with EMI, high-quality film / television placements, and international radio play in Germany, France, and the Philippines.”

She reportedly told GRID Magazine that she “didn’t know that “World Gong Crazy” would go that crazy. I was actually so over it. We did the video in 2015 and it was just sitting there ’til it came out a year later. But it’s good timing—the world IS going crazy. There’s the Trump administration, and all these issues of racism in North America. It totally fits.”

HanHan has performed in various festivals an venues in Toronto, including Wavelength Music Festival (2017), Long Winter (2016 & 2017), Canadian Music Week (2017), Our Home on Native Land (2017), and Kultura Filipino Arts Festival (2014-2017). In addition, she has performed in various theatre productions, such as “High Blood” for Summerworks Performance festival (Toronto, 2016) and “Ang Pagdidiwata ni Maria Clara” for Fringe Manila (Philippines, 2017). 

Though Filipino voices in the world stage of music and the arts is still few and far between, another Filipina rapper, Ruby Ibarra, has also taken the stage and has gained popularity, with a current instagram following of 37.5k (as of June 2019). 

Fil-Am rapper Ruby Ibarra. (Ozy)

Similar to HanHan, Ibarra’s music is often written and performed in Tagalog (though sometimes also in English), and covers the themes of her cultural heritage and experiences as an immigrant in the United States. She describes her style as reminiscent of 1990s hip hop, and cites Lupe Fiasco and Raekwon as her influences. 

Ibarra released her mixtape entitled Lost in Translation on December 12, 2012, and it debuted that same evening on Eminem’s Shade 45 channel on Sirius XM Radio. On November 5, 2015, she officially signed to independent record label, Beatrock Music. 

With this record label, she began recording her full-length debut album – Circa 1991 – in 2016, and it was released on October 3, 2017. In it, Ibarra documents social justice issues like immigration and trauma.