A number of Philippines artists, including BP Valenzuela and Aly Cabral of The Buildings, have joined forces on ‘Pasya’, a compilation advocating the destigmatisation and decriminalisation of abortion in the country.
Digitally released today (April 30), the 12-track album – whose title means ‘choice’ – is also a collaboration between several pro-choice and advocacy groups: It was spearheaded by the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) and is a collaboration with the Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network (PINSAN) and Filipino Freethinkers, with support from Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF) and Abortion Conversation Projects (ACP).
‘Pasya’ boasts one of the most exciting all-female lineups in recent memory: Valenzuela and Cabral (also a member of Ourselves the Elves and the solo artist Teenage Granny) as well as Muroami, Bea Fabros of La Loba Negra, SHNTI, Tao of Sleep Kitchen, and Ymi Castel of Flying Ipis, who has contributed a bonus track.
Calix came on board for production and mixing, while Muroami and rights advocate Kristine Chan served as co-executive producers for the project. In 2019, Chan – Reproductive Health Advocacy Director at Filipino Freethinkers – had pitched the ‘Pasya’ idea to the hip-hop artist, who agreed to collaborate. The pair then convinced other artists to get on board.
Abortion is broadly criminalised in the Philippines under the country’s Revised Penal Code of 1930, though CNN Philippines points out that the laws may leave room for exceptions and “interpretation of these policies is ambiguous at best”. The procedure remains highly limited in the Philippines, and roughly 1,000 women die of complications from unsafe abortions each year. Studies have found that six in 10 Filipino women have dealt with an unintended pregnancy at some point in their lives, and that one-third of all births in the country are unplanned.
The stigma abortion evokes in the Philippines, Chan tells NME, “comes from stereotypes about women, perpetuated by religious dogma and patriarchal traditions that limit women’s choices about their lives. These limiting expectations translate into conservative narratives in mainstream media, which prevent discussions (or even questions) that don’t strictly adhere to societal norms.”
In response, ‘Pasya’ aims to help “everyone to talk about the many experiences of abortion, to let people know that it happens to so many around them, and it’s not always how it’s depicted in media”.
The album champions the causes of safe, legal and accessible abortion and reproductive health, but also tells a broader story: one of daily antagonisms and violence against women, rape culture, patriarchal oppression and a male-dominated music industry.
‘Pasya’ is an eclectic clarion call, offering danceable hip-hop, stunning near-gospel like anthems and fresh melodies. Listening to the album is an experience Muroami likens to “visiting a buffet of pleasure and joy with a friend and confidante”.
‘Pasya’ is now streaming on the initiative’s official website and WGNRR’s YouTube channel. Tonight at 6pm (Philippines time), the artists behind ‘Pasya’ will take part in an online Q&A. And on May 28, International Day Of Action For Women’s Health, an online gig will be held.
NME caught up with some of the artists and organisers behind ‘Pasya’ to talk about the experience of making the album.
How did the album come about?
Muroami: “We started making the album by having everyone participate in a workshop series we called the ‘Pasya Sessions’ wherein stakeholders would be able to present themselves in a safe environment. The idea was to have those who have experienced abortion in the Philippines, whom we call storytellers, couple with artists would be ‘classmates’ in the workshop.”
Kristine Chan: “We wanted to change the usual narrative of the subject being scary and gory or stigmatised. We wanted the whole process to be a safe space for the storytellers to share their voices and for artists to share their opinions, both of which would enrich the music.”
Bea Fabros: “When you think of abortion, you tend to conjure up the stigma. But the various causes, conditions, and risks of unsafe abortion aren’t getting as much attention. It was great to finally put a face to the experience and not let it become so alien to our understanding.
“On a more personal note, my mother was part of PINSAN when she was still alive. After working on ‘Pasya’, it feels like I’m getting to know the people she was fighting for. Writing for this album was a great way to process my grief following my mom’s passing last year. Aside from her love for music, I also inherited much of her worldview so being able to contribute to one of her advocacies in my own territory was an incredible opportunity to feel like I was building something with her.”
BP Valenzuela: “I didn’t know how immersive it would be. When I learned we would be talking with the storytellers throughout the songwriting it made me feel that my world was so small. As a songwriter, when I write, I feel it can be self-centred and narrow. While I always think about women’s bodies and the violence we are subjected to, hearing the stories made me think about it even more.
“A lot of media is about the sadness of abortion, the tragedy of it. But my favourite part was highlighting the freedom and agency over our bodies.”
Tao: “It was a slap in the face to see that my songwriting (released with Sleep Kitchen) was very inward. I’m very thankful to ‘Pasya’, it’s a sobering reminder to look outward more. This is useful rage.
“Another slap to the face is to see once again through the lens of public health, how anti-woman and anti-poor the state is in the Philippines.”
How important is ‘Pasya’ given the current state of the Philippines and our leadership?
Tao: “The more I think about it, if there was ever a year for this concept album to start, 2020 was the perfect time. This album feels like channelling our growing collective rage into social solidarity.”
BP: “It’s nice to have a hand to hold through music. Domestic violence is also rising because of stay-at-home orders. During the project I’d look forward to Sundays because of our meetings.”
Muroami: “The most important thing about this album is the joy and pleasure because Lord knows we haven’t had that in a while. These days are filled with ugliness and lies! There is joy in being a woman, to be pregnant, to not be pregnant, and in being human if only we weren’t harassed or contained.”
Aly: “This endeavour is really important as we see the interwoven problems of fascism, patriarchy and misogyny worsening. During the process, I tried to focus on a mothering energy and of women as a nurturing force – both of which are under siege because of the current social conditions. I thought about the cases of Amanda Echanis, Reina Mae Nasino and others who have been jailed with their newborns. The album parallels the emergence of these attacks and at the same time is also the reason why it’s so important.”
How did it feel to work mostly with women on this project?
BP: “Hopefully more women can feel like music can be a way to express their voice. For me sometimes it’s the only way. In the music scene, you mostly work with men and shows also have a very masculine environment. The creative space that we were in was the highlight of my life during the pandemic. It’s not just the absence of men, but the presence of women.”
Tao: “Honestly, jam sessions are usually a sausage fest and I’m fucking sick of that. This allowed me to revisit something I’ve always wanted. Because of ‘Pasya’, I’m more set about what I want to do next which is to work with women and create material that is for and about women.”
Muroami: “I want to gig again. But after everything, I admittedly still feel a little scared to be questioned then dismissed as many would towards feminists who display their anger. Right now I’m taking advantage of my safety at home. What if I sound brave on the track then someone might try to harass me at a live gig? I’m still struggling because what if the world opens up and I have to face these dangers.
“This album is empowering because we aren’t just women working together. It’s more like we are all feminists working together.”
Bea: “Growing up as a female musician, I dealt with anxiety about being an instrumentalist, or composing songs. It’s the same with playing too loud, I was worried it might sound bad or I might turn the wrong knob on an amp. If I had seen more women composers growing up, it would have helped me ditch the bullshit earlier.
“This project feels like we’re joined together as powerful female musicians. It’s like Voltes V! [laughs] Some people hate the term ‘female musician’. But I think we have to claim the space first because it hasn’t been available because of the misogyny, internal and external.”
Aly: “This quenched my feminist thirst to create. Also, every time I work with women on a project like this, the care aspect is always prominent. This is an educational material made with all kinds of women in mind.”
Find out more about ‘Pasya’ and the online Q&A with the artists here