1st Quarter Greet Hip-Hop via Rape, Politics, and the Philippines

Seattle's only Filipina hip-hop group, and one of only a handful across the United States

Rogue Pinay packed all her belongings and said good-bye to her family in the southern region of the Philippines when she was 10 years old. She and her mother underwent a tedious immigration process and saved up thousands of dollars to purchase their one-way boarding passes to America. They started with stints in California and Oregon before settling in Washington. Here, Pinay, whose real name is Katrina Pestano, received news that her father, who had stayed behind in the Philippines, had been hit by a motorist and had died. Pinay says she grieved, but didn't have any grand illusions about his loving character. Pinay is the child of her mother's rape. "I almost feel like it was inevitable that I would find hip-hop," Pinay explains. "I was raised in a climate of fear and anger, so the struggle and frustration hip-hop artists expressed really spoke to me. People like Tupac and Dead Prez had ideas that made me think about social conditions. I was politicized through hip-hop." It was a little over two years ago, as Pinay was finding her footing in the local hip-hop scene, that she met El Dia (real name: Angela Martinez Dy) at an open mike. A Filipina as well, El Dia's upbringing was markedly different from Pinay's. But the two shared a passion for hip-hop as well as for the past and present political struggles of their people. Emulating the activists before them, Pinay and El Dia formed 1st Quarter Storm, named for the '80s youth movement in which Filipino college students protested and overthrew the corrupt regime of the former president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, a man who embezzled millions of dollars while his country's economy plummeted. And while Seattle is no stranger to politically aware hip-hop, 1st Quarter Storm is a pioneering duo: they are the only Filipina hip-hop group in Seattle, and one of only a handful spread across the United States. Pinay, now 23, raps in both English and Tagalog (a Filipino language) about issues like domestic violence and poverty in the Philippines. Her music is poignant, filled with a startling amount of brutal honesty. In "Truth," Pinay reflects in a voice laden with pain, "Conceived of my father's hate, yet my mom still chose to love me/ I am a child of rape, darkness will always be part of me." Even outside her music, Pinay is constantly revisiting her roots. She works nights at a domestic violence agency. She volunteers countless hours for Pinay sa Seattle, an organization of Filipina women engaged in defending the rights and welfare of people in the Philippines. ("Pinay" means "Filipina," to the Filipino community.) "More than anything I see myself as a cultural worker," Pinay says. "I use music to represent the issues that are important back home. I have nieces and nephews who live in a house where part of the roof is missing because of a typhoon. Sometimes it rains and their uniforms get wet—so they can't go to school. There are many changes that need to be made." Unlike Pinay's raw backstory and family life, El Dia's personal history is arguably a little softer. Her parents immigrated to Seattle from Manila, Philippines, several years before she was born. They were scrupulous with their savings and vowed to make their child's future their top financial priority. A second-generation Filipina, El Dia didn'tgrow up in poverty nor does she speak her parents' native language. El Dia attended Holy Names Academy, a private all-girls Catholic high school that consists mostly of white students. She holds degrees in English and math from the University of Washington. When El Dia visits the Philippines,her creamy complexion attracts hard stares. "Foreigner," the onlookers' expressions read. The distance between generations there and in America goes beyond geographical measurements, she says. "It really made me think about identity politics," El Dia says. "A lot of people tell me that I look white or Chinese or Korean. I spent a lot of time thinking about my identity as a Filipina and where I fit into the scheme of things." El Dia initially began performing as a spoken-word artist. With the urging of friends in the hip-hop community, she began experimenting in music by translating her free verse into more formulaic prose. In less than two years' time, the naturally-gifted MC began performing at hot spots like Hidmo. El Dia laments about the cultural barriers she's faced in "Dragon Lady," noting, "Second generation, couldn't speak my language/ Elementary education started all the damage/ Cut me from my mother tongues as if I were an overrunning/ River flowing too quick and too wide for this life." However, any differences between Pinay and El Dia fell by the wayside when they formed 1st Quarter Storm. With the production help of Abyssinian Creole's Gabriel Teodros, they recorded a mix tape with their first- and second-generation perspectives on political struggles in the Philippines. The only somewhat-comparable act that comes to mind is Rhapsodistas, a Filipina quartet in the Bay Area. Evoking memories of how fresh Blue Scholars sounded when they first emerged, 1st Quarter Storm provides some of the most intriguing hip-hop to come out of Seattle in recent years. The duo boasts the poet's sensitivity, the activist's political message, and the savoir faire to lay it all down with some dope beats. "Through music we're inspiring our community to come together both here in Seattle and in the Philippines," El Dia says. "We're creating our own bloodless revolution." music@seattleweekly.com

 
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