Are you listening? Five women raise their voices to make the local music scene a safe space

Are you listening? Five women raise their voices to make the local music scene a safe space

How do we create a community that is founded on respect?

Coeli, Alyana, Paula, Iya, and Pamcy all wear Uniqlo.

Working towards creating a space safe isn’t as simple as putting up a signpost. To make a safe space requires building a community that believes in it, and will protect it.


The wave of stories that have surfaced since last year about sexual harassment allegations in the music scene, in light of the #MeToo movement, have marked a significant change in how people step up to fight misogyny.

Many people echo certain questions: Are we safe? Are we respected? And many others have answered through action.

The UP Fair, among other gig promoters, dropped Sud and Jensen and the Flips from their lineup. Sleeping Boy Collective canceled the show of the New Jersey band Ducktails shortly after he was accused of sexual assault. Bands were boycotted. Those who faced accusations dealt with very real consequences, and the message from the music community was loud and clear: this will not be tolerated. And women are being heard.

Young STAR presents five artists whose voices ring out loud and clear, with their eyes aimed towards the horizon to push their craft and break stereotypes through music, to use their platform to advocate for safe spaces and justice, and to build a music community founded on respect.

As always, respect is rooted in listening.

Pamcy Fernandez, beatmaker.
Embroidered button-up shirt from Bench, jeans from Uniqlo.

“I don’t sing,” says Pamcy Fernandez. As a beatmaker, she’s recognized a common notion that many listeners bring up in reaction to her electronic house releases. “Ang immediate impression nila ay nagagalingan sila na babae ang gumagawa niyan.”

Instead of skirting around the issue, she owns it. On her 2018 EP “Deep Sea Pearls,” all her collaborators — from the guest vocalists to the album art — were female. It’s not a matter of defining what a “female sound” is; it’s about taking full credit for their creative efforts, and dispelling the idea that women can’t produce their own beats.

“Instrumental-wise, wala namang sound na pang-babae o pang-lalaki lang,” she asserts. When it comes to recording, it’s nearly impossible to identify the genders of the musi- cians playing on whatever track, unless they’re singing. The music, in this case, speaks for itself.

Coeli San Luis, cellist
Turtleneck from Uniqlo, denim jacket and skirt from Bench.

Other musicians break stereotypes not just through form, but by defying the idea of what a performance should be. Similarly, Coeli San Luis has taken an unconventional route for her instrument of choice: the cello.

“Being a cellist shouldn’t just be limited to being a classical cellist in the orchestra,” she says, recounting how a certain professor was extra stern about her playing. In the conservatory, she was told that her only options were to head to the orchestra or the academe. It’s rare for a musician to break away to play her own songs, and sing at the same time.

It wasn’t easy, though. Her cello has gotten chipped from countless commutes, just getting to gigs in bars around Metro Manila. It’s no mean feat to take a full cello aboard the MRT at rush hour. “Nobody helps me out in public,” she laughs. “I just rely on my own strength.”

Part of the life of a musician is sheer physical effort — not just in carrying gear and performing, but even going the extra mile to keep people safe.

Paula Castillo, producer of Almost Crimes
Knit shirt from Uniqlo, pleated skirt from Bench, stylist’s own jacket, subject’s own earrings.

“If someone falls over in the mosh pit, you pick them up,” states Paula Castillo, a member of the gig production Almost Crimes. Even when it’s late at night at their shows and the crowd is at their most raucous, they make sure everyone in the audience is safe. “We look out for each other in the crowd, and if something comes up, we talk about it after the show and figure out how to solve it.”

“If you really care about the show,” she says, “you have to be respectful about others.” They make a determined effort to make their shows safe and inclusive for women and LGBTQ+ individuals. It’s also part of their ethos to choose bands that they respect, not just as musicians, but as people.

“We make sure to invite the artists worth giving a platform, and worth supporting,” she concludes.

Iya Forbes, music photographer
Peter pan collared blouse from Bench, trousers from Uniqlo.

Likewise, music photographers and the media have the reach to influence who is (and isn’t) heard. Music photographer Iya Forbes has covered shows from dimly lit dives to large festivals, and the responsibility of coverage matters deeply to her. A photographer selects who to render visible, and who gets to be seen. There have even been occasions where she’s been asked to cover shows featuring musicians who were facing harassment allegations. She says simply, “I don’t shoot them.”

“Responsible din ang media to not put a spotlight on these people who you know have done something bad,” she continues. “Why would you put a spotlight on them even more by taking pictures of them and putting them on these platforms?” Refusing to shoot these musicians is also an act of support towards other female musicians in the community.

Alyana Cabral, musician for Ourselves the Elves, The Buildings and Teenage Granny and co-founder of Kababae Mong Tao
Button-up and dress from Bench, subject’s own earrings.

And of course, concerns of the music community extend beyond music itself. Alyana Cabral’s advocacies go hand- in-hand with her multiple musical projects: the bands Ourselves the Elves and The Buildings, her experimental electronic act Teenage Granny, and her solo folk act, to name a few.

She’s among the founders of Kababae Mong Tao, a multimedia platform for female and LGBTQ+ artists. The collective’s name is a subversion of that familiar insult, and to her, “Naming the platform that is also a way to turn the stereotype around.”

Cabral also believes in the voices that musicians have in the name of social change. She recently performed at SAKA’s cookout for communities on the picket line of the NutriAsia protests in 2018. She was also one of the musicians who helped campaign for the Safe Streets and Public Spaces Bill.

When these women were asked if they see things changing for the better, they all resoundingly replied: yes.

As the Sleater-Kinney song goes, “Culture is what we make it, yes it is/Now is the time to invent.” To have a role in the music scene, in any creative capacity, is to also have the avenue to shape the future. It takes a collective effort, from gestures as small as picking someone up in a mosh pit to louder clamors for change on paper and on the streets. It matters to recognize where we’ve come from, because it’ll help us know where to go.

Styled by NEAL P. CORPUS
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