Filipino-American rapper, poet and activist Ruby Ibarra has made quite a name for herself in the past year.
Ibarra, who only released her Circa91 album a little more than a year ago, has moved hundreds of thousands of friends, fans and fellow Filipino-Americans with her music, which oft speaks out about the Filipino-American immigrant experience.
The night was a true celebration, as Ibarra brought her Circa91 album, reimagined with a full live band, to the Bootleg Theater in Historic Filipinotown on Jan. 19th. With a full with a lineup featuring prominent Filipino-American artists and friends, such as opener singer-songwriter Travis Atreo, Bootleg Orchestra and beloved Beatrock Music activist-rapper Bambu DiPistola, the night was full of passionate supporters and community activists, showcasing music from 8pm ’til its 1am end.
Ibarra released her album in Los Angeles in January of last year, and has come full circle. Whereas previous performances in the past year have featured her spitting on the mic with a backing DJ to play the audio to her tracks, the Balikbayans have completely transformed her live performance experience and thus, transforming the experience of the Circa91 listening.
With songs featuring Balikbayan vocalist interlude, pretty jazz sections and solos from the saxophonist, and even a section that included traditional Philippine cultural instruments, such as the agong, a Philippine gong-like percussive instrument, Ibarra went out with a bang to celebrate the Circa91 experience — one that Ibarra has noted will probably be the last of the Circa91 tour on the road, as she plans to head into the studio for more new music.
Ruby Ibarra made an appearance at last year’s Identity LA in Downtown Los Angeles and was also a sponsored figure in Mastercard’s “Start Something Priceless” campaign — prominent feats for a Filipina and woman of color artist breaking ground in America.
“OFTEN TIMES, ESPECIALLY IN HIP HOP, WOMEN ARE PITTED AGAINST EACH OTHER. THERE IS THIS ALMOST INHERENT MENTALITY THAT THERE NEEDS TO BE “ONE QUEEN BEE.” I DEFINITELY HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO CHALLENGE THIS NOTION. WOMEN’S GREATEST CHALLENGERS ARE NOT OURSELVES, BUT THE SYSTEMS THAT KEEP US UNDERREPRESENTED. WOMEN HAVE ALL DIFFERENT VOICES AND STORIES AND ALL THOSE DESERVE TO BE HEARD ON THE MIC.”
Ibarra also made waves online when she released the music video for her single “Us” on International Women’s Day last Mar. 8, 2018, an empowering single and music video featuring all-women rappers, dancers, community activists, supporters, fans and friends in the community. The video, directed by Ibarra herself, features moments of traditional Philippine folklore and dance — an homage to her culture and homeland — as well as the fierceness, tenacity and determination of the Filipina/brown women and faces featured.
“So let it be known, if you don’t already
Pinays have always been part, and parcel, if not, imperative and critical to the struggle
Filipinas are no strangers to wielding our own power
Of all the privileges that exist in this world, none of which you may be a benefactor of
There is at least one you bear
And that is the privilege of having been born a Filipina
Your DNA contains building blocks made from the mud of over 500 years of resistance and survival
And when you are ready, sis, we’ll be right here”
– Faith Santilla in “Us”
While her music is incredibly vocal, speaking out on the Filipino-American immigrant experience, growing up with two identities (being born in the Philippines while being an American citizen), and describing the struggles that go along with being an outsider in mainstream American culture, Ibarra’s music rings true to underground hip-hop. With hard-hitting lyrics and empowering messages on race, identity and equality, Ibarra’s vocal delivery is incredibly impressive. She interchanges from English to Tagalog and Visayan dialects, and her confidence is widely shown onstage. While she may be small in stature, Ibarra proves that she and all women can be incredibly strong, powerful and heartfelt in their rhyme.
Photos from the night, with special guest appearances by friends and fans actress Ali Wong, actor Dante Basco and more, taken by Sthanlee B. Mirador, below: