Operating room nurse by day, badass Tagalog rapper by night

Meet Haniely Pableo (aka Han Han), who is uniting her community one inspiring rap song at a time

At first, Haniely Pableo might seem like your average, everyday nurse. The 32-year-old immigrated to Canada from the Philippines in 2006 and works tirelessly in the operating room at Toronto General Hospital. But when Pableo isn’t wearing scrubs, she’s a badass rapper on a mission, performing in front of thousands of people in the GTA and beyond.

Her stage name is Han Han. But unlike many rappers at the top of the charts, Pableo doesn’t sing about drinking champagne, partying all night, or stocking up on designer labels. Instead, her songs deal with topics like the immigrant experience in Canada, what it’s like to be a woman of colour, equality and social justice in general, and the importance of accepting yourself just the way you are. She performs almost exclusively in the two main languages of the Philippines, Tagalog and Cebuano—something she does partly as a form of resistance to the idea of total assimilation. One of her goals, she says, is to give young Filipino immigrants something they can relate to.

Although Haniely began journaling and writing poetry when she was young, she didn’t start her music career until 2009, after attending a poetry workshop that inspired her to experiment with turning poetry into songs. While she’s had success with her music so far, she has no intention of quitting her nursing job. “I don’t have unrealistic dreams of being a superstar,” she says. And, she adds, nursing helps inspire her music. “Music is an escape,” Pableo says. “You can’t have the escape all the time.”

There is very little English in Pableo’s lyrics, but those who don’t understand the words can still appreciate her sound. Her goal is to make people curious about a different type of music, a different language, a different culture—not to mention a type of music you don’t typically hear on mainstream radio in Canada. “If I get someone curious, I did my job as an artist,” she says. “That’s where it starts. Curiosity.”

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