25 April 2010

Music as rebellion - Burma

Stand up to a brutal regime and most times the regime will knock you down and then kick you repeatedly while you are down. This is something that has been seen time and again in Burma. One day the people will rise and the junta will be swept away. Until then rebellion is wherever you can make it.

According to a recent Guardian article It would seem that hip-hop is providing a subterranean vehicle for quiet, yet significant, dissent among Burmese youth. THis is the case fir artist Thxa Soe.

Burma has a history of protest music. Traditional known as thangyat, were once used to air grievances, both small, against neighbours, and large, against authority. Following the 1988 student uprising, however, the music was banned outright by the ruling military junta.

But hip-hop's fluid lyrics wrapped in rhymes and youthful argot make it a perfect modern format for subtly spreading an anti-authoritarian message. Thxa Soe is one of Burma's leading hip-hop stars, and one of its most outspoken. He first heard hip-hop as a student at the SAE Institute in London, instantly admiring the quicksilver rhymes and daring lyrics of Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg.

But he also had an interest in the traditional music of his homeland, and began researching the hundreds of documents held in the UK. "In the British Library, I discovered these traditional songs, [with] original Burmese-language lyrics, that nobody had performed for hundreds of years. They were taken from Burma in the 1780s. Many songs that people had never heard."

He began combining the two art forms, meshing the ancient melodies with computer-generated beats, and near-forgotten Burmese-language words with his own modern lyrics. "I like, and people like, the freedom of hip-hop. There is not much freedom in rock, but in hip-hop you have freedom to express, express your ideas. And this is our hip-hop, for Burmese. I have too many words, not only me, too many teenagers have too much to say. Because our country is a very closed country, and the older people have a closed mind, a concentrated mind."

The 29-year-old flew under the junta's radar with his first album, but he is now a victim of its success. Its popularity has meant he is closely watched by the government censors. Outright criticism of the government is forbidden, but he skates close to the edge of what is acceptable in the junta's eyes, and his songs are regularly banned.

Thxa Soe says he has chosen to stay in Burma, despite the risks, because he sees his voice as important in his homeland. "It is very difficult being a musician in Myanmar. You are not free. You are always being watched, for what you say, and you are being told what you can say and what you cannot. [But] I believe music can change a country, not only our country, but the whole world."

And there are others in Burma finding an outlet for dissent in music. A group known as Generation Wave, its exact membership unknown, secretly records and distributes anti-government albums across the country, dropping them at the tea shops that are the social hubs for Burma's underground political network.They write songs such as Wake Up, a call for young people to join the pro-democracy movement, and Khwin Pyu Dot May (Please Excuse Me), the story of a young man asking his mother's permission to join the struggle.

Most of its members keep their identities a secret, after high-profile member Zayar Thaw was jailed for six years for forming an illegal organisation. But the threat of prison has not stopped Burma's young flocking to the group, as fans and as members.

"We welcome young people to participate in our movement against the regime," a performer known only as YG says. "Our songs honour mothers and revolutionists. We want young people to be active and interested in politics. Every youngster can be an activist."

I have little to add but to wish Thxa Soe and his fellow musicians the very best of wishes and hope that they can contribute in some way to the end of the junta


Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Very interesting. I add my best wishes to yours.

jams o donnell said...

I hope so too Welshcakes

Frank Partisan said...

There are examples of music/dance used as protest all over the word. In Brazil capoeira was used by slaves to learn to fight, while pretending to dance. Even Afro American gospel has protest mixed in the lyrics.

See my blog. Sonia's blog was deleted.

jams o donnell said...

Indeed Ren. THere are plenty of examples.

Sonia's blog deleted?

Claude said...

Even La Marseillaise was a song of rebellion!

jams o donnell said...

Absolutely. THere are so many examples of music as rebellion

susan said...

Thanks for that. I just looked him up on youtube and found this. I have no idea what the song was about but the audience was delighted (as were the dozens of people on either side of the stage hosing them all down). A little joy goes a long way for those seeking positive change.

jams o donnell said...

That is true Susan and you never know, A few will go away and think about things and they may well be the people to oust the junta.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

This specific junta seems to be entrenched pretty well. But let's hope.

jams o donnell said...

Sadly so Snoopy but here's to their end