Myanmar/Burma: Music a vehicle for significant dissent

26 April 2010
Nine out of 12 songs on Thxa Soe’s most recent album were banned by Burma’s censorship board. How 29-year-old Thxa Soe — one of Burma’s leading hip-hop stars — and the underground group Generation Wave challenge the restrictions of the ruling military junta is described by journalist Jack Davies in an article published by the British newspaper The Guardian on 22 April 2010.

”Song lyrics are vetted by a censorship board for anti-government sentiment before they can be recorded. Anything even vaguely critical of the ruling military junta is swiftly outlawed, any attempt to circumvent the regime brutally repressed. But an imported art form — hip-hop — is providing a subterranean vehicle for quiet, yet significant, dissent among Burmese youth. (…) Hip-hop’s fluid lyrics wrapped in rhymes and youthful argot make it a perfect modern format for subtly spreading an anti-authoritarian message,” wrote Jack Davies in his article which he wrote and sent to the British newspaper The Guardian from Taunggyi in Shan state, after he had met and interviewed Thxa Soe at a house in Burma’s capital, Rangoon.

‘Music can change a country’
Thxa Soe’s hip-hop music “gives the country’s youth a focus for dissatisfaction with the junta despite strict censorship,” Jack Davies reported, but Thxa Soe’s popularity also has meant that he is closely watched by the government censors. They criticise Thxa Soe for ruining traditional Myanmar music since his musical style combines traditional Burmese songs and lyrics with hip hop-style beats and words.

He skates close to the edge of what is acceptable in the junta’s eyes, and his songs are regularly banned. The song titled ‘Water, Electricity, Please Come Back’ — an obvious comment on Rangoon’s inconsistent power supply — was forbidden. On a recent album, fully three-quarters of the tracks were forbidden.

Thxa Soe told The Guardian that 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.”

Jack Davies reported that Burmese Police regularly seize bootleg copies of banned albums and recordings of live performances, but, cheap and quick to reproduce, they are never off the streets long.

Underground political network
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 convicted with six years imprisonment 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,” reported Jack Davies in his music report from Burma.


Thxa Soe
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Myanmar / Burma

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Hip-hop artist Zayar Thaw serves his third year under detention in a prison in Burma.

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Read the story and see video
The Guardian – 22 April 2010:

‘Burma’s hip-hop resistance spreads message of freedom’

Related articles on the internet

The Independent – 14 April 2010:

‘Burmese music: Sound of the underground’

The Irrawaddy – 29 March 2010:

‘Thangyat Songs Ridicule Than Shwe’s Election’

Google News – continuously updated:

Search: ‘Burma’ + ‘Thangyat’

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