Yangon, Myanmar – From a classical orchestra playing a revolutionary song to viral breakdancers performing to Michael Jackson anthems — young Myanmar anti-coup protesters are using music as a weapon against the country’s generals.
Since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, big cities and isolated villages alike have mounted a revolt.
Across the country, people have chanted and drummed pots and pans in a daily chorus of dissent, while young composers, choreographers and musicians have expressed their junta resistance creatively.
In downtown Yangon this week, a large rebel youth orchestra of violin, cello, trombone, percussion players and an arched Myanmar harp, calling themselves Generation Z MM, debuted a new protest song called “Revolution.”
For 25-year-old vocalist Pan, performing with the orchestra is cathartic at a time of high stress and anxiety over her country’s future.
“The meaning of the song we were playing is, ‘With the flesh and blood of our young people, we will try to end the military dictatorship,'” she said. “Music can pierce through everybody’s heart at any time. I believe that everyone who was listening to our performance will be inspired.”
Myanmar has a long history of protest songs, which often feature in satirical folk art called thangyat in Burmese. While typically humorous, these performances expressed political commentary and vented against injustices small and large.
But most protest songs were banned following the 1988 uprising, which the military quelled by gunning down thousands of protesters on the streets.
The song, “Kabar Ma Kyay Bu,” or “We Won’t Forget Until the End of the World,” became emblematic of those protests, and has recently made a comeback.
Adapted from Kansas’ 1977 classic “Dust in the Wind”, Myanmar’s version calls for revolution and is once again being sung in defiance of the junta.
In the commercial district of Yangon, dancers have dabbed and stomped to the beat.
After a group routine under a busy flyover, b-boys spun, flipped and froze. Another dancer twerked.
“People are asking: ‘Are you guys happy dancing?'” one male dancer said “No, we’re not happy. We’re just venting our boiling emotions and just letting our compulsion take control while we dance.”
A YouTube video clip of a Yangon flash mob performing to Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us” has garnered nearly 40,000 views in five days.
Another musical protest clip shows a performance by punk rockers “Rebel Riot” showing off their mohawks and tattoos, interspersed with footage from mass protests.
They sing: “Are you ready everybody, fight for your right, fight for your life.”
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