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Myanmar: Hip-hop's revolution

With elections at the end of the year, Generation Wave is producing politically subversive music.

Zayar Thaw, another famous hip-hop artist, was arrested and sentenced to six years. Minutes before Zayar Thaw was sentenced, he wrote a statement, which was leaked to GW members. “Tell the people to have the courage to reject the things they don’t like, and even if they don’t dare to openly support the right thing, tell them not to support the wrong thing,” he said in his statement.

The young musician pioneered the hip-hop industry in Myanmar, releasing the first-ever rap album in the country in 2003. The rock ‘n’ roll music fans of Myanmar’s crumbling cities found a new passion overnight.

Zayar Thaw's thirst for hip-hop was married to his desire to further democracy in Myanmar. The most prolific of GW campaigns, which saw the phrase “Change New Government” being applied to Change Nitric Gas stickers, was his brainchild. This motto is also spray-painted across the gate of GW’s safe house in Mae Sot.

All the walls of the GW safe house are covered in graffiti. One wall has “Freedom” splattered across it. Another has "Generation Wave" stenciled in red, with a large clenched fist giving a thumbs up — GW’s logo.

9KT’s latest album, “Never Give Up,” is a direct message to youth. Eleven tracks, to be released in October in time with Myanmar's elections, mix rock and hip-hop. One song called “If We All Unite,” talks about coming together to topple the government; while another, “Negative Thinking,” is a comic song that mocks the generals for their bad intentions.

“Music can change everything. Popular music can change a lot,” he said. “When I was young and heard celebrities singing happy songs, it made me happy, if they sang angrily, it made me angry — so I hope if the people hear political songs from familiar voices they will become interested in politics.”

The cameraman at the music video shoot takes an aerial position. 9KT shakes a can of spray paint and skillfully tags "2010," to represent the upcoming elections, on the concrete floor. Without delay he whips out his second can and aggressively paints a white cross over the digits.

Angrily, he stamps on it and walks off. With a bit of luck a dog walks over the graffiti. Since dogs are considered lowly creatures, cheers arise from the group which believes the upcoming election will be a sham — a belief furthered by new election laws that for the first time allow the junta to legally arrest opposition politicians who did not register.

As the camera and lights get packed up GW members sit around a table with guitars discussing their upcoming furtive campaigns.

“We have to do as many as possible during the elections,” Min Yan Naing told the group. “A revolution is evolving, it might not happen over night but at least the people will soon realize they have the right to be free.”