Rebel Riot: the punk soundtrack of Myanmar anti-coup protests | Arts and Culture News
“It’s not an easy thing as a woman here in Myanmar,” Hnin said. “You have a lot of restrictions and you’re not supposed to [be a singer in a punk band]. “
The tattooed 23-year-old stars in “One Day”, a new music video from Myanmar’s biggest punk band Rebel Riot, delivering bubbling vocals above a barrage of heavy guitars.
In the background, Mohawk and leather jacket punks wave red and black flags and raise three fingers, a symbol of resistance derived from a popular film series, The Hunger Games, and adopted by anti-coup protesters. ‘State of Myanmar.
“We just wanted to create something that could inspire people,” Hnin told Al Jazeera of the clip. “This song is meant for this moment.”
Hnin met other members of Rebel Riot in 2015 during student strikes in Yangon. They started hanging out “and I turned into a punk I guess”.
Describing themselves as a community more than a group, the collective is known not only for its music but also for its street-level social initiatives, such as distributing food to the homeless in Yangon.
Hnin says being a part of Rebel Riot allows her to share her voice, which she says goes against what is expected of young women in Myanmar.
“One of the things is you can’t get angry. You have to be calm, you have to be patient, you have to be polite, ”she said.
“But women are angry. They have things they don’t agree on. So that’s why we do this, why I do this – to show that it’s okay to be angry and to explode and to be aggressive.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets since the military arrested civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and seized power on February 1 – the day the country’s new parliament was due to sit. The generals declared a one-year state of emergency and promised new elections, but gave no timetable.
The protests not only featured Mohawked punks, but also young people dressed as ghosts, superheroes and anime characters. Marginalized groups, including the LGBTI community, have also played a prominent role.
“We are trying to get the attention of the world’s crowds,” Hnin told Al Jazeera. “We try to do things differently. We try to be creative, we try to bring flavor. “
Hnin said young people in Myanmar connect with the rest of the world through social media apps such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok, and have been inspired by similar protests led by young people in Thailand and Hong Kong.
“We have something to admire. [What] what young people are doing in different parts of the world. And we can do the same. We can make a difference. I think it’s really inspired young people [in Myanmar].
“Right now, in the demonstrations, you can see a lot of very young people. I can even say that it is quite historic. Right now it’s pretty special that they all unite and come together and ask for one thing.
Hnin said that in addition to democracy, Myanmar needs young people to get involved in politics, “so that they have fresh ideas and creative ways. [Young people] have a more open view on the world. “
This is a sentiment shared by Rebel Riot founder Kyaw Kyaw.
“Our generation is very different. [The government] I don’t understand what young people want, what the new generation needs. They don’t understand at all.
Kyaw Kyaw discovered punk music at the age of 17 after buying a DVD in the Yangon market. He said seeing the bands, the clothes and the attitude inspired him to create Rebel Riot.
He told Al Jazeera that punk music and movement are “very important in Myanmar right now because punk is a rebellion against the system. We don’t want the oppressed system either. So punk is very important at the moment for the situation.
This is not the first time that punk has crossed paths with Burmese politics.
In 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi called on the Russian government to release members of the all-female punk group Pussy Riot, whose members had been jailed for two years for staging an anti-government protest at the prominent Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow.
Having been released from long-term house arrest herself in 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi told an Amnesty International conference: “I don’t see why people shouldn’t sing what they want. want to sing.
But even the once-plugged-in Aung San Suu Kyi may have passed its expiration date.
While remaining extremely popular in Myanmar – as evidenced by the landslide election victory in November which the military claimed was rigged and used as a pretext for the coup – the average age of the leadership of the National League for Democracy is over 70 years old.
Army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup, is also on the verge of reaching retirement age of 65.
“For many young people, supporting the NLD will have been a compromise, but now they are making their voices heard,” said Ronan Lee, Myanmar policy scholar and author of the new book, Myanmar’s Rohingya Genocide.
“Before the coup, the leadership of the NLD was aging, so young people now expect a rapid generational change in the party.”
Time is up
The role of social media in organizing the protests was also noted by the military, who shut down the internet in an attempt to quell social media.
“Thanks to the massive protests against the coup, the young people of Myanmar have demonstrated the strength of their political commitment and their excellent ability to organize and mobilize large numbers of people,” said Lee.
“NLD must embrace Myanmar’s youth and give them a meaningful voice in a civilian future government.”
It remains to be seen whether punk rock will influence the outcome of the current political situation, especially with the threat of mass arrests.
Grammy-winning punk rock singer Henry Rollins told Al Jazeera, “I think Rebel Riot uses the vehicle of music to get a message across, this is punk rock in its purest form and its optimal application. “
Having visited Myanmar in 2008 in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, Rollins said that “it does not surprise me at all that punk music has an appeal all over the world”, including in Myanmar, which largely exists under a military dictatorship since 1962.
He said punks have always been harassed by authorities, including himself as the lead singer for punk band Black Flag.
But he said the harassment suffered by punks in the UK and US “had nothing to do with what truth-tellers and those who challenge established systems of authority like in Myanmar and Russia. Not even close.
“The situation was not so extreme that you risked being arrested and even worse for just having an opinion. Rebel Riot or Pussy Riot put a lot more on the line, at a much greater risk than I’ve ever had to, ”he said.
“I think it’s great that these young people are warning outdated and otherwise cruel and authoritarian power structures that their time is coming to an end.”
Rebel Riot’s new music video comes at a pivotal moment in Myanmar history, but Hnin remains modest.
She said the group created the new video “so people can see what’s going on and what we’re doing here and inspire people in one way or another.”
“Right now, all the young people are participating in the protests. They really want to change. I think that’s what everyone is hoping for, ”she said.