Dateline Irrawaddy: ‘Who Is Willing to Sing for the Poor?’

By The Irrawaddy 31 October 2015

Aye Chan Myae: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy. This week we’ll be discussing artists and political campaigning. We have invited musician May Kha Lar, who has recently released hit song “Don’t Want to Talk about Politics,” to this week’s discussion. Irrawaddy’s Burmese editor Thalun Zaung Htet will also join me for the discussion. I’m Irrawaddy Burmese editor Aye Chan Myae.

I think I should first ask May Kha Lar, who says she does not want to talk about politics.

May Kha Lar: Sure. Please ask.

ACM: The election is very near now.

MKL: Yes, it is.

ACM: We see that artists are entertaining at the rallies of political parties. Some have criticized this, saying that artists are not supposed to support a particular party. What is your view on this?

MKL: Yes, in fact, artists are a class of people whose actions right away come to the public’s attention. People know immediately when artists do something either good or bad. So we artists sometimes feel stuck in an uneasy situation, as we are now, for example. There is no hatred between the military and artists. Soldiers are citizens, and so are doctors, policemen, musicians, and students. So because they are people born out of people, I want everyone to get on well with each other and share the same view. However, political parties have emerged because people have different views and wishes. To be frank, I personally do not want to criticize anyone regarding the election. Musicians have the right to entertain for any party according to their wishes and their views. They shouldn’t be prohibited. It is their individual wish. I myself have gotten stuck in many dilemmas. One of my close relatives is a high-ranking official while on the other side is my younger brother, who has made a lot of sacrifices. I was very confused and faced with a challenging dilemma. But to talk about truth and face the truth, if musicians want my advice on how they should choose, I would say that they should choose the one [political party] that is more closely associated with and more acceptable to the majority.

ACM: Ko Thalun, we journalists are also supposed to be non-partisan. Some say that artists should not represent a particular party. Some say that artists used to support one side but now they support the other side. What is your view on this, Ko Thalun?

Thalun Zaung Htet: Jobs are different in their natures. However, during a critical time for the country, everyone has to stand for the interests of the country. Even children know who has and who hasn’t served the interests of the country, and who has harmed the country. Everyone knows this. Artists can’t just ignore critical times for their country. Artists, who know what change people really want, have joined the rallies on a wider scale. Their participation has further aroused public eagerness for change.  I, both as a journalist and as an ordinary citizen, really appreciate artists’ joining campaigns for the sake of politics. I would say that this is the right move.

ACM: Ma May Kha Lar, we didn’t see much of you in the earlier days of campaign season. Perhaps you were busy recording. But now the election is just days away. What activities do you plan on engaging in?

MKL: I am more passionate about this album than I was about my previous ones. And I have also put more energy into it. Other [musicians] have been devoting their time and energy to campaign season, but I have put my efforts into my album. And I think it is worthwhile to do so. I always keep in my mind that it is the people who feed me. Even children know what has happened to the majority and what to the minority. In my heart, I’ve always stood by the grass roots. When I do philanthropic works, I never make donations to rich monasteries or to rich places. Well-off persons don’t need donations. For example, if a person is very rich, he is usually surrounded by people who are at his service or who need his help. Meanwhile, no one helps poor persons. Who else will help them to stand on their own feet if we don’t help them? Since I was a child I’ve always wanted to help these sorts of people. I have also released a critical song written by U Naing [“Myanmar”]. This song was also a big hit. It was dedicated to the grass roots. I started my revolt [against authority] with that song and have not finished.

ACM: Everyone who has watched and listened to your song “Don’t Want to Talk about Politics” likes it. The song went viral when you uploaded it to Facebook. Ko Thalun, what do you think about the song?

TZH: After having listened to the song, my wife, whenever she gets angry with me now, threatens me, singing the part of the song, “I don’t want to talk about politics. Shall I take to the streets?” The song is a great hit. The title of the song is “Don’t Want to Talk about Politics,” but listening carefully to it, it’s clear that people want to talk about politics. The song conveys sympathy for the woes and grievances of people. As a citizen, I appreciate that it is a really good song. The song provides food for thought and asks the authorities questions on behalf of the people. The song has spread among the public. It is one of the best election campaign tools.

ACM: The song highlights the grass-roots. It reveals that there are such people in this country. They are the majority, though there are some affluent groups here as well. Your song was a hit because it represents the majority, I think.

MKL: Yes, but the song can also be interpreted differently. Ko Naing Gyi is a really great composer. When I first released the song, the wife of a senior government official praised me, and this made me respect her. She said that friendship is friendship, that she is not angry with my song, that the song does not impact her, and that her friendliness towards me would not change. She also said, “the song is about the married life of the poor, why should I be angry with it?” So this makes me respect her and husband. Her husband is a senior government official. Meanwhile, others think that the song will affect their husbands, which is narrow-minded thinking. So I feel sorry for the couple, because I think that my song will somehow affect them. There are three social classes in Myanmar. Many people are willing to sing for the rich and for those in power. But who is willing to sing for the poor? That’s why I stand for them.

ACM: Ko Thalun, what is your assessment of the election, as it is just days away?

TZH: At present, the entire town has turned red, and so has the rest of the country. The nearer we get to the election, the more cars are turning red and the more people are wearing red. The entire country is turning red. It is not that people have turned red for no reason. They have their own feelings. They were subjected to suppression. They are turning red because they view it [the National League for Democracy] as the party that can change their lives and their hopes. And I hope that things will become redder as the election draws nearer.

ACM: You released the album “Don’t Want to Talk about Politics” just before the election. Did you intentionally plan on your album coinciding with the election?

MKL: I started recording the album in October and November of last year. I collected some songs and cancelled others that I didn’t like. Then, the election was announced, and I planned on postponing my album until the post-election period. But then I met Ko Naing Gyi. I told him that I have feelings. What [feelings]? That I am very interested in philanthropic works. And I engaged in them. I went to urban and rural areas to engage in philanthropic works, and when I would arrive, I couldn’t hold back tears. I am leading a good life, but others are not. How would they feel if it rains heavily, I wonder. I can eat well and make donations, but their lives are ragged. I asked Ko Naing Gyi to write a song. I said I would like to do something for the grass roots because there are hardly people willing to stand by them. I asked him to write about it a month or so before the election campaigns began. Perhaps it was two, three months ago now. Ko Naing said OK, and it only took a week or ten days for him to compose the song. I fell in love with the lyrics when I saw them. The song was exactly what I wanted. At that time, the recording of the album was already finished, but if that song was not included on the album, what a waste it would have been, because the election and the song are a perfect match. So I recorded the song along with other songs, such as “Union’s Mother.”

ACM: The song “Union’s Mother” is about the Irrawaddy River?

MKL: The Irrawaddy River is essential for us. I am grateful to President U Thein Sein for suspending the Myitsone Dam Project. The next government, however, doesn’t need to postpone it. It needs to repeal it. The Irrawaddy is the sine qua non for Myanmar. Mothers are crucially important for everyone. A person can’t live without a mother, though it is better to have both parents. But personally, I think that we owe greater gratitude to mothers, and therefore in the song I compare the Irrawaddy River to a mother. The song is also really good, and I think that people will like it. So I would like to request that the next government safeguard the river’s sanctity for the people.

ACM: Thank you for your contributions.