Hopes and Dreams of Myanmar’s Artists and Musicians Destroyed by Coup

By The Irrawaddy 20 December 2021

Before the coup upended Myanmar, young artists and musicians were full of expectation and hope for 2021 after struggling through the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

But the coup turned all of their dreams into nightmares, whether they were musicians or artists planning for the return to live performances and exhibitions after the country had contained coronavirus and the nationwide vaccination plan was underway.

Darko, lead singer of local band Side Effect, is one of those musicians. His band had released a new single in January and he was planning to organize small concerts until the Myanmar military’s February 1 coup destroyed all his plans.

“All my hopes for 2021 were gone in the wake of the coup,” he told The Irrawaddy.

A protest against the coup on February 10. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Until the morning of the coup, which ousted the civilian National League for Democracy (NLD) Party and saw State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint detained, Darko said he thought that 2020 had been the worst year of his life, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted normal life and left him struggling with depression.

“I realized 2020 was not the worst. Instead, I got a chance to learn what is the worst,” he added.

Seeing the regime’s brutality and inhuman behavior towards civilians after the coup, Darko said that he couldn’t find the words to express his feelings about those actions.

He couldn’t even listen to a song until recently because of those feelings, despite the fact that music is a central part of his life. And Darko found it impossible to write and record new music over the last ten months, despite his plans for a busy and productive 2021.

Many other artists and musicians have suffered similar experiences as they watched the coup and the junta rob them of the freedom that they have enjoyed over the past few years.

Another of those affected is street artist MS, who asked to use his nickname rather than his real name. Soon after the coup, he joined street protests against the military regime along with his friends.

“Since the coup, I wake up every day with the heavy feeling that we are under military rule and a junta that seized power illegitimately. With that feeling, I don’t want to do anything,” said MS.

However, to earn a living, he had to start accepting some jobs. But the artist said he can’t enjoy making public artworks now, as he did before the military takeover, as he has to be careful about what he paints.

“We lost our artistic freedom. If I create some artworks that are against the military, they will put me in jail for sure,” he added.

Although he no longer joins public protests because of the junta’s deadly crackdowns, MS has found his own way to support the resistance movement against the regime.

He helped create art to be auctioned online to raise funds for the resistance, as well as participating in online crowdfunding.

Darko has also continued to help the resistance movement, despite being forced to leave his home in March.

Darko, lead singer and guitarist of Side Effect, performing the song ‘2019 Voices of the Youth’ in Yangon.

His house was raided by junta forces in March because he is friends with politicians like Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former NLD lawmaker and hip-hop musician.

The regime accused Phyo Zeya Thaw of being involved with one of the civilian resistance units in Yangon that are carrying out attacks on junta targets. The former MP was arrested by regime forces during a November 18 raid.

“My home is always full of my friends. Before they raided my house, me and my family were already in a safe place because some of my friends had asked me to avoid being captured,” said Darko.

He was sad when he left his house because it is full of memories of his life as a musician.

In recent years, the local music industry has opened up and started reaching new levels. Myanmar people are now accepting all genres of music and some local musicians were collaborating with international artists.

But the coup destroyed everything, including the country’s vibrant and improving cultural scene, Darko said.

“We can’t accept this situation [military rule]. A lot of young people have taken up arms against the regime. I feel sorry for them as they have sacrificed their future to take a stand against the regime. At the same time, I am so proud of them. And I feel guilty [about not joining them],” he said.

Street Artist MS said some of his friends were on the run and others have joined People’s Defense Forces formed to defend civilians from the junta’s atrocities and violence.

“The low income, not being able to go outside freely and the other problems we’re dealing with everyday can’t compare to the young people who are sacrificing their lives and futures by resisting the military. They’re really brave, but all I can do is support them,” said MS.

He urged Myanmar people to continue with their strong support of the resistance movement.

“They need us. I want to win this time, we must win. So I want to request to all the people out there, if you want to win this battle, please support them,” added MS.

Artist MS created signs for protests and joined a demonstration in February in Yangon.

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