Fri 29 Jul 2011
Filed under: Interviews
Hip-hop singer and political activist Zay Yar Thaw, who was released from Kawthaung Prison on May 17, wants to create music that expresses people’s true feelings. His band, ACID, was the first Burmese hip-hop group. He was arrested in 2008 for forming an unlawful organization (Generation Wave) and for possessing foreign currency (Malaysian Ringgit). He was sentenced to six years in prison, which was commuted to four years. He was released under the presidential commutation earlier this year. Mizzima interviewed him about his prison experiences, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and his social, political and art activities.
Question: Since you were released from prison, what activities have you been engaged in?
Answer: After I was released from prison, I provided help to the National League for Democracy on events and ceremonies held at the party’s headquarters. For instance, they held a 10-day music festival to mark Amay Su’s (Aung San Suu Kyi’s) 66th birthday. I helped them by using my musical skills. On July 19, to commemorate the 64th Martyrs’ Day, we displayed a collection of articles. I also volunteered for a blood donation group, BG school, the Sympathetic Hands Foundation, and I did some work of the Free Funeral Services Society led by Kyaw Thu and Shwe Zeegwat and the HIV/AIDS salvation centre for children, which is operated by writer Than Myint Aung.
Q: What are you current art activities?
A: Regarding art, there is a song, “Being Abstract,” on our album “Starting” that was released by our Acid Music band in 2000. The song was jointly written by Anagga and me and sung by me. We donated the song to the Free Funeral Services Society. And I helped the Free Funeral Services Society in an MTV project.
Q: After you were released, have your activities been monitored?
A: Honestly, I am not aware of it. They might watch me or not. I don’t think about whether they watch me or not. If I think about something I should do, I’ll do it. I ‘m not worried about it.
Q: What were prison conditions like for you and other political prisoners?
A: I’ve answered this question in interviews. In every country, the living standards of prisoners are lower than that of the people [living outside the prisons]. The living standard for average people in our country is very low, so I think I don’t need to describe how low the living standard is in prison.
Q: The government says there are no political prisoners.
A: If the government wants to establish a genuine democratic country and wants to be a democratic government, releasing political prisoners will be its primary task. Only if there are no prisoners who are detained for their beliefs and opinions will we be able to make the second step to seek national reconciliation. So I believe and accept that the first step is to release all political prisoners.
Q: After you were released from prison, why did you become involved in NLD activities?
A: My opinion on Amay Suu (Suu Kyi) is not personal worship. We just respect and emulate her sacrifice, her great attitude toward the people and her courage. I want to try to be a person like Amay Suu. But it’s not a kind of blind hero worship.
Q: Will you continue your NLD activities?
A: When I met with Amay Suu, I told her that she could invite me any time I’m needed. I’ll be ready to cooperate with Amay Suu at any time and at any place.
Q: Do you have any plans for projects to reach music and art audiences?
A: If news stories or something tug at my heartstrings, I’ll create music whether it can reach an audience or not. But, I will not create music with my former attitude: just to release a music album or perform in a stage show. I want to create music that can express people’s feelings: pain, hatred and hope.
Q: Are you banned from doing artistic activities?
A: Currently, I’m not banned. But I don’t know about the future. Meanwhile, I heard that my interviews with local journals were not allowed to be published by the censors.
Q: Does censorship of literature, music, film and other forms of art affect the creation of art?
A: If art were a seed and censorship covered it, a plant could not grow from the seed. And if an artist practices a form of self-censorship, his or her creation will be different. I do not mean we want to be totally free from censorship. But, I think the censorship should be relaxed to some extent.
Q: When you were released from prison, how did your friends in the artist community react?
A: Nearly all of my friends from the musicians’ community warmly welcomed me back. I think that although they might not do the right things, they respect and value those who do.
Q: What do you want to say to your fans?
A: I would like to say that I promise that whether I am allowed to create art or not, I, Zay Yar Thaw, will do as many good things as I can for my fans who are my benefactors.