Myanmar’s First Female Rap Duo Redefining The Role Of Women In The Music Genre

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When Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) political party won the recent federal election in Myanmar, giving the former political prisoner and long-time champion of democratic rights the best vindication possible, it signaled a major change in attitudes toward society largely being led by a generation of young men and women who want to live in a country where freedom is not just an idea, it is a reality.

But the political leader is not the only person trying to bring about change in Myanmar. In fact there are many underground artists, growing increasing popular over the years and filling a void that was previously filled with Western music, that have added an important voice that is distinctly native and speaks to the struggles the Burmese people face.

One group in particular stands out from the rest, because they are the first female rap duo in the country, and they are challenging the conservative status quo which affects women much differently than men.

Y.A.K, made up of rappers Thazin Nyunt Aung and Aye Aye Aung are a sharp contrast to the stereotypical female portrayal both in Myanmar and in the music industry, but they have constructed their image differently on purpose.

Most of the other female singers from Myanmar are more similar to Celine Dion, than ‘Lil Kim, according to the duo, but they don’t mind.

“They don’t think we’re pretty. They wonder how we became singers, so we wrote a song about such women. It’s called ‘Porn Face’,” said Aye Aye Aung, whose rap name is Triple A, told the LA Times.

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“The song is a gritty, occasionally vulgar takedown of what the pair describe as a common character in the Southeast Asian country: the pretty young woman who seeks out a rich older man to “sponsor” her designer handbags and shopping trips to Bangkok, the Thai capital. They wrote it to protest a lack of diverse female role models in this deeply patriarchal society that is transitioning to democracy after more than five decades of military-led government,” writes reporter Shashank Bengali about what Y.A.K are doing.

The duo met back in 2004 and have been performing on the underground scene ever since, uniting in a common love for pioneer female rappers such as MC Lyte and Missy Elliot. The reason the majority of their music, and other similar artists, had to be all underground, was because of the military-led government at the time which promoted a heavy-handed conservatism and censorship.

Times have certainly changed over a decade later, but the public representation of women is sorely lacking. Music is one industry where the types of pressure put on activists and political leaders doesn’t necessarily exist, and artists can get their message across in an often non-threatening manner.

Both Triple A and Thazin have day jobs which pay the bills, but their presence on the national music scene, especially being the only prominent female rape duo, is making people take notice.

MTV Documentary series ‘Rebel Music’ recently featured a whole host of underground artists from Myanmar who are dominating the underground music scene not for fame and fortune, but for freedom and democracy. Talking to the Y.A.K girls, the series highlighted how the oppression of free speech and censorship affects women in different ways than men, and how the rap duo feel purposely challenging the typical portrayal of women is important to them.

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“We often faced attacks as our style put us in competition with men. My lifestyle and attitudes have not been like a girl’s most of the time. I like baggy dresses, and when I started doing hip-hop, I dressed like a boy,” said Thazin.

While they say their music is specifically about a political message, they do talk about issues such as gender equality, for example, in their song ‘Myanmar Women’ (video below). More than anything they want to show that women don’t nave to follow narrow ideals of beauty and can look however they want.

“People who believe the talent of a vocalist is linked to her beauty advised us to dress more like women. But we want to present our talent, not women’s beauty. We want to pass on the true beauty of hip hop, so we turned their advice down,” said Thazin.

Blogger Kenneth Wong who was hired by MTV to translate lyrics into English, shares how surprised he was to hear what Burmese rappers sing about compared to other hip hop artists, and how the Y.A.K girls are presenting an important feminist perspective on women in the music genre.

“I began watching the raw footage, fully expecting the twenty-something Burmese rappers to mimic their American counterparts. The swagger, bravado, and syncopated beats were certainly familiar. But the surprise was the Burmese lyrics. The mega rap stars in the US I’ve heard routinely sing of drug-fueled street life, violence, and sex, often celebrating them in a way that makes me cringe. By contrast, Y.A.K., the two-girl rap duo from Burma [Myanmar], was telling women that they ‘weren’t born to obey unjust orders,’ that they should ‘wipe away the notion of the weaker sex’,” he wrote on his blog, as shared by PRI.org.

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In the Rebel Music-produced video for ‘Myanmar Women’, Thazin and Triple-A celebrate female strength while encouraging their country’s women to stand up for their rights in a conservative society. With bold lyrics like the following, we believe these two women are going to pave the way for an feminist revolution in Myanmar that is natural part of a democratic revolution tied to social justice.

We weren’t born to obey unjust orders

We’re made of flesh and blood, like the rest of you

Our sight is set on the future’s promise

Women, lean on each other, reach out to each other

Don’t be afraid to go up against anyone, walk with conviction

Stop thinking women are weaker than men

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