Mass protests have been taking place across Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) since the country’s military seized power in a coup d’état on February 1st, 2021.
The military junta took the reins of power following a general election which Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide. The elected leader is under “house arrest” in an unknown location ever since.
Sen. General Min Aung Hlaing, under whom the military intensified the crackdown on the (Muslim) Rohingya ethnic minority in Rakhine State in recent years, declared a one-year-long state of emergency and assumed all state power for this period.
It’s worth noting that Myanmar was a military dictatorship from 1962 until 2011.
The Ongoing Protest Movement
A strong movement of civil disobedience emerged in the first days of February in a vocal opposition to the new regime. The protests over the coup have been the largest since the so-called Saffron Revolution in 2007, when thousands of monks rose up against the previous military rule.
At first, spearheaded by medical workers, nurses and doctors, the movement started to grow with people from all walks of life joining in.
On February 6th, people finally took their protests onto the streets of Yangon and other cities across the South East Asian country. It’s estimated that around 100,000 people participated on this day alone in the protests in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.
The protests were supported by several organizations, including student unions, labour unions, and a wide range of social justice activist groups. Among the social justice groups supporting the protests is the Yangon chapter of the international Food Not Bombs movement.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Myanmar, the punks organized a huge support network for the people in need. Food Not Bombs also organized protests and mutual-aid campaigns in support of garment factory workers and labour unions as the factories shut down without any compensation to the workers.
Now, the Food Not Bombs activists are on the frontlines of the anti-coup movement, supporting protestors with medical masks, water, food and protection gear. As the protests intensify, the military is tightening their grip even more. Armoured vehicles rolled out onto the streets and the army cut off the state media TV & radios, local phone lines and access to internet.
Water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds were used against the protestors. Reports have shown civilians being dragged out of their houses at night and arrested by the police. More than 500 people, including many children, have been killed by the police & military, according to various reports.
100% Three Fingers in the Air Punk Rock: A Benefit Compilation
A benefit hardcore punk / crust compilation was organized by Bristol, UK’s F.O.T.K. band and Death Pint Records in coordination with Organize and Arise. The aim of the fundraiser is to set up a support network of solidarity with the work of Food Not Bombs Yangon during the now ongoing protests.
The money will be used to further support the protestors and people in need. Food Not Bombs Yangon is also teaming up with other activist organizations like labour and student unions.
This new compilation features tracks by Myanmar’s own The Rebel Riot and 24 other bands across the globe, including unreleased tracks by F.O.T.K (UK)., Nightfeeder (US), and Japanese ‘Burning Spirits’ originators Death Side, alongside tracks by the likes of Doom (UK), Exit-Stance (UK), Forward (Japan), War//Plague (US), Visions of War (Belgium), Cliterati (US), Phane (Canada), Orphanage Named Earth (Poland), Carburetor Dung (Malaysia), Detractors (US), Bratakus (Scotland), Genöme (Sweden), Crutches (Sweden), Zero Again (UK), and many more.
To support the cause, follow the Bandcamp link and donate $10 or more.
In her latest music video, Valerie Orth shows imagery from Brazil, Hong Kong, USA. This is not surprising for those who know Valerie because she started out as an activist long before she started using music as a tool for change. Today, with her music, Valerie envisions a better world, and along with her music, she educates the young girls and women of today through the social projects that she helps to manage. Check out Valerie’s webpage where people can join her VIP club called Planet Orth.
Halldór Kristínarson: Your background lies in activism, rather than music, and you have traveled all the way to China for that work, but when did you start making music?
Valerie Orth: Actually I started singing when I was very young – 5 years old. Music has always been in my life. But once I started getting very involved in activism, I couldn’t focus on both. Grassroots organizing around economic and social justice took center stage. I was able to bring back music later, after college. I studied songwriting and formed a band in San Francisco.
HK: Not everyone is receptive to politics or activism in music. Do you consider that when you make songs? Have you ever felt resistance to your music or performances because of the message in the music?
VO: That’s a great question. I got more resistance from inside the industry (certain people I played with, managers, others trying to mold or direct me) than fans. I think my fans were instead drawn to my music because of its message, because of my outspokenness.
HK: In your home environment (where you live), are there many musicians using their talents for good, for activism or in protest? Any contemporary, protest musicians/colleagues you want to give a shout out to?
VO: Because of the pandemic, I’ve been temporarily displaced from Brooklyn and am staying with my mom in Maine. But back in NYC, yes, the very act of being a musician is a form of activism, ha, it’s such a financial challenge. And writing authentic music, music that’s really true to the artist, as opposed to what we’re told everyone wants to hear, is almost counter-culture. And being a woman in music – especially a female producer or engineer – whoosh, that is a whole other level of activism.
But women and gender-expansive artists and producers have come together in supportive collectives like Gender Amplified (NYC) and EQ Loves Music (Sweden) that have impacted me and many others. I’d like to give a shout out to all the folks involved in those groups.
HK: Can you tell us a bit about the activist projects you have going on besides your music, for example Beats by Girlz and the podcast you produce? Has this Covid year given you more time for such projects or have you kept busy performing online?
VO: I help run the Beats By Girlz NYC chapter with another great artist/activist/producer, Krithi. We teach music production to youth, which COVID has made extremely challenging, since our students generally don’t have access to laptops and stable internet, so remote teaching is difficult. We just got a grant (yay!) and are continuing to fundraise to get our chapter running again. I co-founded Song Camp, in the meantime, with soul singer/songwriter Michael Inge, to teach co-writing and collaborative production, especially in this time of isolation when kids really need community. We’ve been able to create a creative community for the kids and it’s been amazing. We’re planning on continuing with camps throughout 2021.
Last year, I launched and produced the League of Badass Women Podcast, which was an awesome way to incorporate my feminism and music (I wrote the theme music and also edited each episode). I got to have very vulnerable conversations with very powerful women.
The pandemic has given me more time to sit and do nothing, which has given me perspective. Yes, I released the album that I worked on for nearly 3 years, I produced new music (mashups, in particular, while teaching myself how to mix), and I taught production and songwriting. But I chose not to perform a lot online. In fact, I avoided being online because it felt so unhealthy for me. Instead I took a lot of walks on the beach, with my mom’s dogs. I was never good at meditation, but I think the walking and the dogs cleared my head, and allowed me space to shift priorities in my life, based on what’s most important.
HK: If young girls want to start exploring feminist music, where should they start?
VO: That’s a big question! I believe any woman really being her authentic self is creating feminist music. So it depends what kind of music you like. Ani DiFranco is kinda the mother of feminist music, and she was my idol growing up. But for youth now, there’s not one direction to point to – except maybe themselves! The coolest thing about music technology now is that a young person can start creating pretty quickly, regardless of music or production experience.
HK: You just released a new album titled Rabbit Hole. Can you give us a glimpse into the theme of the album and some of the songs on it? How was the making of this album different from previous ones?
VO: Rabbit Hole is the best sounding album I’ve released, hands down. It was a long process making it, but I’m extremely proud of how it turned out. When I wrote the album, I went away, by myself, for 3 weeks, and wrote a song every day, good and bad. I wanted to see what would come out, the deeper I dug. It was a lot of obsession around a boy, around how social media has affected me personally and changed us all culturally, and around the political state of the world. When I produced the album, it became an even deeper exploration of the disappearing lines in gender, genre, time and cultures, and how technology relates to that concept. My co-producer and I went to art museums regularly in LA, while we were working, for inspiration. I hadn’t looked to other types of art so much to inspire any of my other albums. And that’s one reason the production on Rabbit Hole is much more layered than my other work. Takes several listens to really soak it all in.
In terms of specific songs…. “I Believe We Will Win” is a stand-out song. It incorporates hip hop and folk, politics and togetherness, and voices from over a dozen countries around the world. And it was a satisfying way to tie in my activism with my music. I also love “Tourist In Nature” because there’s something hypnotic about the production, mimicking how I feel when I’m away from the city, and in nature. I wrote “99¢ Dreams” for a stranger I met, and ended up talking to for hours on my writing retreat. She had such a sad love story, and I wanted to take her and shake her and say, “but you deserve so much more!” I realized friends have said that to me, though, and I know others’ words and warnings don’t work on us strong, stubborn women. We need to learn for ourselves, again and again.
HK: What do you hope to achieve with your music?
VO: I’ve always had the simple goal of being able to make the music I want to make, and make a sustainable living from it. Over a decade later and I haven’t quite figured out the financial part of that dream yet! But I’m working on it. And I just want to continue learning, to work with producers who are more experienced than me, to always have a strong and relatable message in my music and to keep getting better – as a songwriter, artist and producer.
HK: What is on the horizon for you, music or activism wise?
VO: Throughout 2021, I’ll be releasing lyric videos for all the songs on Rabbit Hole. As singles this year, I already released the lyric videos for title track “Rabbit Hole” (my favorite video) and “I Believe We Will Win,” (in time for the election). Xavier Li is the motion designer for all of them and is ridiculously talented. I’ll also release covers and remixes and might even release a few original singles… we’ll see! For the most part, I want to stay close to and grow my fanbase. Fans can join the Orthlings! Facebook Group and sign up for my newsletter. And I started a VLO VIP membership club, called Planet Orth, where my fans can subscribe to my music and get exclusive treats through my website. My activism will continue to play out both in my music and teaching.
HK: Thank you for participating and for the music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
VO: Speaking of Bandcamp…. It’s impossible to stress exactly how tough getting your music heard is, as an independent artist. And very few artists get what they deserve financially from their talent and hard work.
Music lovers: When you stream a song on Spotify, an average of $0.003 goes to the artist. When you buy a song or album on Bandcamp, 80-85% of the funds go to the artist.
I’d like to give a shout-out to Bandcamp, which I see as a “fair trade” platform for independent artists like me. And I’m looking forward to coming together with more of my fans there.
Cover photo retrieved from Valerie Orth’s webpage.
What started in the UK has now grown into a global movement with participants and teams in the US, Brazil, Holland, Germany, Austria, and Belgium. The people behind the newly founded Black Music Movement decided they needed to use their voices as artists and respond to the brutality too often shown at peaceful protests.
“Whilst we are involved in protests, we have also set up community projects, we support artists to create material, we are working with schools & prisons and we are preparing a tour. We bring music to protests, but also bring protests to music, we use our art to educate and to strengthen and uplift communities, and we also aim to inspire and slowly change culture itself.”
Shouts spoke with organisers Juke and Phoenix who told me that while completing the process of becoming a non-profit organisation they are designing how the project can be a platform for activists and artists alike as well as an advocate for “those who have not received a fair shot at success in the creative industries due to their complexion, gender, sexuality or other forms of discrimination”.
The video below shows imagery of the organisation’s very first protest. Juke and Phoenix explained to me how important it is for the collective to “bring music to protests, but also bring protests to music”. To impact and change the culture itself is no small task which the organisers of Black Music Movement are fully aware of. That knowledge does not hinder their objectives though and the organisation is constantly welcoming new artists and activists to participate.
Check out the project’s Instagram page until their webpage is up and running.