Global Beats

In addition to going to an Easter service, (where I arrived at the usual time only to find out the other folks had been there since 5:00 am!) I spent Easter weekend listening to a lot of music from around the world. Here’s a run-down of a few highlights.

We have a visitor from Myanmar this month named Leon, a very cool guy who works with an NGO in Yangon. He’s come to learn a bit about agriculture and nonprofit work in Thailand from UHDP. I’ve been trying to learn as much about Myanmar from him as I can. His favorite band is Iron Cross, a sort of musical collective made up of mostly ethnic Karen Christian musicians.

Iron Cross gets a lot of youtube love for their lead guitarist’s tap-soloing heroics, but I think they’re at their best when they go acoustic and give the mic to Lay Phyu, a singer known for love songs containing veiled criticisms of Myanmar’s military regime. According to Leon he was banned from the stage for 3 years because of his onstage political remarks.

The statement that got Lay in trouble bears description because it illustrates the contortions artists often go through to speak out in the context of repression. During a concert, as his brother–the group’s guitarist–joined him on stage, Lay reportedly told the audience, “only someone close to you can betray you.” The comment could be taken to refer to his brother stealing the spotlight from him, but the strength of the statement and its context indicated to the audience that he was really talking about the military’s betrayal of democracy. It’s amazing how little has to be said in order to communicate protest.

Another folk artist known for his political stance, Carabao is one of Thailand’s most enduring rock icons. You can see their trademark water buffalo logo on shirts, hats, truck tailgates and walls all across the country. They famously defied the leaders of the 1993 coup in Thailand, and got away with it thanks to their overwhelming popularity. Their most popular song is probably Made in Thailand, which celebrates Thai culture, but also slyly references “Made in Thailand” stickers on consumer products as a way to criticize consumerist culture and the global trade system.

Now to leave Southeast Asia. Maybe my favorite artist from anywhere in the world right now is Art Melody, an MC from Burkina Faso with a gritty voice and an exhilarating flow. I heard about him on the excellent music site okayafrica.com. His sound reminds me of a few other gravel-voiced West African rappers, like Batman Samini of Ghana and Messengers of Cote d’Ivoire (who were on a compilation by DJ /rupture a while ago), but I don’t know how much shared influence there really is there. I’m a newbie to West African music. But I love it.

You can stream his album Wogdog Blues below. Wogdog is a reference to Ouagadougou (pronounced wa-ga-doo-goo), the capital of Burkina Faso, where ECHO will soon have a regional impact center!

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