Alexa

Myanmar's reggae singer seeks freedom and pay homage to legend Bob Marley

Myanmar's reggae singer seeks freedom and pay homage to legend Bob Marley

With dreadlocks, denim and the Rastafarian colours of red, green and gold, singer Saw Phoe Kwar's homage to reggae legend Bob Marley is hard to miss as his band "One Love" strikes up in a Yangon bar.
But the 42-year-old says comparisons with his late Jamaican hero should only go so far.
"In Myanmar a lot of people call me Bob... I like that! But Bob Marley had more freedom in Jamaica to express himself with his music. Here in Myanmar I can't do it like that. I'm more limited," he explains.
Musicians in the military-ruled nation must submit all their song lyrics to a tough board of censors who ban anything they deem to be anti-regime or at odds with the Buddhist country's values.
Saw Phoe Kwar has come up against their diktats repeatedly since producing his debut solo album ten years ago, in which three of the songs he wrote were judged taboo.
"(The lyrics) said we need to talk about things and express ourselves and act truly for the future, for the next generation. That's why the songs were banned," he says.
His attempt at a second album met with a more bizarre response. "The whole thing was cancelled because they didn't know what reggae was. When they realised reggae was not to do with politics they let it go, but they made me pay 5,000 kyat (US$5) for every use of the word reggae."
Despite these restrictions, he thinks reggae offers a more liberating form of expression than the more popular genres of hip hop, rock and pop, which dominate Myanmar's youth music scene. "I want to live my life freely and I saw freedom in reggae," he says. "When you compose a reggae song you don't need to use a lot of words but they are very meaningful words... We have more freedom than in other kinds of music."
The father-of-two, born in Yangon, owned his first Bob Marley tape at the age of 15, but it was during a job on a cargo ship in the early 90s with numerous reggae-mad West Indian colleagues that his passion took off.
He now concentrates on his music, choosing to sing "messages of peace" to his fans in Myanmar, but he takes care not to overstep the boundaries.
"I sing about Myanmar indirectly. If I sang directly I would not be here," he says with a laugh.
Myanmar, under military rule since 1962, is holding its first election in 20 years on Nov. 7. Outside critics have dismissed the polls as a sham that will change little in the isolated nation, while few citizens seem optimistic.
Music obsessive Saw Phoe Kwar hasn't given much attention to the process.
"I just focus on my own role," he says. "I have to do my own thing."


Updated : 2021-01-24 15:29 GMT+08:00