Three of the founding fathers of Burmese hip hop are putting on a rare performance tonight of the music that got them to the top of the charts, the chopping block of the censorship board, and ultimately the inside of a prison.
ACID is credited with releasing Myanmar’s first hip hop album, written during one of the darkest times in this country’s political history. In 2000, the four-member hip hop group released their first album, Sa Tin Chin (Beginning). Despite being ridiculed by the ‘pop-heavy’ Burmese music industry at the time as being doomed to failure, the album was a huge success, and it stayed at number one on the charts for over two months.
Their music is unavoidably political. However, when it first come out, this was problematic, as the government censorship board demanded manuscripts of songs and insisted on changing anything that was overtly political, in any way inflammatory, or just unfamiliar to the censors’ ears. “Fuck the Police” wasn’t going to wash, so they developed their own subtle, tongue-in-cheek slang terms that allowed them to criticize injustice. The board had no idea understand what they were rapping about.
Nonetheless, every single lyric was an uphill battle. An example the band likes to give is when they were questioned over the use of “old school” in their lyrics – which they managed to pass by the committee by convincing them that they were actually just saying “old screw,” which they said has no meaning. Eventually, their songs got past the censors, but the group says the censorship reviewing and editing process was repeated “thousands of times.”
While filmmakers, musicians, and journalists are still censored in some ways in Myanmar today, the environment is freer than it was 17 years ago. Today, underground artists stay underground because they disdain pop music and its romantic themes. Back then, ACID did it to stay out of jail.
Despite eventually getting their lyrics approved, ACID’s then-avant-garde aural style and rebelious tone put them into dangerous territory in a brutally conservative military dictatorship. In 2008, one of ACID’s members – Zeyar Thaw – was imprisoned for over two years for his political activism and for possessing foreign currency, which was a crime back then. Member Yan Yan Chan was also detained for a year without being charged. They also suffered from the tragic death of member Hein Zaw in 2006.
Released in 2012, Zeyar Thaw went on to run for parliament under the NLD banner and won. Since then, the remaining members of the group has rarely performed together, and ACID was effectively defunct.
However, tonight, ACID are back for a rare performance at Full Stop’s Straight Outta Yangon: Chapter 2 at the Clubhouse tonight at 9pm. The hip hop veterans will perform alongside some of Myanmar’s new generation of talent, including PBD Hood, Mikis, JCZ, Double J, RB2, Reload, Myat Amara Maung, Youn Ni Ko, $izza, Naung Naung, Otto, and Woofer.
For more details, check out the Facebook event here.