A group of Karen refugee musicians and aritsts have got together to paint, write and sing about their hurts, love and their revolution. The group got together in 2006 determined to change misperceptions that refugees are nothing more than a needy rabble. Kweh Say, a founding member of the group, Thoe Tau Bweh Music Village, spoke to Karen News about why the group was formed.
“People think refugees are nothing. They’re hopeless, they have no future, but we say no! We have a future and we are building hope, not with weapons but with art, singing and writing. We are the new generation, we stay, we change and we create.”
Thoe Tau Bweh Music Village, is a non-profit music team, which aims to help the Karen community and to promote and encourage young people who are talented.
Poe Taw, a multi-talented member of the group, says they support the Karen freedom fighters and many of their songs are dedicated to them.
“Our soldiers are brave. They do it for the love of the people – they fight for the right reasons, so we can peace and dignity.”
Kweh Say explains that Thoe Tau Bweh translates from Sgaw Karen as a ‘new land that has emerged from the ocean’. We believe our motherland called Kaw Thoo Lei (Kaw Lah), which the military regime renamed Myanmar.
Kweh Say explains that TTB MV operates as a collective and no member is more responsible than any other or is any activity.
“We work together, are happy together. We plan together. Every one of our team has the rank of ‘one star’, we’re all treated equally. Every member has to treat each other equally and respectfully by the ‘principle of love’ – not by the principal of pride”
Kweh Say points out that their principle of love is about ‘helping the poor and helping each other’.
“We believe the principle of pride is about ‘oppressing the poor and oppressing each other’.
There are 15 members in TTB’s music village and Poe taw says.
“At the most, we only allow 20% to 30% of love songs on a TTB’s album. We believe the lyrics should support our Karen struggle, give a positive message and offer hope to our people. We are the future of our people.”
Kweh Say points out that after decades of living in refugee camps and on the run from Burmese military oppression, Karen people at times can feel powerless. “
“As John Lennon from the BEATLES said ‘Everyone has power’. We want album produced by TTB to remind young people that they have the power to bring about change and we want to inspire and motivate them to act upon their potential. The voice of our singer captures the strength and power of their voice. For most, when we talk about resistance against oppression, we are talking about armed resistance.”
Poe Taw says people need to realize the power in one’s voice.
“For those who have been oppressed, their voice and its expression are the most powerful tools they possess.”
Kweh Say’s message is that for true reconciliation at an ethnic nationality and national level, the ethnic groups need to recognize their similarities and embrace their differences.
“We want people who listen to the album and to read our lyrics, read the translations of the songs to remember that we were once like brothers and sisters, that there was unity. We want to start thinking about the unity of the past, and our shared vision of the future – for a life filled with freedom, dignity, justice and human rights.”
Poe Taw agrees and says.
“Many pieces of cultural expression deal with human rights abuses, acts of extreme indignities, and unforgivable attacks upon ones’ community and loved ones. Ways of viewing and addressing these issues of justice can be found in our voices.”
Kweh Say explains that many of the songs produced by TTBMT focus on the lives of internally displaced people fleeing from the Burmese army.
“Our messages for our young people, is to serve your communities in the struggle for human rights and self-determination and to play a full and equitable part in the political process.”
Kweh Say adds that he believes music is a powerful vehicle for cultural expression and political change.
“We hope that people will realize the value of our cultural expression. Music is the beauty of thought and a common feeling of the people. Kings, Queens, presidents, generals, soldiers, pastor, rich, poor, widow can all listen to music.
TTB have released a second album sung by a young Po Karen man.