J-Me, Ah Moon head­line an­ti­traf­fick­ing con­cert

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse - RJ VOGT rj.vogt@mm­times.com

MYAN­MAR’S uni­verse of hip hop and pop stars will con­verge on Peo­ple’s Park this week­end with a com­mon cause: Rais­ing aware­ness for the preven­tion of hu­man traf­fick­ing.

“Traf­fick­ing is a big is­sue and it’s get­ting big­ger,” said event or­gan­iser Brenda Gif­ford. “It’s the sec­ond­largest crim­i­nal en­ter­prise in the world and the fastest growing.”

The fundrais­ing con­cert, or­gan­ised by Traf­fick­ing Res­cue Aware­ness Col­lab­o­ra­tion Ed­u­ca­tion (TRACE), brings to­gether A-list celebri­ties J-Me, Mi Sandy, Ah Moon and G Tone. Ad­di­tional per­for­mances by Jouck Jack, Kyaw Htut Swe, Lit­tle Z, Sandy Myint Lwin, Eaint Chit and K K Moe will make the con­cert the largest gath­er­ing of Myan­mar’s new music gen­er­a­tion of the year so far.

Held in Yan­gon’s Peo­ple’s Park start­ing from 5pm, the per­for­mances aim to chan­nel pro­ceeds to­ward vic­tims of traf­fick­ing.

TRACE’s show comes on the heels of the US State Depart­ment’s June de­ci­sion to down­grade Myan­mar to its worst hu­man traf­fick­ing rat­ing, drop­ping it be­low the ranks of Thai­land and Malaysia and on par with Syria and Iran.

In the 2016 Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons Report, Myan­mar is re­ferred to as a “source coun­try” for those sub­jected to forced labour and sex traf­fick­ing. Cit­ing in­ci­dents of child sol­diers, slav­ery in labour in­ten­sive in­dus­tries and forced mar­riages, the report rec­om­mends an in­crease in train­ing and re­sources for of­fi­cials.

For con­cert or­gan­is­ers Gif­ford and her mother, Nola Perkins, the report’s find­ings were noth­ing new. The pair has been work­ing to com­bat hu­man traf­fick­ing since 2013, when they were in­spired dur­ing a visit to Myan­mar to raise aware­ness about the is­sue.

After host­ing events in the US, the mother-daugh­ter team re­turned to Myan­mar in late 2014 to or­gan­ise last year’s Race Against Traf­fick­ing (RAT) Race. A char­ity 5-kilo­me­tre race, the De­cem­ber 2015 event raised some aware­ness and funds while en­cour­ag­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween dif­fer­ent NGOs in­volved with anti-traf­fick­ing in Myan­mar. A short con­cert after the race fea­tured J-Me, along with Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein.

But this year, Gif­ford and Perkins scrapped the 5k as­pect al­to­gether in or­der to fo­cus on se­cur­ing highly vis­i­ble celebri­ties for a much big­ger evening con­cert. Now known as TRACE, their or­gan­i­sa­tion hopes the 2016 con­cert will pro­vide the same kind of traf­fick­ing preven­tion mes­sag­ing as other mega-con­certs in Yan­gon, such as Amer­i­can pop star Ja­son Mraz’s 2012 show.

“Preven­tion is bet­ter than res­cue be­cause a vic­tim never re­cov­ers from the trauma,” Gif­ford said. “They have trig­gers for the rest of their lives.”

The 2012 Mraz per­for­mance, or­gan­ised by USAID-spon­sored MTV EXIT, drew a crowd of about 50,000 to the shadow of Sh­wedagon Pagoda, and exit surveys found a 30 per­cent av­er­age in­crease in con­cert-goer un­der­stand­ing of hu­man traf­fick­ing. Among less ed­u­cated and em­ployed groups, aware­ness rates dou­bled. More than 300 mil­lion peo­ple watched the broad­cast world­wide, and it would later earn an MTV Europe Music Award nom­i­na­tion in 2013.

This week­end’s line-up may not have quite the same reach as a Grammy Award-win­ning su­per­star, but their fan­bases in Yan­gon are nev­er­the­less some of the strong­est in the coun­try.

J-Me and his sis­ter Michelle Ann Latt – the prog­eny of Myan­mar film di­rec­tor Aung Ko Latt – helped or­gan­ise the star-stud­ded af­fair.

“Michelle is pro­duc­ing and di­rect­ing it,” she said. “This is the first fam­ily of Myan­mar en­ter­tain­ment. They have em­braced us and used their in­flu­ence on our be­half.”

Tick­ets are avail­able at K8500 at City Marts around town, as well as G6 Sa­loon and Ginki Kids.

In ad­di­tion to the show, TRACE has held two talks in the last two months, fea­tur­ing ex­perts from the field of anti-traf­fick­ing in­clud­ing Suamhirs Pi­rain­oGuz­man, the youngest mem­ber of the US Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil on Hu­man Traf­fick­ing. Ryan Reynolds, a con­sul­tant with Myan­mar Busi­ness An­swers who is help­ing TRACE es­tab­lish it­self in Myan­mar, said this type of pro­gram­ming is needed to ad­dress traf­fick­ing, par­tic­u­larly as more vic­tims re­turn to Myan­mar from abroad.

“Ser­vices are re­ally lack­ing for them,” he said. “When they re­turn there’s not many hous­ing op­tions for them in Yan­gon. There is some sup­port, but it’s not enough to ac­tu­ally pro­vide the ser­vices they need to be suc­cess­ful in their reen­try. A lot of them left Myan­mar be­cause there were no jobs where they were from. And then they come back and get bus fare and a lit­tle money and it’s ex­pected that they just go home. But that’s not nec­es­sar­ily an op­tion. There’s a lot of shame there.”

But her hus­band’s fam­ily dis­ap­proved, and stopped her play­ing, caus­ing a se­vere de­pres­sion. It was her at­tempt to por­tray th­ese events that made her a writer and poet. In her prize novel, she said, she would write about all her co-work­ers, es­pe­cially the men, who had helped and en­cour­aged her.

Myan­mar writ­ers are poor, she said, not earn­ing enough to live on or sup­port their fam­i­lies. She wel­comed PEN’s sup­port.

“Many writ­ers ex­pe­ri­ence great stress for lack of money, and don’t even have any­where de­cent to write in. They all have house­hold chores to do as well as writ­ing their nov­els. We need spa­ces which can help us re­veal our creativ­ity and al­low new writ­ing,” she said.

PEN will pay for her to take a break dur­ing the writ­ing pe­riod if she wants, and she will have to take part in post-pub­li­ca­tion events.

“The main rea­son we’re do­ing this is to sup­port writ­ers so they can write nov­els with­out stress,” said PEN spokesper­son Ma Zin Ma Lin.

PEN In­ter­na­tional was founded in 1921 by au­thors and poets from all over the world, and PEN Myan­mar was founded in 2013 to sup­port lo­cal writ­ers and poets.

Photo: Face­book/Ah Moon

Ah Moon will fea­ture in a line-up that in­cludes G Tone, Lit­tle Z, Mi Sandy and oth­ers from Myan­mar’s growing hip hop and pop scenes.

Photo: Face­book/RAT Race

Hip hop mogul J Me will head­line the Satur­day Oc­to­ber 29 con­cert, held in Peo­ple’s Park start­ing at 5pm.

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