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