Y.A.K. (Yangon Always Kingdom) was the first underground girl rap duo in Myanmar. ‘Was’, approximately four months after our visit in Yangon, the two female rappers broke up. Thazin mailed us that she and Aye Aye Aung (Triple-A) both went their separate ways. Y.A.K. was a unique duo in Burmese music with their underground hiphop, lyrics inspired by the men-dominated culture of Myanmar, the lack of women rights and the discrimination of religions.

One of many examples is their song ‘Myanmar Woman’, in which they encourage Burmese women to stand up for their rights and participate in politics, business and everyday life. Even MTV came all the way from New York to hear their story. They made an aggressive and impressive video clip for the song.

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Y.A.K. at the Kandawgyi Lake (© Arne Aelterman)

During military rule, girls weren’t allowed to sing about political issues. There was a great amount of censorship, especially for videos and it was difficult to find places to perform. A lot of songs were banned, and you could get arrested for singing them. It was always a risk to write about politics. Nowadays, the government is more open and transparent. They are less strict than before, but even now, you still have to be careful with musical expression in Myanmar. Thazin confirms: “You are always responsible for yourself. If I make a song to gossip or sue about something, people can always prosecute us. It’s very likely you get sentenced.”

Triple-A en Thazin only sang in Burmese. The language barrier was still too big for them and they wouldn’t reach their intended audience as many Burmese people don’t understand English anyway. This hasn’t stopped them from gaining some international recognition. One time, they had the opportunity to go to the United States, but due to passport and visa issues, they weren’t allowed to enter the States.

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Triple-A at the Kandawgyi Lake (© Arne Aelterman)
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Thazin at the Kandawgyi Lake (© Arne Aelterman)

Y.A.K. didn’t make any commercial music though, which is why their audience in Myanmar remained rather small. Generally, Burmese people react very strongly to their music. They either love it or hate it. But a small, dedicated fanbase isn’t enough to support them and allow Triple-A and Thazin to make a living from their music. Furthermore, piracy is a huge problem in Myanmar. Y.A.K. sold 900 copies of their last album, but the album was heavily pirated. Because of this Triple-A still works as an event planner and Thazin as an audio engineer. Triple-A summarized their struggle at the end of our interview: “We don’t see any future from now on.”

It’s a shame such talented musicians have to struggle so hard to do what they love. When watching any of their live concerts, we can only conclude they were good at what they did.