The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]

An Interview with Ad Carabao
By AD CARABAO Sunday, September 1, 2002

The Irrawaddy spoke recently with Yuenyong "Ad" Ophakul, of the Thai folk-rock band Carabao, about his recent solo release, "Don’t Cry" (Mai Dtong Rong Hai)."I think I can be more like a bullet they could use in fighting back."
 
The Irrawaddy spoke recently with Yuenyong "Ad" Ophakul, of the Thai folk-rock band Carabao, about his recent solo release, "Don’t Cry" (Mai Dtong Rong Hai). The album, which combines reggae rhythms with strong lyrics expressing support for the Shan struggle for independence, is the artist’s latest foray into Burmese politics. The artist spoke about music and free expression in an interview with Wandee Suntivutimetee.
 
Question: What inspired you to make this album?
 
Answer: I promised Sao Yord Serk [commander of the Shan State Army-South] on May 5 last year at their base on Loi Tai Lang, opposite Mae Hong Son province, that I would compose some songs to encourage them. I know many Shan personally and I sympathize with them. They have told me how Burmese soldiers have raped and abused their women and forcibly taken the men to work as laborers. Their freedom has been seized.
 
Q: What about the other ethnic nationalities?
 
A: I once wrote a song called "Kawtooleh" for the Karen and I’ve talked with other groups like the Mon but never wrote songs for them. But with "Don’t Cry", I tried to tell the story of the Shan with a full album. I bought the copyrights for some of Bob Marley’s songs since reggae fits the Shan situation well. The songs are mostly about fighting and reggae conveys the sense of suffering and struggle. I wrote these songs in the hope that the Shan can unite and gather the strength to fight for their nation, as real happiness cannot be found if their nation is in enemy hands. The Shan feel alienated so maybe the world can learn how this country of 10 million has been seized by their more powerful neighbors who have ignored human rights and the people’s desires but are only concerned with developing relationships for trade. If nobody helps then they will always be persecuted by the dictatorship of the Burmese soldiers.
 
Q: What did you hope to achieve with this album?
 
A: Music is art that encourages people. Years ago, Thai reformers created their own music to encourage and motivate the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). I wrote songs for Shan State with the same concept in mind. But ultimately, the power and unity of the Shan are most important for achieving victory for their homeland. Songs are only a minor component, so I have no goal except to raise awareness.
 
Q: Do you think that you have become a part of their fighting?
 
A: Guns are a part of fighting. I think I can be more like a bullet they could use in fighting back. Certainly, the Burmese will look at me as an enemy, but I just want the Shan and Burmese to negotiate.
 
Q: How has the album been received?
 
A: Good. Many Shan people have sent positive messages via email. Initially, I planned on releasing the album last year, but some authorities threatened to censor it. In fact, they couldn’t, otherwise people would question why the Thai government needed to protect the Burmese regime. There are some differences between last year and this year, however. The Burmese are showing strong aggression and they show disrespect for the supreme institution. They refuse to open the border and attempt to make our government appear fragile with their insults. We negotiate with them only for commercial purposes.
 
Q: Has anybody accused you of doing this for self-promotion?
 
A: What for? I am popular enough already and need no promotion. What I’ve done is at my own risk. Not all Thais see this involvement as a good thing, but I felt that I should do something humanitarian to help those who are being maltreated because we can’t ignore it. The regime is wrong so who should be denounced? Not me, that’s for sure.
 
Q: What’s the next step?
 
A: We have to wait and see how the situation will turn out. We can’t get too deeply involved because we are not Shan. Foreign allies can provide support, but the Shan have to fight for themselves.
 
Q: How has the album affected Thai-Burmese relations?
 
A: The relationship is not based on an accurate understanding. The Thai government tries to take advantage of this situation by trading with the Burmese, but the relationship is not based on equality or truth. The fact is that Burma is threatening the Shan people so I’m waiting to see how the Thai government treats the Shan people or Aung San Suu Kyi, but they have been ignored. Instead, Burma is treated nicely. So, I don’t care about such relationships since they have been based on false premises. If I say something about Burma that makes the relationship even worse, it is still Thailand’s fault for the way it handles the situation. It has been wrong right from the start.
 
Q: Would like to say anything else to the readers?
 
A: My dream is that the world will pay attention to the major problem of the Shan nation, which has been subsumed by Burma. It began with British colonialism. But now, Thailand is guilty of neo-colonialism—taking advantage of the situation by selling satellites. It’s very embarrassing.

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