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Karen reggae singer’s message for Burma’s youth? ‘One love’

Saw Phoe Kwar has a message for children living in conflict zones. (IMAGE: LIBBY HOGAN / DVB)


Reggae singer Saw Phoe Kwar usually performs concerts in stadiums and on grand stages, but recently he has decided to take his music to school grounds across Burma.

Saw Phoe Kwar, an ethnic Karen, has visited conflict zones in Kachin State and northern Shan State, and his plan next is to visit Arakan State, spreading there as he has elsewhere a message of peace through his reggae songs.

“I want to spread the message of peace and say ‘one love’ [for] our future plan,” he told DVB last month.

His band, One Love, has visited schools and community centres in both conflict zones and performs selected songs from their albums as well as inviting former political prisoners on stage to share their stories. Their target audience is children aged seven to 20 years old — the next generation that will play a part in peace-building in the country.

“I compose the words, ‘Who is responsible for peace?’ The government? The police? The responsibility, is it you or me? That is the message,” adds Saw Phoe Kwar.

They invite the audience to ask questions so the young people can learn about forgiveness and peace. He explains, “So the children ask questions. Now the political prisoner says, ‘After 20 years [in jail] I don’t think of revenge, I love only [the way of] peace.’”

Saw Phoe Kwar has experienced trouble himself under the previous military regime: His lyrics were often censored by the Ministry of Information and a number of songs were removed from his albums. “But I never gave up,” he says with a smile.

These days he no longer has to perform underground, and wants to visit remote and strife-torn areas where aid and journalists are often blocked by the government and communities are tense or scared: “When we give the music, it is about the peace message and love one another.”