May 23, 2022
After the military toppled the young democratic government in February 2021, Raymond, beloved rockstar and frontman for the band Idiots got involved in the peaceful street protests in Myanmar. That was before the military began ferociously attacking protestors.
This story begins the day the Internet first went dark after the coup. (Transcript & more photos below)
Jacky: This is Not the Cat.
Naomi: I’m Naomi Gingold
Jacky: I’m Jacky Ahn Yang.
Naomi: OK. Jacky. So.
Scratchy phone tape.
Anonymous voice: Hello
Naomi: In early 2021. I got a phone call from Yangon… the biggest city in Myanmar. It was five days after the military had overthrown the government. And a musician was calling to tell me that….just seconds before… the military had shut off the internet. completely.
And as we were talking, I realized that right before the internet went down, I had been sent videos of these really large street protests starting in Yangon, the very first ones since the coup. … Like he actually didn’t even know they had started yet. And as news began to spread, it seemed like everyone across Myanmar ,everyone around the world who paid attention to Myanmar ….all kind of was just holding their breath.
Jacky: Because no one knew if the military would start shooting. ……
Jacky: I mean,…. next to North Korea, Myanmar was basically this poster child for isolated, terrible dictatorship… for decades. And I rememeber in previous protests, the military had killed tons of citizens. But then … I think about ten years ago, the military started reforming… opened up the country.
Naomi: Yeah and the Democracy party was elected.
Jacky: I mean….far from perfect. (laughing)
Naomi: Yes. Understatement.
But In 2020 … there was the third democratic election in a row that the military seemed completely ok with … until the coup in February 2021.
And right after, people organized this huge civil disobedience movement: I’ve never seen anything like that in the world. They shut down the banking system in protest. The entire medical system. Transportation. Trade.
Jacky: I remember seeing these photos of
Naomi: Yeah, It was. And at first, the military didn’t shoot. Actually. … here’s a video. filmed at protests in central Yangon in February 2021
(Video sound): Crowd singing in Burmese
Jacky: Ok, I see a few people singing into megaphones to a very large crowd
Naomi: Tens of thousands we think in central Yangon.
Jacky: (quiet) Wow.
Naomi: And in the middle there is the rockstar Raymond. He’s with a few other musicians, including members of his band.
More crowd song
Jacky: Oh, wow. And what are they singing?
Naomi: It’s actually a song by Myanmar’s biggest rock icon, and it is about doing what you believe in. … even if it means sacrificing yourself. Not long after this video was taken, the military got really violent. They started killing people, torturing people. And actually, three months later, Raymond, the young rockstar in this video… he was dead.
Jacky: breath out
Naomi: Y’know, it has now been a little over a year since the coup. And in that time, the country has basically imploded. It’s hard to fully wrap your head around the destruction in just one year.
So. Today, to bring you a little closer to what’s been happening in Myanmar, I’m going to tell you about Raymond.
Song: Chang Khet
Naomi: I — I think his story encapsulates a lot of what’s happened. And on top of that, he was just this really talented artist with a lot of potential still to grow.
Jacky: Ok. Heavy. But I am here for this.
Song Chang Khet
Naomi: Just one thing, Jacky, before we jump in. I interviewed several people after Raymond died. But because the crackdown is now so violent and the military is lashing out at almost anyone, for their safety … I’m not going to use any of the audio .
Naomi: I mean… just as an example, The morning I was supposed to talk to one of Raymond’s friends, a bomb exploded in front of his house. The military was going to be swarming neighborhood soon looking for someone to blame it on. And he had to flee. As one person I spoke to put it , they arrest first and ask questions later.
Jacky: That just made it really real for me
Naomi: Ok. So I.. actually first heard of Raymond through the hip hop scene. Because although Raymond was the lead singer and writer for the rock band Idiots, in some ways you could say he got his first big start in hip hop.
Jacky: Ok! Hip hop.
Naomi: Yes. So the story goes like this.Raymond’s mom was a famous singer in the 80s, but by the time he was a teenager, his parents had divorced, and his mom was singing backup on things like TV commercials. And Raymond used to go to the studio and help out by recording harmony. And one day, he met this up and coming hip hop
Naomi: A few years ago… and I make that point for his safety… a few years ago, J-me told me the story of meeting Raymond. Now look, I am not as expressive as J-me.
Naomi: So just imagine that I have like… I don’t know, I’m, like, way cooler than I am.
Jacky: wait (laughing) wait, are you actually doing an impression??
Naomi: (laughing) No! I am not. I …
Jacky: Thank god. Spare the audience please.
(Naomi and Jacky laughing)
Naomi: Ok. So what J+me told me was that at the time, Raymond was this small kid. Wirey frame. And when he held a guitar, it looked like it was …. almost too big for him. But when he sang Jacky… J+me said, ‘his jaw dropped.’
Song ‘Don’t Cry’
Naomi: And that is something I heard from a number of people in the music world. You just didn’t meet talent like that every day. So they jammed together. And J-me asked him if he would sing on his next album.
Song ‘Don’t Cry’ (rapping)
Naomi: Shortly after, Raymond put together his own band… Idiots. And they started doing small shows. But like most young bands, they struggled. Friends say though.. Raymond always joked around. About the good and the bad. Electricity off at a concert? What can you do. His motto was: live happy. Focus on what you can create .
Naomi: In 2011 Idiots released an album that connected with people across Myanmar: In cities. In Countryside… and Raymond became a superstar. And even people who didn’t listen to their music, respected Raymond as a writer, artist, and just genuinely humble person.One of the most famous songs from that album is Su latt, where Raymond sings about a girl he’s in love with.
Song Su Latt
It’s also the kind of song you might hear kids strumming on a street corner on a nice day.
Song Su Latt
And Idiots had acoustic, romantic songs like Su Latt, but they also had heavier songs.
Like this one. Nay Yet Khit Daw.
Song Nay Ye Khit Daw
Naomi: It is about leaving the bad things that have happened behind you. Embracing the future.
Song Nay Ye Khit Daw
Jacky: Did he ever release any explicitly political songs?
No. But he cared a lot. And that came out in February after the coup. More about what happened . .. After the break .
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Jacky: Now, back to the show.
End ad music
Naomi: In February …. When the military seized power and the country erupted in protest, Raymond was out front in Yangon… first as a private citizen. Then also with the band in that video. When the military started openly attacking, hunting people down with snipers, and protests became more like street battles, Raymond was still out front in Yangon.
In April, the military started putting out these long daily lists….Arrest warrants. First, for celebrities. Then added journalists, activists., doctors. .. and Raymond was on that very first list. He escaped and went into the jungle near Thailand.
Jacky: Wait. Isn’t that one of the places where people are training to fight
in support of Myanmar’s underground civilian government?
Jacky: So was he also training to fight?
Naomi: I think you can justifiably guess that. I-I mean ..the military often takes revenge on family members. So. I think it’s probably not safe for anyone to say anything publicly beyond that.
Jacky: Got it.
Naomi: In June, word started to spread that Raymond had died in the jungle from malaria.
Naomi: It turns that he had gotten sick, and he couldn’t safely get to a hospital because of the arrest warrant and where he was, so .… he died … And from gastrointestinal bleeding. His death was not in international news at the time, but on Burmese social media, there was a huge outpouring of emotion. And it was especially fierce from young people…. and musicians.
And people were just really angry. If he had been able to safely get healthcare, he would be alive. Not to mention that since his death, outrage over healthcare has exploded in the country…. You know, as the military started arresting doctors treating covid. Restricting access to oxygen..
Jacky: It’s kind of wild that healthcare could be weaponized like that.
Naomi: Raymond was this rockstar and his story is unique. But in some ways his story is also so many people’s story right now. Because right now, so many people, especially young people, have made this really hard decision to get involved in this fight… in all different ways. Because they feel their future was taken from them.
Naomi: There’s this interview Raymond did with a celebrity news channel a couple years ago, where he talks about possibly getting married… but says ultimately life and fate are unpredictable. And He says:
Raymond: Burmese language
Naomi: (translating) Even though we’re talking about my future, I could die at any moment.
Song Bar No Lay Thay Lal
Naomi: Raymond was born in 1988… the year large protests were followed by a crackdown and an election. And when the military lost to the new democracy party… lead by Aung San Suu Kyi… the military overthrew the government. One person who participated in those ’88 protests recently said to me, “It’s kind of like Raymond was born the year the revolution was started, and lost his life trying to finish it.”
Naomi: After he died, the band was cleaning his house, and they found a crumpled piece of paper where he’d written lyrics for an English language side project. Here Jacky. This is the first verse.
Hello and Goodbye Fear.
You’ve infected me for years.
Well, I wont be giving up.
So you better give it up.
Hello and Goodbye Fear.
Naomi: The Idiots latest album was almost done when Raymond died. The band is going to release it posthumously.
Song Bar No Lay Thay Lal
Naomi: All the songs in today’s show were by the Myanmar rock band Idiots, except one by the Myanmar hip hop artist J-me.
Jacky: You can find photos of Raymond and the rest of the band on our website, as well as a transcript of today’s episode at nothecatpodcast.com
Naomi: Not the Cat is produced by Naomi: Gingold and Jacky Ahn Yang. Today’s story was edited by Tom Cole. Special thank you to Marco Werman, Sylvia Gross, and
And so many others that we cannot name. Stay safe.
Jacky: If you enjoy the reporting on our show and want to see more of it, please consider supporting our work. Go to notthecatpodcast.com/support.
Naomi: And If you have a story that you would like to tell, you can always a pitch us at: email@example.com
Jacky: We feature work from reporters, writers, comedians… storytellers of all kinds from across the region. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. Our logo was designed by Angela Perrone.
Naomi: Sound design by Naomi Gingold. Final mix and mastering on today’s episode by Enoghene Ajueytsi