TODAY

TODAY   |  February 20, 2012

Hip-hop thriving in repressive Myanmar

Young hip-hop artists in Myanmar are at the forefront of a popular and bold reform movement, testing the limits of political and social change through song a dance. NBC’s Ian Williams reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> hip-hop music is very popular in the united states , of course. now it's thriving in an unlikely place. ian williams is here to explain. ian, good to see you.

>> good morning. good to be here. this isn't something i ever expected to find in somewhere like myanmar , the former burma. most of the reports we have been doing there over the years have been about repression. but changes are taking place. big changes. and surprising changes. i experienced one face of that when i hooked up with a bunch of hip-hop dissidents. myanmar 's top hip-hop band is back on stage.

>> reporter: after an enforced absence while their singer served a three-year prison term for anti-government activities. [ rapping in foreign language ]

>> reporter: the band called acid made hip-hop the most popular music among youngsters here. they returned with a brief performance in combative style with a new note of defiance.

>> we just want to live a normal life . we want to live freely and we want to do whatever we want. that's all.

>> reporter: and there are flickers of hope for that. myanmar is in the grip of unexpected reform from an easing of censorship to the release of political prisoners . now the lines are much less clear and fans like acid are preparing to push the limit. acid is now bringing together top myanmar artists to record songs in support of political and social change . that's not been attempted for more than 20 years.

>> we never wrote the songs like this before.

>> we hope the changes would come soon because i think this is the beginning.

>> reporter: one of the first new reportings is a reworking of an old myanmar pop song about a young woman who never gives up hope. there is no surprise for getting who that may refer to. they will release it and hold live concerts in the lead-up to april elections in which aung san soo chi is standing. the artists are only too aware of the risks. some song writers are in jail still for their efforts during the last period of openness here in 1988 .

>> we don't know what happens next. this is very strange for us.

>> it's like an adventure.

>> like an adventure.

>> reporter: a potentially dangerous one. but for now these young artists are clinging to the hopeful words of this pop ballad. if you're brave enough, you will overcome everything. with those elections fast approaching, the hip-hop artists aren't the only ones asking how fast and how far the changes can go.

>> they are brave to keep singing. ian, thank you for the story. appreciate it. still