Myanmar metal fans get ready to vote in historic election

Htet Au Lin

It is a hot, muggy night in People's Park, central Yangon.

As the first wail of guitars slices the heavy air, disturbing the mosquitoes, a roar goes up.

"This is the first ever Yangon Rock Festival!" cries a group in unison and in English. "We are very excited!"

Myanmar used to be another North Korea: cut off from the world for decades by a secretive and oppressive military regime.

The huge open air gig is a sign of how much things have changed since 2011 when military rule ended.

Yangon Rock Festival
Image caption The huge open air gig was the first of its kind

There are still major problems across the country, including ethnic conflict, persecution of minorities and shocking levels of poverty.

But many people hope there is more change to come.

People are still arrested for Facebook posts. That's not that free, is it?
Su, 23

Myanmar is preparing for a landmark election this weekend, on 8 November.

It will be the first openly contested vote since 1990. If the vote is free and fair, peace icon Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party are expected to triumph.

Rockers and metal heads at the festival spoke to Newsbeat about their hopes for the election and the future.

Yangon festival goers
Image caption People aged 18 and over are getting to vote for the first time

Su is 23 and arrives with her friends, taking pictures on their phones and laughing.

"I like this music because the rhythm of it is very strong," she says. "It's like I can hear freedom in this music."

But Su also says that freedom still only goes so far in Myanmar.

She points out the recent case of two activists who were arrested for anti-military posts on Facebook, intended as jokes.

Young people in Myanmar
Image caption Young people in Myanmar are happy they're getting to vote but Su says they only have " a little bit" more freedom overall

"Compared to five years ago, we have a little bit of freedom. But people are still arrested for Facebook posts. That's not that free, is it?" she says.

Along with everyone else at the festival, Su responds with surprise when asked if she is planning to vote: "Of course!"

Phyo Nwe Soe, who is standing outside the gates with her husband in a Ramones T-shirt, agrees.

"This is a changing time for us. Of course we will vote," she says, smiling.

Yangon Rock Festival
Image caption Young voters have a choice of 91 registered political parties and more than 6,000 candidates

And in this festival at least, full of 20-something, well-off urbanites, there's only one name on everyone's lips: Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

"It must be the NLD. It's about what they can do for us. It's a chance to change," Phyo Nwe Soe says, while her husband Chan Myae Ehu nods.

Despite wearing their shirt he doesn't know The Ramones' music, but says he will look them up online when he gets in.

A couple of punks standing next to them smile and pull rock signs as I pass, but don't want to talk.

Rock fans in Myanmar
Image caption A few years ago fans like these could only dream of going to a rock festival and song lyrics had to be sent to a censorship board before release

In a way, it is surprising how many do. Even five years ago, it was risky to talk openly about politics, and saying the wrong thing with the wrong person listening could have landed you in jail.

It's different now. [Musicians] can write a song with no limits, and say what is in their head
Htet Au Lin, 22

Singing about it was banned and acts had to submit their lyrics to the censorship board before releasing an album.

"It's different now. They can write a song with no limits, and say what is in their head, and what is in your head," says Htet Au Lin, 22. "It is original, and I like the drums."

Others are still cautious. When I ask Su who she is going to vote for, she is coy.

"It's a secret!" she says. Then she laughs and pushes my arm gently. "But I think you can guess."

Yangon music fans

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