Music in Diaspora
Despite the distance, oceans, and continents between, the Karen have been preserving their cultural identities through social media, film, and music in their communities throughout the world. Singing, dancing, and playing instruments in traditional Karen and contemporary styles is found being celebrated all over the globe. This can be witnessed through the advertisement of Karen culture celebrations via various media outlets.
Along the Thai/Burma border, many Karen have been establishing small recording studios inside refugee camps, in border towns, and even in locations where the predominant ethnicity is not Karen, such as in Chiang Mai, Thailand. These studios are not unique to Thailand and Burma but can be found in Karen communities throughout the world; Australia and the United States, for example.1
The accessibility to the internet, and consequently social media, allow the Karen to remain connected and share their cultural growth.
“[...]the Karen can be regarded as one of the transnational communities that informs and is informed by a sense of multi-locality and of dual/multiple political and cultural orientations, or 'diaspora consciousness'[...]”2
A New Kind of K-Pop
Traditional music only represents a portion of all Karen music. Karen pop music is a huge part of the identity of younger Karen generations, especially among refugees. The use of writing pop music to deal with loss and displacement can be found in Karen communities around the globe.
Specifically in refugee communities, the Karen individuals producing this music are predominantly Christian and male. This can be recognized by financial support coming from Christian organizations, which make up a large portion of the resettlement and aid organizations. Similar to the rest of the world, women are not able to exercise the same opportunity due to many constraints: social injustice, gender roles, as well as stressors from displacement.2
1Multiple Karen musicians in discussion with author, May - July 2016.
2Mr. Manoch Chummuangpak, “The Sound of Loss and Hope: Pop Music of Karen Refugees from Burma/Myanmar.” Paper presented at the Asia Pacific Sociological Association (APSA) Conference, Chiang Mai, Thailand, February 2014