“Can you hear me now?” sang Burma’s first all-female pop group, Me N Ma Girls.
The guests of the fourth annual Women in the World summit could—and they cheered the courageous girls, who face being banned in Burma just for doing what they love: singing.
Burma has undergone remarkable changes in the past few years. Famed human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi was released from decades of house arrest in 2010, the same year Me N Ma Girls formed. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country last year. And just last week, the country published its first independent newspapers in 50 years.
The women of Me N MA Girls, who all have college degrees, are the first girl group to perform original songs instead of just copying tracks.
“Most of the bands copy tracks, because it is easy to be popular,” said Htike Htike Aung, who studied computer science in school. “We don’t want copy tracks because we want to create our own way and also now we have freedom of speech in our country and we can say what we want.”
Despite their pride in their country (their name is a play on the phrase Myanmar’s Girls), the singers have faced censorship at nearly every turn. Lalrin Kimi, who goes by Kimmy, said she once was banned from a commercial because she had dyed her hair yellow. Lung Sitt Ja Moon, who goes by Ah Moon, said the girls once wanted to perform a music video with wigs, but “ugh, the censorship, they won’t allow.”
“We thought, let’s try, let’s push this boundary and if they don’t allow, let’s do black and white,” she said. The girls were the victors in the end—by the time they shot the video, the country had started to change its laws.
The girls sang the intro to the summit’s final presentation, the Women of Impact Awards.
This year’s honorees included Molly Melching, the founder and executive director of the Tostan; Susana Trimarco, who has worked tirelessly to combat human trafficking after her daughter disappeared in Argentina; and Phiona Mutesi, the 16-year-old Ugandan chess champion.
But Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s editor in chief, Tina Brown, also had a surprise: “By popular demand,” Brown announced, the Women in the World Foundation also honored two of the summit’s most popular panelists, Pakistani activists Humaira Bachal and Khalida Brohi, who both have been working to educate girls in their country.