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Monday, 01 December 2014 05:03

Developing-Music

Can you briefly explain how and why you came to Myanmar?

Before here, I had been working in Afghanistan on a range of projects that used music and media to advocate rights and freedoms. We did large concerts, national TV campaigns, radio shows, teaching and technical training.  The success of those projects led me to question how much more music could play a role in development.  The ethnic diversity and heritage of Myanmar had always attracted me, so I decided to help its preservation and promotion.


In Myanmar my research showed that music is integral to just about every community here but there was no wide spread effort to preserve it.  I thought I could offer some assistance there.

 

What sort of projects are you working on right now?

For now, Iโ€™m part of a group planning a large music festival to celebrate International Womenโ€™s Day. Our team of local businesses are bringing together world famous international female acts and local bands to advocate womenโ€™s health, entrepreneurship, education, rights and empowerment.


Iโ€™m also building a national music archive. As modernisation takes root even in the most remote locations, communities are leaving their traditional culture. As a result, generations of unchanged culture is disappearing fast. Even though Iโ€™ve arrived on the cusp of change, I have still witnessed traditional festivals where the usual drumming and singing has sometimes been replaced by Madonna remixes and K-pop.


In Chin state, there are many places you will find one melody per tribe, a stark comparison to Western music where one album may contain hundreds. Understanding this requires a paradigm shift; you have to ask why they only have one melody and you quickly realise that melody isnโ€™t so important to those groups-itโ€™s words.  What is being shared there, are stories,  and each one song contains a valuable tale of an experience. By loosing the music you're loosing history and identity.


The Myanmar Music Preservation Project, is a national archive I have started that will preserve every piece of music in this country. Many people are already preserving their own culture; they just need assistance in doing it quicker at greater quality, and sharing it.

 

How and why is music important in terms of creating a dialogue between different groups?

Firstly, music works on a very emotional level- it moves people. For this reason it has an unparalleled importance at the heart of many cultures. There are plenty of examples in history where music has brought together people of different, race, colour, creed and persuasions. I saw repeated first hand evidence of this in Afghanistan, where people were prepared to risk their lives to play or teach it.


My research here shows that people enjoy open attitudes to music from different ethnic groups, regardless of whether or not there is conflict.  Without exception, they feel music is an adequate way to access their culture or others; and they are simply excited to share it within Myanmar. If you can promote music here then you can softly promote cross-cultural understanding as well.

 

What is so unique about Myanmar music?

For music, Myanmar is one of the most interesting countries on the planet. In every state there are instruments and styles unique to Myanmar. For example, the nose flute in Chin and of course the Burmese orchestra- which is unlike anything else in the world.


Perhaps what is most unique is the way some of itโ€™s played.  I have recordings of Burmese traditional opera but then I also have recordings from isolated communities in the East which you would swear was from Mali, in Africa. Old men and women playing on home made 4-string guitars with strings so rusty your fingers are stained betel-nut brown!

 

Any particular moments, individuals or stories that have really inspired you on your travels in Myanmar?

I recorded a love song from a Kayan tribe.


In this particular tribe's culture, it is not customary for someone to say " I love youโ€. Instead, they choose to express that sentiment through song. This song, like many of theirs is supposed to be sung between two lovers. Have you ever noticed how sometimes you see only two pigeons together? That is because they mate for life.  The song describes how two pigeons sit on a gate so happy together, unaffected by time and the world around them. They are content with not doing anything but enjoying being around each other.  There are many stories like this all over Myanmar.


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