Gongs & Skins returns to National Theatre
MUSEUMS are no place for music. And the clash between pop and traditional music is a chance for national and ethnic cultures to put their stamp on the times, say devotees of Myanmar percussion. A year ago, Gongs & Skins played at the National Theatre, laying down a marker for the way they think music should be played. This year, tonight, they’re back.
Their percussion will be supplemented by electronics, strings and other instruments in a new and fresh performance. Ko Thaung Htike will lead the
hsaing waing alongside international guests, including partners from Asia, Africa and Europe.
Franz Xaver Augustin, director of the Goethe Institut, told a press conference on August 1 that Myanmar rhythm sections need to develop new forms if they hope to survive as anything more than museum and tourist fodder.
“The problem of percussion in Myanmar is that it lacks modulation,” he said. “Traditional culture is fine, but the youngsters are not interested.”
Percussionist troupes from Malaysia, Germany, France, Africa, alongside groups from Kayin and Rakhine states, are taking part in a 10-day musical workshop, playing new forms of music, which substitutes for language as a means of communication.
“I’m very happy to join this concert,” said Saw Aung Kyaw Nyein, vice leader of the Kayin group, which is from Hpa-an. “We’ve gained precious experience by
combining with foreign groups for the first time. Young people can appreciate the fact that our traditional instruments can play together with foreign instruments in original combinations.”
Their eight Kayin instruments, familiar to followers of the Kayin Dong Yein dance, will be on stage together with violins and electronic music.
All the groups are working under professor Bernhard Wulff, who is back again this year, and also worked as artistic director.
“Traditional music is always in competition with pop music,” said the 67-year-old veteran percussionist and composer. “Pop is like Coca-Cola and can be found everywhere in the world. It is destroying many things because it is easy listening with sound decoration. Traditional music is always meaningful and is always connected to the circumstances. It is not for decoration. This way of easy listening, easy living is the trend of our time. Young people like it, but it’s damaging their own culture.”
The Hamburg-born musician added, “Mongolian music has very old roots, as does Myanmar’s. But in the end, they just perform for tourists. Cultures need to protect their own identity.”
He believes the Gongs & Skins International Percussion Festival is bringing musicians into contact with a musical form to fight for their own identity.
Gongs & Skins II international percussion festival will be held tonight at 7 pm at the National Theatre, Myoma Kyaung Street, entrance free. Another concert will be held at the Zwekapin Hall, Hpa-an, Kayin State, on August 6 at 7pm.
Last year’s Gongs & Skins performance brought the National Theatre crowd to its feet.
The performance is coupled with opportunities for Myanmar children to interact with new instruments.
Gongs & Skins rehearses ahead of tonight’s performance.