Gi­tayadana: re­viv­ing for­got­ten trea­sures

Burmese mu­si­cians aim to cre­ate a gi­gan­tic in­ter­ac­tive ar­chive of Myan­mar tra­di­tional mu­sic.

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend | Art - Photo: Nyan Zay Htet NANDAR AUNG

CUL­TURAL cross-polin­i­sa­tion is a fan­tas­tic thing. Mod­ern Myan­mar would not be the same with­out the in­flu­ence of Amer­i­can hip hop, Bri­tish punk rock and Korean pop mu­sic. But some­where along the way, Myan­mar tra­di­tional mu­sic seems to have got­ten lost.

Few youth to­day play the harp, the Saing-waing, the Xy­lo­phone or the oboe. These in­stru­ments and the tra­di­tional songs that come with it are al­most ex­clu­sively re­served for na­tional cer­e­monies and fes­ti­vals. There are very few con­certs or performances to be en­joyed by mu­sic-lovers.

Try­ing to bring back tra­di­tional mu­sic on stage, a group of mu­si­cians, singers and in­stru­men­tal­ists are join­ing hands with re­searchers, ad­vi­sors and in­ter­na­tional song en­gi­neer.

They launched ‘Gi­tayadana’, a project aim­ing at com­pil­ing the best 1000 Myan­mar tra­di­tional songs and which will be pre­sented this month.

“We have an enor­mously rich cul­tural her­itage,” Maung Maung Zaw Htet, a mu­si­cian known as Di­ramore, told jour­nal­ists at a press con­fer­ence last week. But the le­gacy is un­der threat as pop cul­ture gains ground and the num­ber of tra­di­tional mu­si­cians is shrink­ing.

Be­ing a com­poser, singer and con­duc­tor for the Gita Kab­yar Or­ches­tra and mu­sic pro­duc­tion, as well as a head pro­fes­sor of De­part­ment of Mu­sic in Na­tional Univer­sity of Arts and Cul­ture, Maung Maung Zaw Htet has al­ways been think­ing about ways to pre­serve Myan­mar’s cul­ture.

His an­swer was Gi­tayadana, a gi­ant top-qual­ity song col­lec­tion. In 2013, he started col­lect­ing Burmese clas­si­cal songs and called the project “Beauty of Tra­di­tions”. But putting to­gether a few songs wasn’t enough he thought.

He in­vited veteran mu­si­cians as well as in­stru­men­tal­ists around the coun­try to build a mas­sive in­ter­ac­tive ar­chive where over one thou­sand’s song can be lis­tened to and stud­ied. One will be able to learn more about the lyrics of the songs, their com­posers or the in­stru­ments played in them.

But preser­va­tion is only a first step says, Maung Maung Zaw Htet. The goal is to have the youth fall­ing back in love with their cul­ture so it does not just sur­vive but also evolves and lives longer.

Maung Maung Zaw Htet does just that in his work. In 2009 he won the best mu­sic award Myan­mar Mo­tion Pic­ture Acad­emy with a tra­di­tional tune. He has al­ready pro­duced four solo al­bums, and toured Myan­mar and other neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. He of­ten co­op­er­ates with in­ter­na­tional mu­si­cians.

Ac­cord­ing to Myan­mar artists, Burmese mu­sic has some­thing more. “Un­like (…) western mu­sic, Myan­mar tra­di­tional mu­sic is pro­found both in lyric and melody,” says U Myint Hlaing, a 67-year old harpist and vi­o­list. But he does not deny that as pro­found as it is, it fails to cre­ate vo­ca­tions. “It is dif­fi­cult to learn if you don’t have pas­sion. Some say [Myan­mar tra­di­tional mu­sic] is about to disappear. That will be true if young peo­ple are not in­ter­ested in it”.

He hopes that Gi­tayadana will fill the gaps and at­tract new re­cruit among the youth. “I hope this will spread not only here but to the whole uni­verse,” U Myint Hlaing says. He recorded 150 songs for the project.

Gi­tayadana will be di­vided into seven cat­e­gories: Myan­mar Clas­si­cal Mu­sic ( Maha Gita), Tra­di­tional con­tem­po­rary songs ( Kar La Paw), drama mu­sic ( Thabin Gita), tra­di­tional en­sem­ble ( Myan­mar Saing), Folk Mu­sic ( Kyay Lat Gita), spir­i­tual mu­sic (Nat mu­sic) and in­stru­men­tals.

The whole col­lec­tion will come in nine volumes. Three volumes will be re­leased ev­ery year. Each will in­clude over 100 songs.

On June 15th, the first vol­ume will be re­leased and it will be avail­able in all su­per­mar­kets, mu­sic and lo­cal stores. It will be dis­trib­uted by Myan­mar Mu­sic Net­work. All the songs were recorded and mixed by the Ja­panese song en­gi­neer, Hiroshi Iguchi.

“We have an enor­mously rich in cul­tural her­itage” Maung Maung Zaw Htet Mu­si­cian

Photo: Aung Khant

Maung Maung Zaw Htet aka Di­ramore at NUAC Or­ches­tra Mu­sic Show­case 2016 in Na­tional Theater, Yangon, 2016.

The cover of Gi­tayadana’s first vol­ume.

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