Gitayadana: reviving forgotten treasures
Burmese musicians aim to create a gigantic interactive archive of Myanmar traditional music.
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
Maung Maung Zaw Htet aka Diramore at NUAC Orchestra Music Showcase 2016 in National Theater, Yangon, 2016.
The cover of Gitayadana’s first volume.