Music of Myanmar

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The music of Myanmar (or Burma) (Burmese: မြန်မာ့ဂီတ) shares many similarities with other musical styles in the region. Traditional music is melodic, having its own unique form of harmony, often composed with a 4
(na-yi-se), a 2
(wa-let-se) or a 8
(wa-let-a-myan) time signature. In Burmese, music segments are combined into patterns, and then into verses, making it a multi-level hierarchical system. Various levels are manipulated to create a song. Harmony in Mahagita (the Burmese body of music) is known as twe-lone, which is similar to a chord in western music. For example, C is combined with F or G.

Burmese musicians performing at the Shwedagon Pagoda in 1895

Western music gained popularity in Burma during the 1930s, despite the government's intervention. During the socialist era, musicians and artists were subject to censorship by the Press Scrutiny Board and Central Registration Board, as well as laws like the State Protection Law. Classical music was also introduced during the British occupation. Pop music emerged in the 1970s and was banned by state-run radio stations. However, many artists circumvented this censorship by producing albums in private studios and releasing them in music production shops. Rock music, called stereo in Burmese, has been a popular form of music since the 1980s. When the country's regulations on censorship were loosened in 2000, many pop groups emerged throughout Myanmar such as Electronic Machine, Playboy, ELF Myanmar, and the King.[2]

In August 2012, state censorship on music was officially abolished.

Traditional music

Classical traditions

The orthodox

musical scale as classical Burmese music.[3] Other influences include Mon music (called Talaing than or "sounds of the Talaing [Mon]"), particularly in the Mahāgīta (မဟာဂီတ), the complete body of classical Burmese music.[4][5]

A prevailing one is called yodaya (ယိုးဒယား), which is essentially a class of Burmese adaptations to songs accompanied with the

Ayutthaya kingdom (modern-day Thailand) during the reigns of Bayinnaung (1551–1581) and Hsinbyushin (1753–1776), which brought back a variety of cultural traditions including the Ramayana.[3]
The primary indigenous form is called thachin (သချင်း).

Burmese classical music ensembles can be divided into outdoor and indoor ensembles. The outdoor musical ensemble is the sidaw (စည်တော်); also called sidawgyi (စည်တော်ကြီး), which was an outdoor ensemble in royal courts used to mark important ceremonial functions like the

migyaung (မိကျောင်း, a zither), palwe (ပလွေ, a flute) and in the past also included the tayaw (တယော, a fiddle) and hnyin (a small mouth organ).[6]


Translated as "great music" in

nat, Burmese spirits; yodaya, music introduced from Ayutthaya, talaing than, music adapted from the Mon people and bole, songs of sorrow.[5]

Folk traditions

Burmese music includes a variety of folk traditions. A distinct form of which is called the byaw (ဗျော), often played at religious festivals and sung to the beat of a long and thin drum, with occasional interruptions by the beating of a larger drum.[7]

The traditional folk ensemble, typically used in nat pwe (Burmese theatre, art and festivals) is called the hsaing waing (ဆိုင်းဝိုင်း). It is mainly made up of different gongs and drums, as well as other instruments, depending on the nature of performance.[8] The ensemble bears many similarities to other Southeast Asian ensembles, although it incorporates a drum circle not found in similar ensembles.[4] The ensemble is made up of a series of drums and gongs, including the center pieces, which are the hne (double reed pipe) and pat waing, set of 21 tuned drums in a circle.[4]

Other instruments in this ensemble include the kyi waing (ကြေးဝိုင်း, small bronze gongs in a circular frame) and maung hsaing (မောင်းဆိုင်း, larger bronze gongs in a rectangular frame), as well as the si and wa (bell and clapper) and the recent addition of the chauk lone bat (a group of six drums which have gained currency since the early 20th century).[4] Hsaing waing music, however, is atypical in Southeast Asian music, characterised by sudden shifts in rhythm and melody as well as change in texture and timbre.[9]

Popular music

Burmese music cassette tapes, Yangon
, Myanmar, in 2006

Early beginnings

Western music has gained popularity in Burma since the 1930s. Despite the government's intervention at times, especially during the socialist era, popular Burmese music has seen considerable influence from Western music, which consists of popular Western songs rendered in Burmese and pop music similar to other Asian pop tunes.[9] Classical music was also introduced during the British occupation. Cult folk musician Nick Drake was born in Burma during British rule.

Rock music, called stereo in Burmese, has been a popular form of music since the 1980s, having been introduced in the 1960s.

Maykhala, and Connie


During the

State Law and Order Restoration Council usurped power in 1988, the Press Scrutiny Board was reformed to censor specific political and social issues, including poverty, the sex trade, democracy, and human rights. The Myanmar Music Asiayon (MMA) was established by the SLORC to further censor Burmese-produced music. Popular musicians including Zaw Win Htut and Sai Htee Saing have produced propaganda albums written by military officers such as Mya Than San.[11]

Hip hop and rap emerged in the late 1990s and is now the prevailing genre of music among Burmese youth today.[11]
Bands like Iron Cross, Emperor and BigBag are popular among older Burmese and certain groups of youth. There are hip-hop enthusiasts all over Burma with Burmese hip-hop artists such as .


When the country's regulations on censorship were loosened in 2000, new pop groups emerged across Myanmar who were able to compose, record and perform original Burmese music. Many pop groups emerged throughout Myanmar such as Electronic Machine, Playboy, ELF Myanmar and the King.[2] In August 2012, state censorship on music was officially abolished. The only government censorship that remains on music is video censorship. Everyone can, in essence, release whatever they want. This has led many on the newly re-grouped Myanmar Music Association to grapple with the idea of forming a rating system to deal with some 'rude words' in music that may not be appropriate for all ages.

After decades underground, a small but enduring punk rock and heavy metal music scene has been increasingly visible in Burma.[13] Modelling many 1970s and '80s classic Western punk bands and Modern Metal. Burmese punk band metal band shows a musical defiance that has not been seen before in Burma.[13] In the German made 2012 documentary film "Yangon Calling" over a period of six weeks film-makers Alexander Dluzak and Carsten Piefke secretly filmed, as they documented the Burmese punks life, documenting everything from meeting friends and family, visiting rehearsals and filming secret concerts.[14]

Websites that have started up in recent years such as Myanmar Xbands have given attention to the Burmese punk scene along with other alternative Burmese music. The site has developed into a hub for artists to display their music to a Burmese and international audience for free download. Most of the Talented Bands Like Last Day of Beethoven, Darkest Tears from My Heart, Fever 109, We Are the Waste are well known by others because of this website. While other Burmese punk bands like pop punk band Side Affect, turned to raising funds on

IndieGoGo, to release their first album. The band just managed to raise enough funds to release their album in May 2012, shortly before their efforts fell short to international sanctions.[15]
However, other popular Burmese punk bands such as No Uturn or Rebel Riot has turned to self-release, releasing their demos on popular download sites such as MySpace and Reverb Nation.

Musical instruments

Two female musicians play the saung
at a performance in Mandalay.

Burmese music has a wide variety of

Musical instruments of 19th century Burma, depicted in a watercolour painting from the period

Beginning just before World War II, the piano was adapted to the performance of Burmese traditional music, modelling its technique after that of the pattala and saung. The best known performer of Burmese piano was Gita Lulin Maung Ko Ko, known as U Ko Ko (1928–2007).[16]