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Burma's Pop Music Industry

Burma's Pop Music Industry: Creators, Distributors, Censors

Heather MacLachlan
Volume: 1
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Burma's Pop Music Industry
    Book Description:

    ‘Burma's Pop Music Industry’ is the first book to explore the contemporary pop music industry in a country that is little known or understood in the West. Based on years of fieldwork in Burma/Myanmar, Heather MacLachlan's work explores the ways in which aspiring musical artists are forging a place within the highly repressive social and political context that is Burma today. It deals sensitively with issues such as negotiating local and global styles, performance contexts and practices, and, more importantly, with ethical issues such as the anonymity of informants and the place of Western ethnomusicologists in countries outside the West. Drawn from interviews conducted from 2007 through 2009 with Burmese composers, performers, producers, concert promoters, journalists, recording engineers, radio station employees, music teachers, and censors in Yangon – Burma's largest city and the locus of all pop music production – ‘Burma's Pop Music Industry represents a significant contribution both to popular music studies and to Southeast Asian studies. Heather MacLachlan is assistant professor of music, University of Dayton.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-737-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    In 1755 King Alaungpaya, the founder of the last great Burmese monarchical dynasty, arrived at the small fishing village of Dagon. At the end of a long campaign to conquer and unify much of what we now know as Burma, he decided to found his new capital. He renamed the location Yan-gon, meaning “the end of strife.” Standing in modern-day Yangon (also known as Rangoon), it is easy to imagine what Alaungpaya must have seen. Undoubtedly he raised his eyes to the glorious sight of the Shwedagon Pagoda, where devout Buddhists have venerated a shrine containing eight hairs from the...

  6. Chapter One The Creators of Burmese Pop Music
    (pp. 14-45)

    Gita Studio is located in a nine-story building on one of Yangon’s major thoroughfares. The building is only a few years old and boasts an elevator that works virtually every day, thanks to the enormous, noisy generator that squats in front of the entrance. The owner of the building, who built it as an investment, now lives in Singapore. The rumor is that he is laundering money for the military junta, and that the building is a respectable front for his seamier activities.¹ The building is located in the heart of one of the city’s Karen Christian neighborhoods, and it...

  7. Chapter Two The Sound of Burmese Pop Songs
    (pp. 46-72)

    On February 16, 2008, I was among thousands of excited people attending an Iron Cross concert at Kandawgyi Park in Yangon. For the uninitiated (and this would exclude virtually every citizen of Burma), Iron Cross—or IC, as they are usually called—is the most famous and successful of contemporary Burmese rock bands. The group has sold many thousands of albums. The quickest way to mark IC’s success is to point out that the band has toured outside of Burma. In 2004, for example, they played dates in Japan and the United States.¹ However, like the handful of other Burmese...

  8. Chapter Three Learning Music in Burma Today
    (pp. 73-108)

    Ethnomusicologists prize participant-observation research. We aim to learn about musical cultures by participating in them. As I researched Burma’s professional music scene for this book, I did not hold out much hope that I could actually participate in music making; after all, people earned their livelihoods at the studio sessions and performances I observed, and were unlikely to relinquish part of the process to a foreign researcher. Imagine my delight, then, when one of my favorite composers, Ko Htwe, asked me to record the keyboard part for a song on his upcoming album.

    On the appointed day, I presented myself...

  9. Chapter Four Six Facets of the Burmese Pop Music Industry
    (pp. 109-140)

    The Myaynigone junction, one of the biggest and busiest intersections in Yangon, is located on Pyay Lan (formerly Prome Road). This junction is well known to all city residents in part because in 2007 a huge electronic billboard, the first in the city, was installed there. The “big TV,” as it is called, plays an endless loop of advertisements for locally owned businesses. Of the two ads I remember best—probably because I saw them so often—one was for a brand of iced tea (during which a supple tenor sang the praises of said tea to the tune of...

  10. Chapter Five Musicians and the Censors: The Negotiation of Power
    (pp. 141-174)

    Observers of international affairs consistently identify Burma’s military government as a totalitarian regime, which manifests its cruelty toward its citizens in a myriad of ways, including the restriction of public expression. The titles of two of the best-known recently published books about Burma exemplify this characterization, Living Silence by Christina Fink and Karaoke Fascism by Monique Skidmore.¹ The titles evoke the dangers of making sound, literal and figurative, in Burmese society. Reporters Without Borders, which releases an annual report that “reflects the degree of freedom that journalists and news organisations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the...

  11. Conclusion: The Significance of the Burmese Perspective
    (pp. 175-180)

    On April 7, 2009, the Democratic Voice of Burma (a news website maintained by Burmese journalists now living outside of Burma) published an editorial titled “The ‘Victim’ Treatment: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.” It began:

    There’s a tendency in the global media to portray Burma as a primitive country, held back from modernisation by the psychotic generals who would rather line their own pockets than promote the advancement of society. Thus, to the outside world its citizens are forever seen as ‘victims,’ given the usually negative news that filters out of the country. And there is little done to bypass this idea....

  12. Notes
    (pp. 181-202)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-212)
  14. Index
    (pp. 213-222)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-223)