Thangyat: Traditional Songs Hard to Suppress
covering burma and southeast asia
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Thangyat: Traditional Songs Hard to Suppress


By THE IRRAWADDY APRIL, 2008 - VOLUME 16 NO.4


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Thangyat is one of the oldest examples of Burmese folk art. Usually amusing and satirical, Thangyat combines poetry, dance and music and is sung to the beat of a traditional drum on festive occasions.

In the past, during the Burmese New Year water festivals, or Thingyan, young people would publicly recite humorous Thangyat lyrics, which freely criticize everything from politics to social behavior. But the Burmese military generals have changed all that.

Cover of the banned Thangyat CD that pokes fun at the junta.
In 1989, a year after taking power, the generals lost their sense of humor and banned public performances of Thangyat. However, Thangyat is still kept alive by exiled Burmese communities.

India-based exile groups have retained the important Thingyan tradition, releasing Thangyat CDs every year since 1998. This year, Burmese dissidents in India produced a Thangyat CD titled Phone Phone Cha Hma Lone Lone Ya Mae (“Monks! Fight for Absolute Success”) filled with jokes and satire based on the military regime’s wrongdoings, including the crackdown on the 2007 demonstrations and the junta-sponsored National Convention. It also scoffs at the death of former Prime Minister Soe Win.

Despite a ban by Burmese authorities, some copies of the CD are circulating in Rangoon. People caught listening to blacklisted Thangyat lyrics risk imprisonment.

Thangyat is a laughing matter, but then again, it isn’t. 

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