The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]
The Back Page (April 2005)
APRIL, 2005 - VOLUME 13 NO.4

This month's proverb

The whole boat stinks because of one barb.
(Burmese Proverb)

Wild, Wild Wet


For the past 20 years or so, the movie Thingyan-moe has been an annual staple for Burmese celebrating their New Year Water Festival. It means ‘rain in the water festival’, and the strains of its musical score reverberate everywhere as Burmese throw water over each other.


But the movie, stocked with traditional song and dance numbers from the northern capital of Mandalay, may now have a rival. This year, for the first time, bands representing the different cultures of Burma and the five other countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region performed in Mandalay. The bands—from Cambodia, China’s Yunnan province, Laos, Vietnam and northern Thailand, as well as Burma—were invited by the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism to take part in a special Thingyan traditional program there.


The ministry thought this would be a good time to make another movie like Thingyan-moe. Apparently the classic movie director Maung Tin Oo’s plan for another, similar movie was too lavish, and would have cost the ministry too much.


So the ministry hired another top director to make the movie on its limited budget. Cultural troupes were filmed on stage, and in trucks touring the city. There were 150 musicians and dancers in all, together with Burmese film stars and musicians.


While the traditional order of activities was being kept alive in Mandalay, less artistic “wild, wild wet” celebrations were almost out of control in Rangoon. As usual, aficionados hung out all day long in the back of pickup trucks, chugging along in bumper-to-bumper traffic, drenching other vehicles and pedestrians with all sorts of water weapons.


Some youngsters wore hardcore-punk style leather clothes and steel chains, decorating their vehicles with US and British flags. There were hip-hop DJs at night. As one Rangoon journalist commented: “Thingyan used to be community-based. Now it has a more cosmopolitan culture.”



Karen Singer Strikes Chord in Thailand


Backed by thirty musicians from the Klo and Kwe (Fife and Drum) Foundation, award-winning Karen singer Merdy Say wowed Chiang Mai’s Payap University at the end of March, with a dazzling performance in front of an audience of more than 1,000.


Though only 27, Merdy Say is a veteran of nearly 30 albums and considered something of a figurehead for the international Karen community. Her most famous song—Tee Ta Sway, or Delta—is a lament for southwest Burma. “I sing these songs,” she says, “because I want my Karen people to unite and remember their nation.” She always perform in traditional Karen costume.


In 2002, the Klo and Kwe Foundation, which also grants scholarships to Karen students and promotes Karen music, presented Merdy  Say with the Ta Eh Pya K’lu (Spirit to Serve the Nation) award—the first and only time the foundation has granted the honor.



Vanessa Mae Helps Build Bridges


Singapore-born British violinist Vanessa Mae took the stage in Bangkok on April 5 with an electrifying performance to raise funds for tsunami relief efforts. Renowned for her thoroughly modern interpretations of classical standards, Mae presented a mix of old favorites alongside works from her latest album “Choreography,” which delighted the crowd. Headlining festivities at the Thailand Cultural Centre, the 25 year old brought the “Bridges - Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace” series of lectures and debates to a close in blazing fashion.


The daughter of a Thai father and Chinese mother, Mae left Singapore at the age of four, moving to London where she still lives. Uwe Morawetz, chairman of the International Peace Foundation, which organized the event, said: “Vanessa Mae herself has been a bridge between different styles of music and between the different cultures of this world, a world which we are constantly able to create anew towards mutual understanding, cooperation and peace.”

Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group |