Myanmar Music and Arts


The use of dance and music is an integral part of the arts scene for the Myanmar people.

The local pwe is divided into several categories: nat, village, folk and dramatic, and is accompanied by music created using an ensemble of percussive instruments. Popular instruments include a set of small gongs (maung hsaing), horizontally suspended t gongs (kyi waing), an oboe like hne, and 21 tuned drums (pat waing). Many of the dance styles are copied from the Thai performers and date to the 18th century.

The traditional style of music is quite melodious and can lack a harmony; this for the western travellers can sound loud and harsh. Repetition is a major aspect of this type of music. Also, there are several types of classical and folk traditions that make use of several instruments, including wind, string and drums.

Beyond the interest in traditional music in Myanmar, there is an increased interest in western styles, such as hip-hop, rock and pop, which is most favoured by the younger generation. Yangon is one region of Myanmar that is developing a popular music scene with the emergence of several highly-rated bands.

This interest in local music means there is a great likelihood of hearing loud and repetitive music on the buses while travelling the country on the Myanmar holidays.

Various types of music in Myanmar make use of a variety of traditional musical instruments. This can include the individual instruments to the assembled group to create the hsaing waing, which is an orchestra.

The sound of traditional folk music is common in many areas of Southeast Asia and likely to be a common sound noticed on the Myanmar travel packages. This type of folk music has fast and sudden shifts in the melody and rhythm, while also making changes to the timbre and texture.

One style of instrument that is unique to the country is the arched harp which is called the saung-gauk and dates as far back as the pre-Hittite times.

Since the colonial era, the skilled musicians of Myanmar have introduced a variety of western instruments into the performance of indigenous music. To better incorporate these instruments into the local sounds, the playing techniques, repertoire, and sound were adapted to reflect the local needs.

However, pop music in now dominating the music scene in modern Myanmar and includes both the home-grown and adopted sounds.

A lot of the focus on literature in Myanmar is concentrated on writing texts that relate to Buddhism or for theatre performances (pwe). Also, since the 19th century, there has been an increased amount of popular fiction created. Some of the early works of fiction include the British fiction that was written at the time of the colonial era. There are several well-known novels that relate to live in Burma, such as Burmese Days (1934) by George Orwell, Thibaw's Queen (1899) by H. Fielding and Soul of a People (1898) by H. Fielding.

Graphic arts
The graphic arts created in Myanmar can relate to a long list of creative arts, such as textiles and costume, lacquerware, ceramics, jewelery, work in bronze, ivory carving, wood carving, temple mural painting, painting on canvas or paper, and temple sculpture in stone, stucco or wood.

A common item that is seen in the markets on the Myanmar tours is lacquerware. This is the process is creating an object in wood or bamboo and covering in a type of liquid like tree sap. Some of the common objects created in lacquerware include carved animal figures, screens and tables. By coating the items in the tree sap, it is possible to give protection (waterproofs, strengthens and preserves) the piece of decorative art. The origins of this art form are believed to date back to the ancient times. Certain areas of the country have a more distinct lacquerware tradition, such as the Shan race.

A major traditional art form in the country is weaving which in Myanmar was extremely popular when it comes to the creation of the lun-taya acheik cloth. This tradition was first introduced to the country in the 18th century with a distinctive feature of the local work including the complex motifs. A popular region to produce this woven cloth is near to Mandalay and mainly sold to the elite Burmese people. In addition, there are several types of distinctive textile traditions that are carried out by the ethnic minorities throughout the country.

Performance arts
Popular performance arts in Myanmar include the pwe ("show") which combines drama, dance and music. This type of show is common at religious festivals, sporting events, funerals, weddings and fairs. The majority take place in the evening and continue through the night. A typical pwe, includes a performance that is related to Buddhist epics, legends, a puppet show, comedy skits, or traditional dancing and singing. A lot of the traditional dance and music in the country has taken a certain degree of influence from Thailand.

There are several types of traditional instruments played in the group environment, such as bamboo clappers, small cymbals, a bamboo flute, an oboe-like instrument, a xylophone-like instrument, a circle of gongs, a thirteen-stringed harp, and a circle of drums. To help with modernizing the music scene, the traditional instruments are often combined with a guitar or similar western ones.

The dramatic and highly stylized shows are always accompanied by music. The Kon-baung court used the specialized performers who were skilled in acting, dancing, singing and recitation.

The shows become livelier after about 1885 with the events consisting in a more varied range of entertainment, which included the first western-style stage plays and all-female dance troupes. The new style of performance continued into the late 19th century and early 20th century, but slowed with the outbreak of WWII.

But after the country regained its independence, there was a significant revival in the arts, including the traditional style of music, drama and dance. Also, this was the time that pya-zat emerged which is the new style of modern melodrama that mostly related to the more up to date plays and rarely involved the traditional subjects.

Today, there are plenty of fine arts schools in the country that make it possible to experience the local dance and drama while on the Myanmar travel.