YANGON — Today in Yangon, an increasing number of events and venues are providing vital platforms for artists of all backgrounds to showcase their talents, and consequently inspire the artistic passions of others in the community.
Thanks to this growing frequency, artists have something to look forward to, and therefore are encouraged to continue creating and refining their material.
Sometimes a feeling of “arts in the air” even wafts so far as to embolden those who are less likely to take the stage to consider unlocking their own latent or forgotten artistic potential.
In early July, TS.1 Yangon hosted its inaugural My Word Open Mic. TS.1, or Transit Shed No.1, was designed as a space to nurture the arts and celebrate culture.
With the help of My Word founder Nikita West, they succeeded in bringing a diverse community together to hatch their inclusive open mic concept.
“I started My Word because I know there are artists in Yangon who want a safe and supportive space to share their talents or side projects,” Ms. West explained. “More open mics will encourage people to keep going.”
Adding that “A person’s day job may be totally unrelated to their artistic side,” she said she hopes that open mics “provide a platform to express that other side.”
Ms. West plans to make My Word a monthly happening, and would like to bring in spoken-word artists, poets, and comedians for a genre-crossing evening of artistic expression.
Ja Som Laban, the quirky and explosive singer of Yangon band The Myth, delivered the standout performance of the night.
Weaving strong, catchy melodies with indie-pop tendencies, her songs and stage-presence, while unique, contain the same energy that fills clubs in cities like Seattle, London, and Tokyo.
Just days after the gathering at TS.1, the National Theatre in Yangon hosted a grand and harmonious Handshake Concert, which brought together world-class musicians and dancers from across Myanmar and India, with strong representation from India’s northeastern state of Nagaland, bordering Myanmar’s Sagaing Region.
The event, presented by the embassy of India in Yangon and the Rattle & Hum Music Society of Nagaland, in cooperation with Myanmar’s Ministry of Culture, showcased acts transcending the historic, cultural, and linguistic ties of the two countries.
A sizeable audience, including a large group of school children, watched in awe as Myanmar drummer Thandar Lin never dropped a beat while incrementally adorning her body with drums hung from straps and held over her shoulders.
In the following act, the Tetseo Sisters, beloved cultural ambassadors of Nagaland, donned traditional Naga dress and sang in Chokri to deliver a mesmerizing triad of traditional, ethereal songs.
Dedicated to preserving the music from their Chakhesang tribe, the sisters’ voices (and grunts) swirled and reverberated around the hall in a ghostly echo.
The classically trained singers of Nagaland’s first show choir, Voices of Hope, also belted out ballads and drew audible excitement from the crowd during their rendition of the song “Jai Ho,” from the award-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire.
In a rounding out of musical styles, Grammy Award winner and world charmer PanditVishwa Mohan Bhatt from Jaipur headlined the night with a hypnotic performance on the mohanveena (slide guitar) accompanied by entrancing tabla tapping.
As these two events show, truly inspiring and extraordinary artists from the local and international community are gaining increasing exposure in Yangon, strengthening a sense of optimism for the future of the city’s arts scene.
This article first appeared in the August 2014 issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.