Rising Burmese Talent: Singer-Songwriter Youn Ni Ko

By Lwin Mar Htun 5 October 2018

YANGON—Youn Ni Ko, fresh talent in the Myanmar music scene, is already turning heads, reveling in plenty of praise and love after the online release of her new song called “B” which fuses old school and modern hip-hop with electronic music. Her next move? Sharing stage space and the limelight with Myanmar’s most famous music talent later this month.

“B,” though only recently unleashed on her official Facebook page has quickly racked up 4,100 reactions, 119,000 views and over 2,000 shares.

The once little-known young singer had previously released a few songs but didn’t receive much notice for her talent until she began putting herself out there, performing a series of small gigs and underground concerts in Yangon.

Following the giant leap into fame and success brought about by her latest track, she has a scheduled performance on the same stage as Myanmar’s most sensational local hip-hop artists including J Me, Yan Yan Chan, G Tone and others, on Oct. 24.

So who is Youn Ni Ko?

Youn Ni Ko was born in Yangon 21 years ago and her family moved to Cyprus when she was one year old. She grew up and studied in Cyprus before moving back to Yangon three years ago.

“We moved Cyprus for my father’s work and I lived there about 17 years. Now my family has moved back to Myanmar and yes, now I’m here,” said Youn Ni Ko, who has long black hair, multiple piercings and lots of small tattoos on both hands.

The 21-year-old talent is a newbie in the Myanmar music industry, but a glamorous rising star who is already well-known among Youtube’s Burmese audience with her song “B.”

It all started out when, on her 13th birthday, she got a guitar as a gift from her dad’s friend and promised, “One day, I going to play this guitar and sing my own song.”

And so her music journey began.

“I had been into music before but the present made me sure I wanted to make music.”

She learned to play guitar using Youtube videos and wrote her first song “Boy” on a visit to Yangon.

“I don’t remember my exact age; maybe I was around 16 or 17. When I was on a visit to Myanmar, I missed the one who I had left in Cyprus and wrote ‘Boy’ for him,” she said.

“Boy” is a pretty, indie love song with English lyrics. All of her songs are in English, exact “B” which has both Burmese and English lyrics.

“I can’t read or write Burmese because I didn’t have a chance to learn it as I studied in Cyprus and spoke Burmese at home only. I can speak Burmese, but not very well. That’s why most of my songs are in English,” Youn Ni Ko said.

Now she is learning Burmese from the basics, aiming to be able to write songs in Burmese in the future.

“I also want to sing songs in Burmese. I’m learning now. I believe I can create a really good Burmese song if I can write the language so I’ll keep trying,” she said.

All music and lyrics are her own creations.

“When I lived in Cyprus, I didn’t have a chance to make music because I had to study. I just covered some songs and uploaded them on my YouTube channel. After coming to Yangon, my mind was messed up and upset almost all the time and those feelings came out in songs,” she said.

When she moved back to Yangon, she experienced a big culture shock and found it difficult to communicate with people.

“As you know, the culture is different. People are honest but hard to communicate with. I don’t mean everyone but I didn’t have friends and wasn’t close with my relatives, so those days were hard for me but I’m ok now. I’m used to Burmese culture now and made many friends from this music industry. I don’t want to go back to Cyprus,” she said.

She released about seven tracks on YouTube and Facebook in recent years and the song genres are not always the same.

“I don’t want to label my music because people will judge it wrongly. I want to make a new fusion music style. My favorite genres are hip-hop and R&B but it depends on my mood,” she said.

Explaining why she still hasn’t made an album she said, “I have six or seven songs and want to make more. I am waiting for the right timing and a good producer to re-produce my songs. But I will release my EP at the end of this year or the beginning of 2019.”

Before releasing her EP, she said she will promote herself on social media to let everyone know who she is.

“If many people don’t know me, releasing an album is a waste. No one would buy my songs,” she said.

Youn Ni Ko said she doesn’t need much time to finish a song if she concentrates on the project.

“If I really want to make music, it won’t take too long to finish a song. Sometimes my mind blows away and finishing music takes more time,” she said.

She added that, “I’m not in a rush with music, I want to find out what my music taste is and I’m still in the experimental stage.”

For example, when she starts out making a pop song the result might come out more R&B. Everything depends on her mood, she said.

“Even though the target and result are different, I still love the final result. That’s why I make the music with my emotions and moods,” she added.

Myanmar doesn’t have too many girls in the hip-hop music industry and most people look down on girls who make street style music. Youn Ni Ko also had those problems at the beginning.

She said, “Hip-hop and rap don’t have to be male-only. Girls can do it as well. I do whatever I want and I want to show how strong women can be. That’s my main thing, that’s my goal.”

Even when you do good things, there are people who don’t like you and will talk badly about you so do whatever you want, she said.

Currently, she is working at a music management agency called ‘360beatz’ so music is always involved in her daily life.

“Today, the music scene in Myanmar is kind of left behind but we can’t blame anyone for that. The country right now is progressing and the new generations are trying out new stuff. I feel like they have potential. Attacking each other is a waste of time and improving together is better.”

Mainstream musicians are doing a good job as well, she said, but she wants to collaborate with musicians from the underground music scene because they have more potential, so much talent and passion for their music.

She will make her music as best she can and wants to reach both international and local audiences with her creations.

“I have a vision that I know I will make it someday. That’s why I’m not in a rush—because I believe in myself. I try really hard and I’m not saying that I’m over-confident, but I know there’s something inside me and I have the passion,” she said.

Watch two performances of Youn Ni Ko’s songs, “In-Denial” and “Boy,” videoed live during her interview with The Irrawaddy below.