‘Thingyan is Getting Worse Year by Year’
By The Irrawaddy 18 April 2015
On this week’s Dateline Irrawaddy, the panel talks about the changing nature of Burma’s Thingyan festival, including the rise of drunkenness and drug use among young revelers, and concerns over water conservation at a time of increasing shortages.
Aye Chan Mae: As we are now entering Thingyan, we’ll discuss those classic songs of the festival that have remained popular into the present day, as well as the changing attitude of the younger generations towards the revelries of the Thingyan festival. I’m Aye Chan Myae, Burmese editor of The Irrawaddy, and I’m joined for this discussion by singer Thxa Soe and editor of Faces Magazine Ko Myo.
This week, we’ll be discussing Thingyan—traditional Thingyan and modern Thingyan. We’ll also discuss about popular Thingyan songs. We like classic Thingyan songs, like the theme song of the classic movie ‘Thingyan Shower.’ We also like new interpretations, like the work of Ko Thxa Soe. Which songs do you both love to listen to at this time of year?
Thxa Soe: ‘Thingyan Shower’ is the state Thingyan song. It is always played during Thingyan and so is the song ‘Myanandar.’ These songs are played not only during Thingyan but also on other special occasions. I did not intend my songs to be for Thingyan, but they turned out accidentaly to be songs that fit for the festivities. In the minds of Myanmar people, ‘Thingyan Shower’ has become the trademark song of Thingyan like ‘Merry Christmas’ during December. This song will continue to exist for a long time. There is only thing I would like to suggest. It would be better if those who entertain with this song paid royalties to Saya Myoma Nyein and members of the Myoma Band through the Myanmar Music Association.
ACM: Recently, we saw composers collectively calling for the respect of copyright on the songs they had composed, including songs sung at Thingyan venues. Shall we talk about this? What do you think, Ko Myo?
Ko Myo: They should have it. They should have had copyright on their songs for a long time now. It has been a long time that artists do not get a decent return from their creations.
ACM: Which songs do you like to listen in Thingyan?
KM: Rather than ‘Thingyan Shower,’ I liked the Thingyan movie ‘Our Cherry Land’ directed by Win Oo when I was young. I like the Thingyan atmosphere the movie conveys. Most of the songs in that movie were composed by Saya Myoma Nyein and are still popular now. I like such classic songs. But then, as the time has changed, I also appreciate the music like ‘Yaw Thama Hmwe’ created by Ko Thxa Soe, which perfectly fits the spirit of Thingyan.
ACM: I liked Zaw Win Htut’s song ‘Rock and Roll Thyingyan’. Maybe it is because I have grown up with his songs. The album was a big hit at the time.
TS: That rock song is still sung in Thingyan. It is another state Thingyan song.
ACM: We hear that the amount singers earn for entertaining at pandals during Thingyan is sufficient for them to live on for almost the entire year. Is this true?
TS: It is not like that. We get a good return from our Thingyan work, but it is not a substantial amount compared to commodity prices of present time. Singers are having a hard time these days. Indeed, we are not enjoying financial benefits in proportion to our popularity. It is because our albums are not selling as a result of piracy. In the past, original albums, but not the pirated ones, were sold. The albums of singers Zaw Win Htut and Ba Din sold well and this situation continued until recently. To be frank, all singers at the moment are having a hard time. Only the wearer knows where his shoe pinches. The return we receive from Thingyan is not bad. But then it is just an amount for us to survive, to produce our next albums.
ACM: What is the difference between modern and traditional Thingyan festivals?
TS: On one hand, Thingyan is more enjoyable now; on the other hand, it has become more dangerous. When we were young, we were not as drunk and disorderly during Thingyan as youths now are. We were once youths and we did run wild during Thingyan. But then, we just strutted with our friends. Thingyan at present time is more like a big party. There are festivities like Tomorrowland and electronic dance music parties in foreign countries. But there, partygoers do not use drug or abuse girls, using aphrodisiacs. I have travelled around the world and did not see such cases. But here, the morals of people have become corrupt to the extent that they even prepare aphrodisiacs ahead of Thingyan and make girls drink liquor mixed with aphrodisiacs and abuse them. Meanwhile, pandal organizers do immoral acts. The fact that they build VIP rooms with beds at the back of the pandals shows that they don’t have consideration for the girls. It is not a sex party. To put it simply, morals have been largely corrupted, and I am concerned with it. I am also young. I also want to have fun during Thingyan. I’ll throw water, drink a little and dance. That’s all. But now, they have gone beyond that limit. The country has just left the shackles of dark years behind and is now at a crossroads, one side leads to the good and the other to the bad. Effects of this are also seen on youths during Thingyan.
ACM: Thingyan, as you put it, seems a serious cause for concern for our children. It is a real cause for concern for the young that activities, which almost resemble sex parties, are organized at the back of pandals. It seems that youths are largely permitted to use drugs during Thingyan. It will leave a very bad image if people do these things at a festival, I would say.
TS: These activities have reached even to rural villages. To be frank, I am quite unhappy to see people being drunk and disorderly. The tradition of paying respects to elderly persons in Thingyan has almost diminished. It now almost seems mytical that the young used to pay respect to elderly people and help them with tasks at their homes. In my view the situation is getting worse from generation to generation.
KM: As Ko Thxa Soe said, when we were young, the worst possible thing revelers did was throwing water balloons and water bags and throwing water with force. The traditional values of Thingyan were still alive then. But then, after the pro-democracy uprising, the country was in constant decline and the attitude of the people has changed as a result. Some people welcome the culture that has come in from abroad. These factors led to the things Ko Thxa Soe has mentioned. To be frank, I don’t go out and I usually stay at my home during Thingyan. The way people enjoy the festival has changed. When we were young, we’d boil sticky rice balls together happily, build small pandals in front of our houses and throw water. The way people enjoy the festival has changed a lot. Now, it is only through listening to Thingyan songs that I can feel the atmosphere of former Thingyan days.
ACM: People in their mid-30s like us will only rest at home, watching Thingyan movies like ‘Thingyan Shower’ and ‘Our Cherry Land’. Youths want to go out. We need to think about how we can create a safe environment for those who want to enjoy the festival safely and simply. The situation is getting worse year by year because the rulers have turned a blind eye to everything as long as their grip on power is not threatened.
KM: No matter how much the culture has developed, no song can influence Saya Myoma Nyein’s work until now. This is just my view. But then, the style of Thingyan has changed. Youths have created songs based on their views and thoughts. These days, I particularly like DJ and Remix. I think the music style created by Ko Thxa Soe really fits the Thingyan of the present. But I am afraid those songs, when coupled with drugs, can have a negative influence on youths and this may lead them to do the wrong thing.
TS: The government has just taken steps to control these, but the situation has almost gone beyond redemption. In foreign countries, revelers dare not act that recklessly. But here, people do not hesitate to act recklessly. I remember a drunken guy tried to hit people with car during a music show before Thingyan in Mandalay. He was then stopped by local ward residents. Drugs are easily available in Mandalay during Thingyan. There are many drug addicts in my social circle who are addicted to yaba. I control myself as much as I cannot use drugs. Those who use drugs, including artists, have seen their lives deteriorate gradually. Many people get addicted to drugs during Thingyan. Your drug addict friends will talk you into using drugs. At first, they will give you drugs for free. Then, they sell to you. Many people get addicted to drugs like this and parents therefore want to discourage their children from abusing drugs. But then, since they themselves grew up in a dark era, most of the parents do not have the knowledge to find solutions for this problem. Parents who have that knowledge do not raise their children here, they just send them abroad to study.
ACM: Some environmentalists have criticized Thingyan as wastage of water. I think we should discuss this.
TS: Fifteen years ago, I began to read about this in a book, I don’t remember who it was byI felt sorry that water is lost unnecessarily because I know the value of water as I have donated water in Dala for two or three years. There in Dala, people are short of water even for use in toilets. But here in Yangon, people are wasting water. The water shortage is especially serious for those who live in apartments. I live in an apartment and I pray to God whenever I turn on the switch that the water pump will work. I will not always get it. We are really short of water. During Thingyan, people may throw water with water from Kandawgyi and Inya lakes. Water from those places is dirty. No one wants to touch the water there. All the shops surrounding the lakes dump sewage in those lakes. They said they treat the sewage, but we don’t know what measures they are taking. I won’t go to pandals there because I feel itchy at the sight of water from there. How can we preserve water sources in the future? I don’t see any evidence that there will be additional water sources in the future. Instead, there are fewer and fewer water sources. Experts and the government, particularly the government should take care of it. At present, the government is turning a blind eye.
KM: What Ko Thxa Soe said is right. As even townships like Dala, which are not far from Yangon, are short of water, the problem of water shortages may be far worse in rural areas in central Myanmar. While we celebrate Thingyan to maintain a tradition, the government should take water conservation measures into serious consideration.
ACM: The government has the ultimate responsibility for all of this. But then, we can’t put the finger only at the government. This is a problem which needs theparticipation of all to be solved. We should think about how we can work out the best solution. Ko Thxa Soe and Ko Myo, Happy New Year to you. Thank you so much for your time.