‘Tastes Have Changed a Lot’

By Ye Ni 28 November 2014

Burmese music lovers recall the songs of Mun Awng with particular fondness; several of the artist’s hits are now considered classics. Many will also recall his story, how he rose to national celebrity in the late 1980s before leaving the country in the aftermath of a crackdown on Burma’s pro-democracy movement. Mun Awng currently resides in Norway.

Mun Awng’s latest album, “Peace Raindrops,” was recorded in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, which has long been home to many migrants and exiles from Burma. He planned to also release the album in Burma, bringing the music back to a faithful audience he left 26 years ago. His plans were thwarted earlier this week when the Burmese Embassy in Thailand denied him an entry visa to the country of his birth.

The Irrawaddy’s Ye Ni sat down with the legendary singer to talk about his return to a changing musical scene in Burma.

Question: What was the inspiration for your new album?

Answer: I’ve wanted to make this album for nearly 15 years. Some of the songs have been in my head since 1999, 2000. For various reasons, I wasn’t able to make it. There were some financial and production problems. I had some new songs, and I got the chance to record this year. There are 12 songs on the album, and I decided to call it “Peace Raindrops.”

Q: In the past, you’ve recorded with the Mizzima Hline Band, performing songs written by Ko Ne Win, Ko Ye Lwin and Ko Maung Maung. Did they also write songs for your new album?

A: Yes they did. Six songs were written by Ko Ne Win, five by Ko Ye Lwin, Ko Aung Win and D Chit Myo, and one by me. So, most of the songs were written by the Mizzima Hline Band.

Q: What’s different about singing their songs this time around?

A: When I worked with them before, I was young and had little experience. I just sang songs as a hobby, I wasn’t trained. I was a student at that time, and my voice had the emotion of a youth. Now I’m over 50 years old, and my mind is much more stable than it was at 25. My voice is firm now.

When I was young, I sang songs with force. When I listened to those same songs later, I’m not satisfied with some parts. I thought I should and could have done better. I didn’t sing again for almost 15 years, and it was quite difficult to take up singing again. I couldn’t control my voice.

One of my friends taught me some singing techniques, just before we recorded. It was difficult to follow at first, but then I got the hang of it and was able to record the album as I wished.

Q: So your vocal techniques have become more professional. What about the music? Has the musical style of the band changed much, or is it the same?

A: Except for Ko Tut Ki, all of the players are new. They are all professional musicians in Burma. I haven’t worked with most members of the band before, but [songwriters] Ko Ye Lwin and Ko Ne Win came to assist with recording. They helped to coordinate with the players and get the style and musical patterns right, so it doesn’t sound much different.

We noticed that tastes have changed a lot. When we finished the initial recording, we thought about adding some musical seasoning. We listened to the songs again and again, for almost three months. A Norwegian—he’s not a musician but he understands music—helped me improve some of the songs. I came back to Chiang Mai and tried using a few other instruments. For example, we used a guitar or a fiddle instead of a keyboard, playing the same melodies.

This article was edited on Dec. 2, 2014, to correct the transliteration of Mun Awng’s name.