Legendary Burmese Vocalist Dies

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 15 November 2012

A week after rumors of his death started emerging, Khin Maung Toe, a respected Burmese pop-rock star, has passed away at the age of 62. The acclaimed vocalist succumbed to liver cancer on Thursday at a hospital in Singapore, where he had been receiving treatment for the disease since September.

Last week, when his health took a turn for the worse, rumors of his death began spreading on the Internet, causing an outpouring of grief among his fans in the country and abroad. He had not been able to return to Burma since October, when he was first admitted to the hospital.

For nearly four decades, Khin Maung Toe mesmerized audiences with his baritone voice and songs steeped in Buddhist wisdom and themes of love and endurance. With his shoulder-length hair, Ray Ban sunglasses and acoustic guitar, the front man of the band Medium Wave first became a household name across the country in the early eighties.

Under the then military regime, one of his songs was frequently banned for lyrics that urged listeners to never give up. “If you work for the people’s interests, you need to sacrifice,” he crooned, earning the disapproval of the men in uniform, who suspected that his words were directed at pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, at the time still under house arrest.

Highly respected among his fellow musicians for his dedication to his art, Khin Maung Toe once said in an interview that he believed “Music makes people see reality.”

“What I loved about him was his unique style. His rock songs were very Burmese, not so Westernized,” said Darko C, 31, from the alternative band Side Effect. “That became their [Medium Wave’s] trademark.”

His attitude toward his profession also reflected his distinctly Burmese sensibility. “The Lord Buddha said that everything you do will have an effect on your samsara [cycle of rebirth]. My music career earns me an honest living. It’s good for me and my samsara,” said the devout Buddhist, who began seriously practicing meditation in 1996.

“Last week, I learned that he was fighting a losing battle with death. Now he’s really gone,” said Medium Wave guitarist and songwriter Ne Win, who was one of Khin Maung Toe’s closest lifelong friends. “One of our band members is gone. It’s a great loss.”

“I can’t make any comment right now. I’m too saddened by his departure,” said Zaw Myo Htut, who also plays guitar for Medium Wave.

The last time Khin Maung Toe hit the stage was in September of this year, when he took part in a charity concert organized by the 88 Student Generation Students group in September, shortly before he set off for Singapore to receive treatment for his terminal disease.

He will be cremated in the Lion City at 3:45 this evening, according to a source close to his family. He is survived by his wife Wai Wai Khaing and three children.