On This Day

The Death of a Leading Hsaing Musician who Performed for Myanmar Royal Family in Exile

By Wei Yan Aung 8 October 2019

YANGON—On this day 77 years ago, Myanmar’s most famous Hsaing musician of the colonial period, Sein Beda, died of throat cancer at the age of 60.

The Hsaing is a traditional Burmese folk music ensemble consisting of gongs and drums, among other musical instruments.

Born and raised in Mandalay, Sein Beda was the son of court musician Saya Pe and was a favorite musician of King Thibaw, the last monarch of the Konbaung dynasty. Sein Beda began performing when he was 13 years old.

He was the first Burmese Hsaing musician to perform in British India, when he was invited to a housewarming at King Thibaw’s residence in Ratnagiri, on the west coast of India, when the royal family was in exile.

Sein Beda introduced various innovations to the Hsaing ensemble, including the practice of decorating ensemble stands with traditional Burmese motifs and glass mosaics, the use of spotlights, and the custom of musician uniforms.

During the colonial period, Sein Beda was so popular that he performed at almost all ceremonial occasions in Mandalay, the last royal capital of Myanmar.

He outperformed his contemporary Hsaing musicians in solo performances as well as in his role as ensemble leader.

His lessons have been passed down from one generation to another and his compositions are still played today at many ceremonies. There is a bronze statue of Sein Beda at the National Theater in Mandalay.