Music in Myanmar


Music is massively important in Myanmar and ranges from exquisite performances of traditional music played on the saung, a boat-shaped 16-string harp, to raucous renditions of 80s pop classics in neon-lit and whiskey-fuelled karaoke bars.

Iron Cross are arguably the most famous band in Myanmar, the aged rockers of have been pumping out heavy metal music for the last 25 years, but they are now being joined on the music scene by a whole host of young, talented bands who have something to say, and at last are allowed to say it. For many years, all song lyrics had to be approved before being recorded or performed. Now, with restrictions lifted, many bands are finding their feet, making some noise and building up large local and international followings in the process. The rock band Side Effect, for example, was the first Myanmar band to play at the famous music festival South-by-Southwest in Austin, Texas, last year.

One side of Myanmar music you will undoubtedly be exposed to frequently is the use of familiar western songs sung in Myanmar language, known colloquially as ‘copy-track’. At first, this may not appear that unusual until you discover that the actual lyrics being sung are not a translation of the song, but are completely new and have absolutely nothing in common with the original recording.

This kind of music is particularly well used in Myanmar advertising both on the radio and the television. If one day you find yourself humming along to Bon Jovi’s ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’, you will more than likely be listening to a jewellery shop advertisement that uses the original sound, but with very different lyrics. Listening to an ABBA song? Think again, it’s a familiar tune but the words are probably advertising firming cream.


The jingles and songs used to advertise products have almost become part of the popular culture and are played extensively on the radio. Musicians here are seen as big celebrities and are thus widely used in the marketing of consumable products. Iron Cross put their name to all manner of goods from instant coffee to vitamin tablets, and the band can be seen on advertising hoardings all over the city.


Live music concerts are becoming increasingly well attended, the ground broken to a certain extent by the MTV EXIT free concert in 2012 that was attended by over 60,000 people and featured American Singer-Songwriter Jason Mraz, and celebrated local artists such Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein. International musicians are now lining up to play here for the first time, and advertisement boards all around the city announce the latest acts to perform. Already we have seen Danish pop band Michael Learns to Rock, the 1980s Australian rock band Air Supply and the famous Swedish ABBA tribute band Arrival. K-pop bands (from Korea) are much loved here and concerts by 2NE1 and 4-Minute have attracted a great deal of interest, even though ticket prices are a little beyond the means of most Myanmar people.

International music has always had a place in the hearts of the Myanmar people. But the next time you are in a taxi, stuck in traffic and bopping along to the familiar tunes of The Beatles, N Sync, Lady Gaga or Celine Dion, remember that the words you might be singing might not actually be the words of the song. Your favorite music might just be an advertisement for toilet paper!

05 May 2015