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“Exhibition Offers Sounds, Sights From the Golden Triangle” (Irrawaddy Magazine, December 18, 2015)

ASEAM’s own Sam Cartmell recently visited an exhibition called “Cultural Crossroads of the Golden Triangle” put together by Tribal Music Asia founder Victoria Vorreiter. Please read the article from The Irrawaddy Magazine below:

“Exhibition Offers Sounds, Sights From the Golden Triangle”

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — It’s the culmination of Victoria Vorreiter’s 10 years documenting ethnic minority music and culture in the region where Burma, Thailand, China and Laos meet—a new exhibition titled “Cultural Crossroads of the Golden Triangle,” now showing at Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand.

Vorreiter, a classically trained violinist, was originally drawn to the unique music emanating from the highlands of Southeast Asia. She was fascinated with how traditional music of the region encapsulated all aspects of the people’s lived experiences and served as a vessel to transfer oral history from one generation to another. “I was interested in documenting the traditional music, which goes beyond the music that we know in the West, because being peoples who have an oral heritage, [their music] connects the very first ancestors to the present generation,” she tells The Irrawaddy.

“In this exhibit I’ve extended the musical traditions into the way that people dress and their spiritual beliefs,” says Vorreiter, adding: “The title ‘Cultural Crossroads of the Golden Triangle’ represents the mixture of all these different aspects.” In addition to photographs, the exhibition features displays of textiles, musical instruments and other cultural objects.

Ethnographic video filmed by Vorreiter will also be screened over the duration of the exhibition. Recognizing that moving images and sound together are a powerful tool for sharing culture, Vorreiter says the videos “give you a sense of the people as they live, and as they celebrate, and as they communicate with one another through music and through ritual.”

“Cultural Crossroads of the Golden Triangle” will be on display at Chiang Mai University’s Uniserv Center through Dec. 21 during the “Communication/Culture and Sustainable Development Goals” conference hosted by the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development. More of Vorreiter’s photographs and ethnographic recordings can be found at her website, Tribal Music Asia.

*This article was originally published by the Irrawaddy Magazine on 18 December, 2015, view the article here.


‘It Took Everyone in the Region by Surprise, Yet the Moken Survived’ – Olivia Wyatt interview in The Irrawaddy Magazine

ASEAM’s own Sam Cartmell recently interviewed filmmaker Olivia Wyatt about her experimental film on Moken culture and music.

Read the interview here: ‘It Took Everyone in the Region by Surprise, Yet the Moken Survived’

Watch the trailer for Sailing A Sinking Sea

Audio from the film:

Coral Crackling


No Lover To Talk To Anymore

Ung-ang Symphony

UNESCO Collection Week 29: Transcending Borders – The Music of Thailand and Laos

ASEAM co-founder Sam Cartmell wrote a guest blog post for the Smithsonian Folkways UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music to mark the republishing of two Southeast Asian recordings – Thailand: The Music of Chieng Mai and Laos: Traditional Music of the South.

Read the blog post here


Musicians no longer required to submit songs to censors (Democractic Voice of Burma article)

The government-backed Myanmar Music Association (MMA)’s general secretary and well-known singer Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein said that artists are now allowed to publish their music without prior approval from the state censor board.

The Lyrics Scrutiny and Registration Committee, a department under the MAA that will function as a rating system, will scrutinise song lyrics.

Shwe Gyaw Gyaw, a songwriter and committee member, said songs will be categorised in three different groups. Music that is deemed suitable for a general audience will be given a Group A rating, while Groups B and C will be categorise music that is more appropriate for mature audiences over the age of 18.

The move comes after the Burmese government announced in late August that it has abolished pre-censorship of its media. However, but the media must still follow a strict list of guidelines that forbids them from criticising the state.

Under the military dictatorship, song lyrics were heavily censored.

Read original article here

Olden still golden: Record label takes back modern molam music to the prime of its youth

Olden still golden

Record label takes back modern molam music to the prime of its youth

Last February, local DJ and Zudrangma record label owner, Maft Sai produced one of the year’s best concerts _ a bevy of veteran molam singers, backed by one of the greatest molam bands ever, Wong Dontri Molam Theppabutr.

The gig was set up mainly because Maft wanted to see (and hear) if the performers were as good as the vinyl they released during the golden era of modern molam in the late 60s and early 70s. They were and then some.

The show was also a tribute to the pioneering work of “molam originator” and producer Theppabutr Satirodchompu. Recorded in his Siam Studio in Maha Sarakham and released on his Theppanom label, Theppabutr pumped out hit after hit for singers like his then partner Banyen Rakkaen, who went on to be one of the biggest molam stars, luk thung Isan singer Saksiam Petchchompu, Chanpen Sirithep and Yupin Kanfung among others.

To put Theppabutr’s music into a global context, consider him as a Thai equivalent to Sam Phillips at US labels like Sun Records or Berry Gordy at Tamla Motown, except that he produced (and created) more bands than either of them.

The idea, Maft Sai explained to me, was to release the CD at the same time as the concert, but putting together a compilation that involves getting licenses, finding out the catalogue numbers of each hit and who played on each track, is a very time-consuming affair, one that Maft Sai has stuck to with the dogged determination of a private detective. The result is Zudrangma’s first real international release: Theppabutr Productions _The Man Behind The Molam Sound 1972-75.

The 15-tracks on the album feature the Wong Dontri Theppabutr Molam band at its height (with some of the same players who performed in February) and singers the band backed during the period.

Maft has not gone for the more well-known uptempo numbers, as he prefers the slower, haunting songs like the atmospheric opener, Lam Yao Salab Toey by Banyen Rakkaen.

It is perhaps a surprise that he didn’t do a compilation on, say a star like Banyen, but his focus on the work of a producer like Theppabutr’s allows him to showcase the work of other great singers from the Thappbutr roster like Saksiam and Chanpen.

And with six tracks from Banyen on the compilation, you get an idea of the range of her work.

Every track is a standout on the album and I’d be hard pressed to name a favourite; each time I listen to the album something new emerges and I change my preferences. At the moment, I can’t get Yupin Kanfung’s groove-laden Sao Isan Lam Khaen out of my head. There are a lot of lam ploen (plearn in the liner notes) songs, which come from the more theatrical lam styles, often involving backing by a full band or orchestra. Neatly packaged with well-researched liner notes and track details (right down to original catalogue numbers), this is a must-have for fans of molam from the golden era.

More information from: www.zudrangmarecords.com. On the website you can also hear a short 30-minute radio show I produced, which features some of the music I’ve been reviewing over the years. Check it out!

I went to the opening of an exhibition of photographs taken in 1966-67 by master photographer Pornsak Sakdaenprai at Kathmandu Gallery last Saturday evening. Now a sprightly 74-year-old, who has just completed a degree in liberal arts, Mr Pornsak explained to me how his studio, Pornsilp Photo Studio in the Pimai district of Nakorn Ratchasima, became popular with local people who wanted portraits that showed them as luk thung stars.

His photos, shot in black and white on a large-format camera, often feature a rolled background showing a highway and tall buildings that underpins the notion of modernity and sophistication in the photos.

Unlit cigarettes, cowboy hats, a suit and tie, a radio, a fan-backed chair appear as props, and the men have Brylcream-perfect Elvis quiffs in the style of Surapon Sombatchareon, the hottest luk thung star of the period.

They are wonderful photographs, superbly crafted by a self-taught master, and important historical documents.

They seem to evoke the desire for modernity that came with the rapid industrialisation that began in the mid-1960s in Thailand.

They also reminded me of the wonderful work of another self-taught master, Malian Seydou Keita, who also ran a studio during the same period in Bamako and produced similar portraits of West Africans who wanted images of themselves that were hip and chic.

“Pornsak Sakdaenprai” runs until August 27 at Kathmandu Photo Gallery. Visit www.kathmandu-bkk.com.

Myanmar pop stars brace for lyrical revolution

By Kelly Macnamara (AFP)

YANGON — With a flamboyant wardrobe and a diva’s voice, she’s seen as Myanmar’s Lady Gaga — a rare pop star in a country where years of isolation have left musicians reliant on borrowed foreign tunes.

Singing Burmese translations of international hits like Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name”, Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein is famed for her feathered masquerade masks, rhinestone glamour and dramatic ball gowns.

But she shrugs off the Lady Gaga comparison, saying she was shocking fans with her outfits in an eight-year career well before the US star made it big: “No offence, but it’s the truth.”

And unlike the eccentric American songstress her costumes do not reveal much leg or cleavage, in keeping with local customs.

The Myanmar pop singer, who grew up idolising far away megastars, describes decades of political isolation as like being “locked up in a cold, dark cave… some people around the world even didn’t notice we exist.”

The 30-year-old graduated with a medical degree but says she gave up training to become a doctor because people kept recognising her in hospital after her television performances.

“Still I am happy because I can make a change in the lives of millions of people around my country. I could make them happy,” she told AFP at her home in Yangon.

Myanmar pop is dominated by copies of international tunes, from the power ballads of Celine Dion to the soft rock strains of Rod Stewart, accompanied by sometimes incongruous Burmese lyrics about heartbreak and failed love.Only a few artists are able to struggle into the mainstream in the country, where rampant piracy has suffocated the music industry and strict censorship controlled everything from lyrics to outfits.

But sweeping reforms after the end of junta rule last year raise the prospect of exposure to the influence — and copyright laws — of the outside world and hopes of a shake-up that could revitalise the music scene.

Myanmar has indicated it will review its copyright laws to bring them into line with international standards, although it is unclear when that process might take place.

The move could require copy acts to apply for permission from intellectual property owners to translate their songs into Burmese — providing an incentive for artists to write their own lyrics.

Government moves to relax control of the Internet mean music fans can now access thousands of tunes on the YouTube video-sharing website.

For most of Myanmar’s population, however, pop means street corner stalls selling pirated copies of films and music videos.

Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein described piracy as “uncontrollable”, with fake copies of her videos undercutting sales of her albums, which retail for around $2.

She said piracy legislation would be the “first step” to normalising copyright laws — which could dramatically change her repertoire — and is hopeful that the move could help build a music industry with enough money to support new artists and original songwriting.

Douglas Long, editor of the entertainment section at the Myanmar Times, said unchecked piracy meant “you don’t have producers who are willing to back bands and film projects.

“It would be nice to see a system here where bands feel more comfortable breaking new ground or creating a distinct Myanmar scene,” he said.

One act trying to forge its own sound is the Me N Ma Girls, a five member girl band who write their own songs in English and Burmese, including one urging Myanmar’s diaspora around the world to return and help development.

Their Australian manager Nikki May, who is based in Myanmar, hopes that by creating its own music the band will find it easier to flourish on the world stage, without getting in trouble for singing unauthorised covers.

“If there are copyright issues (musicians) are never going to be able to get outside Myanmar so they’re never going to be able to represent their country,” she said.

The band says other artists have now started to say they will focus on original material in the future.

“The big stars are starting to do it so it will be easier to influence the new ones,” said 21-year-old Ah Moon.

Me N Ma Girls have seen a lighter-touch censorship as reforms swept the country in the last year — meaning they were the first act to be allowed to wear coloured wigs in their videos.

But their attempt to blend tight traditional costumes with energetic Western-style dance moves continues to pose a logistical challenge.

Getting a gig is also difficult in the conservative country, where women playing in bars is equated with the sex industry, said May.

It is not just the girl bands that struggle to play live, with only a handful of venues permitted to host concerts and support upcoming acts.

“Now we have a lot of new bands waiting for the opportunities to play,” said Darko C, the lead singer of indie rock group Side Effect, who cite nineties grunge legends Nirvana as their greatest inspiration.

The band recently made headlines after an American website refused to send them the nearly $3,000 raised through an online appeal to release their debut album, fearing to do so would breach US sanctions.

Side Effect — whose drumless drummer Tser Htoo practises on piles of books at home — are rarely paid for gigs and Darko C, who describes sanctions as “lame” because they hurt ordinary people, runs a small tailor shop to get by.

He said the band was committed to playing from the “heart” and laid down a challenge to the country’s copy stars.

“You have this great vocal, but you are not Shakira or Lady Gaga, or Jon Bon Jovi or Green Day, so who are you? Show me what you’ve got!”