Cowboys, Bubblegum, Acid Rock, Small Birds Making Mistakes, and Cultural Appropriations in Burma, Um, I Mean Myanmar.
Wow, another great disc from the boys over at Sublime Frequencies. This one is 64 minutes of music from Myanmar in the early 1970s, back when it was called Burma. They got all this music from old cassettes, and a good portion of the tracks have significant dropouts or wobbles, lending them that oh-so-real aura so prized by us world music obsessives. I don’t care much that the original five artists haven’t been compensated for this CD, but I also don’t care much about the label’s justification that the songs have been “forgotten” either, so distribute your ethics as you may.
It’s a lot to digest all at once, but it’s all fascinating. The songs that jump out are the ones by Saing Saing Maw, whose songs rock pretty hard in a serious garage-rockin’ acid rock style. “Lam Lah Lo May Shoke” sounds like Moby Grape doing a Kingston Trio song, and there is an INSANE drum solo during “Lah Ley Cham” that will rearrange the way you think about the western hegemony of the drum solo, if in fact you think about these things, which I hope you don’t, because life’s too short.
Country enthusiasts should jump all over the tracks by Lashio Thein Aung, who is also known as “Jimmy Jack” and “the Burmese Texan”—he twangs something fierce on “Don’t Say Goodbye” and the 1950s-styled duet “You Got What You Got,” although “A Girl Among Girls” sounds more like the Yangon Archies than George Jones. It would appear that bubblegum music was just as prevalent an influence as anything else the U.S. ever came up with. RON DANTE, REPRESENT!
There’s also a healthy dose of much more Asian-sounding tunes from the secluded opium fields of the Shan region, but even these are shot through with great psychedelic guitar lines and strange touches. “Naung Ywe”, by Khun Kan Chwain, borrows from Paul Anka’s “Diana”, which I didn’t see coming; “Nga Ley”, by Khun Kaung Kay Maung, is probably a lot closer to early Byrds, except mixed with Marty Robbins and the Moody Blues, if that makes any sense, which it doesn’t until you hear it, in which case you’ll see I’m right.
Oh, and there’s also a song called “Mistake of a Small Bird”, which sounds like Creedence Clearwater Revival covering the theme to the 1970s animated series Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. You have to respect that.
Will this teach any of us anything about Myanmar and its people? No, other than they made some kick-ass pop music 30 years ago. Is that a problem? No, it’s not.