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World Music CD Reviews South Asia


Published April 19, 2006

Harp And Vocal Music Of Burma
Smithsonian Folkways

The royal courts of central Burma (now known as Myanmar) produced a very prestigious and refined form of classical song called thachin gyi. Like other such traditions, this is highly nuanced and restrained music not meant for the masses. In fact, its very survival is in doubt. The music was almost lost when Mandalay fell to British rule in 1885, but an effort is now being made to revitalize this musical legacy. Mahagita features Inle Myint Maung (who died in September 2001), playing the arched harp, and Daw Yi Thant, a vocalist and former student of Maung’s. The selections tend to be long (an average of nine minutes or so) and include songs of longing, as well as of kingly praise. Several allude to the beauty of the forest. Yi Yi Thant has an impressive vocal range and sings with precision while the harp often repeats the vocal lines and melismas, sometimes with embellishments. This music is probably of limited appeal, even in Burma, though not because it lacks elegance.