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World Music CD Reviews South Asia

Nai Htaw Paing Ensemble

By Bruce Miller
Published April 3, 2007

Mon Music of Burma

Chances are, what few Westerners there are—or Easterners for that matter—who have any familiarity with the music of Burma gained it via Princess Nicotine, an often-shrill rollercoaster ride through the loops and valleys of Burmese folk/pop hybrids that were recorded some 30 years ago and recently re-released by Sublime Frequencies. It's now apparent, with the release of the Nai Htaw Paing Ensemble's new disc, that much of what makes Burmese music so wonderfully peculiar comes from the Mon people, who were historically dominant but are presently almost culturally extinct, as is their music. Featuring crocodile zithers, double reed Khanwes and xylophones, the Ensemble gives this centuries-old music, with its rhythmic auto pile-ups and mewling vocals, new life. Yet, as these beautiful, impossibly strange sounds have been threatened, not only by controlling Burmese forces, but by western pop influences, Mon Music of Burma is also an act of preservation.