Myanmar’s first girl band pushes limits of censors,and parents

Me N Ma Girls battles parents,censors,boyfriends who think it is outrageous that they go onstage in skimpy outfits

Written by New York Times | Yangon | Published:January 6, 2012 12:31 am

With their sensual choreography and provocative outfits,the five members of Myanmar’s first girl band are pushing the limits of artistic acceptability in this socially conservative country.

But when their parents call,asking why they are still not home at 10 pm,the band members scurry back to their lives as deferential daughters.

“We are living two different lives,” said Lung Sitt Ja Moon,who is known onstage as Ah Moon and is the daughter of a Baptist minister. “We do what we want to do onstage,and then we go home to our parents.”

The band is called Me N Ma Girls,a play on “Myanmar girls.” They are battling conservative parents,a censorship board and boyfriends who think it is outrageous that they go onstage in such skimpy outfits.

Myanmar is emerging after years of dictatorial military rule and isolation. There is talk that the government’s censorship board,which vets songs,articles and movies,will be abolished. As the country feels its way back into the Asian mainstream politically and culturally,the old Myanmar of government-sanctioned art and traditional,ankle-length sarongs is being challenged by the prospect of more Western-inspired entertainment,clothing and lifestyles. “People think that if a girl is wearing something too sexy,she’s not normal. They think she’s a bad girl,” said Ah Moon,whose father is still grappling with her career choice.

The members of Me N Ma Girls often arrive at their rehearsals dressed in traditional outfits before changing into denim shorts and tank tops — clothing that would raise eyebrows on the streets of Yangon.

Me N Ma Girls released their first album in December and have been raising their profile with a string of concerts in Yangon in recent weeks.

The band is a creation of Nicole May,an Australian dancer who came to Myanmar three years ago and handpicked five girls from 120 candidates who responded to an advertisement.

In other countries,pop musicians are dogged by drug abuse,chased by paparazzi,embroiled in sex scandals.

The members of Me N Ma Girls,all of whom are in their early 20s,have a different set of problems: The power regularly goes out in one of their practice venues,and the roof leaks when it rains. The censors express various objections — the band was barred from using colored wigs last year. But then,“tipping” the censors helps the process along. “We try our best to be hot,but not too sexy,” said Wai Hnin Khaing,another band member.

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