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Friday, January 22, 2021

Myanmarese Folk Satire in Daryaganj

A few weeks before the recent ­historical by-elections in Myanmar,some 30 Myanmarese exiles had gathered in a rundown studio in Daryaganj,in old Delhi.

Written by Tashi Tobgyal | New Delhi | April 22, 2012 1:30:41 am

A few weeks before the recent ­historical by-elections in Myanmar,some 30 Myanmarese exiles had gathered in a rundown studio in Daryaganj,in old Delhi.

A few weeks before the recent ­historical by-elections in Myanmar,some 30 Myanmarese exiles had gathered in a rundown studio in Daryaganj,in old Delhi. Dressed in their traditional attire of sarong and shirt,the motley group — a security guard,a trinket seller,a former rickshaw puller,and journalists working with exiled media organisations such as Thailand-based magazine Irrawaddy News and Delhi-headquartered multimedia firm Mizzima — had assembled for the recording of a thangyat,a traditional folk song with issue-based lyrics.

Over traditional Myanmarese tea and food,which comprised mutton,dal and vegetables,they engaged in animated discussions over the lyrics of the thangyats they were to compose. The songs were an appeal to people in Myanmar to unite to vote for the right candidate,but their lyrics were tinged with scepticism over the ­junta’s “hidden” political intentions and the Thien Sien government’s “farcical” reforms.

A thangyat is meant to be satirical,taking a critical look at contemporary political and social systems. These songs have been banned in Myanmar since 1988,but the Myanmarese diaspora has kept them alive,recording CDs of songs that mock at or lament the junta rule,and smuggling them into the country. More recently,they have been uploading videos of their recordings on YouTube. Some 2,000 DVDs of the thangyats recorded in the Daryaganj studio were reportedly smuggled into Myanmar just a week before the elections.

Traditionally,the thangyats are recorded a few weeks before Thingyan,the annual water festival held every year in the country in April. The songs are composed and recorded in countries with a sizeable Myanmarese presence such as the US,Canada,Thailand,Malaysia,and India.

Every year for the last 15 years,Myanmarese exiles in Delhi have been getting together for the annual recording at the same studio,called “Max”. They book the studio on a Sunday or a public holiday,spending the day in bonding with each other and discussing politics over Myanmarese food. Slices of ginger mixed with bhujia are passed around,to keep their throats from becoming dry. It’s almost like a small party in exile.

The issues at hand are,of course,serious. Besides political commentary,this year’s thangyats also expressed concern about the environmental hazards of the proposed dams on the Irrawaddy and Chindwin river.

While composing the thangyats,the exiles are influenced by local music. For example,the thangyats composed in Delhi borrowed from the tune of Kolaveri Di,though they were set to traditional drums and cymbals.

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