Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Guitars of the Golden Triangle: Folk and Pop from Myanmar and Beyond 2 - V/A (Sublime Frequencies, 2005)

This collection of music from one of the most foggy and mysterious places on the globe is a great example of western influence on eastern cultures. It is interesting that the title of this compilation is focused on the golden triangle aspect of the region rather than what the music itself is about. Although the Golden Triangle does lend itself to shape the culture that surrounds the Mayanmar region. This music comes from the Shan State in Burma, which is known infamously for it's heavy production of heroin. It was the leader in opium trade and production from the 1920's through the 1980's, due to it's elevation in the mountainous part of Burma and the nature of addiction, business, lack of human rights and laws. The elusive Shan State is barely known by it's surrounding communities of Mayanmar, so to be able to listen to this music, it is a wonder of an experience. This country has one of the longest running civil wars in history after gaining independence from British rule in 1948 and then remained under military rule from the 1960's to 2010. The military was dismantled after a general election in 2010 and then came the introduction of Burma's civilian government.

The reason I introduced this review with a perspective overview of this area's sociological history is because it is important to keep in mind the perpetual struggle this culture has endured. It is not only amazing that this music was created in such austere circumstances but also that fact that we even have access to it from the other side of the world. So be sure to give props to your fellow ethno-musicological detectives for digging deep.

Ok, now about the music. Much of these songs were recorded in the early seventies and due to the limited sources of access to this culture and the destruction of much of the music, the recordings themselves are a bit worn and faded. Cassette tapes onto cassette tapes have been the only source of documenting these sounds. But that doesn't take anything from the music and the quality of creativity. Much of the music is stylized in western pop, country and their native folk music. Lots of organ and dinky drum rhythms with twangy sharp guitar melodies fill this compilation. Four or so artist comprise the comp, and I say “or so” because there is one unknown artist featured. As the music is fairly standard pop, it definitely presents itself with the impression of a haphazardly drugged out culture. Since I don't understand the lyrics, I can only get an idea of what the songs are about through the English translation of some of the song titles. Such as Khun Paw Yann's “Hopes and Goals” and “You got what you got” as well as Lashio Thein Aung's “Mistake of a small bird” and “Don't say goodbye”. I like to think some of these songs are either about love or philosophical thoughts about gracefully dealing with reality. I am not sure but that's the feeling I get. This music is truly a rare glimpse into a mysterious and forgotten culture. By researching this album, I find myself wondering how western music was able to influence this isolated area. I have heard that truckers that would do deliveries in this region would be listening to music in their vehicles and would share music with the people and in return, the people were influenced and inspired. I am not sure of the reliability of this notion, but it doesn't seem impossible. I hope you can enjoy this as much as I have.

--Sean Dail

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