Bridging musical barriers

26 March 2015
Bridging musical barriers
JAM IT! - Yangon's new open musical scene. Photo: Mizzima

A year ago, residents of villages near Yangon’s Tharkayta Bridge called the police when a group of punk rockers arrived at a warehouse.
“We were about to be arrested,” said musician Ye Ngwe Soe, of the punk band, No u Turn.
He now laughs about the independent initiative to provide a venue for Myanmar’s young punk musicians.
The warehouse concert, he said, was already a step up from the impromptu sessions at the first Jam It! concert in Yangon’s Kandawgyi Lake Park.
“People thought we were mad,” said Ye Ngwe Soe of the day four bands gathered for a raucous blend of voices and sounds from their electric guitars.
Build it and they will come
Parks meant freedom to the struggling punk musicians who could not get bookings in Yangon’s clubs and did not have the money to produce albums.
Punk is not yet considered a popular music genre in Myanmar. “Therefore, producers do not invite us in consideration of their profits,” said Ye Ngwe Soe.
The Jam It! concerts skirted closed gates and went straight to its public. The initiative is mobile, very much like the generation that rules the digital age.
Have songs, will jam. Have music, will roll. The bands behind Jam It! broke down the walls of anonymity and took to the social media highway.
“Jam” is a celebration of that can-do, in-the-moment spirit that swirls through the global independent music scenes.
Ye Ngwe Soe said the Jam It! Concert concept expanded its engagement and influence without the big arenas.
No luminous stages. No over-produced numbers. No glam. No glitz. And no tickets.
Word got around about a free musical treat. As the Kandawgyi jams attracted more fans, the founders of the initiative decided to scout for alternative venues.
Musical bridge
Jam It! became the bridge that allowed musicians and fans to commune and rock out, in real time.
Ye Ngwe Soe said the concert concept also bridges different music genres, such as Hip Hop and Punk, that almost simultaneously appeared in Myanmar in about 2000.
The founders of Jam It! first performed punk and rock music. Hop-hop underground groups bought into their vision and joined them.
Fans of these two types of music have clashed in the past. Jam It! has built friendships among music fans.
“When you visit a Jam it! show, you might see an unfamiliar scene. Young fans with varieties of punk hairstyles reciting rap songs, in hip-hop fashion and singing punk songs,” said Ye Ngwe Soe.
“We are young generation. We need no constraints and restrictions on music types,” said Ye Ngwe Soe, who has many friends in hip-hop groups.
After just a year, Jam It!’s punk bands have been joined by hip hop groups Cyclone, PBD Hood, One Way and YAK.
Punk and hip-hop remain alternative genres in Myanmar. But Jam It! now has more than a thousand followers on social media. Hundreds flock to its concerts and events.
Just do it
Technology has brought down the cost of producing music for the public. Young musicians no longer have to languish as they wait for that big break, said Ye Ngwe Soe.
This should spur creativity, he added.
“We often hear requests (from starting musicians who have made a draft album) for help in contacting show organizers. I want to say to them that they can start their music career at any time and any space.”
The founders of the Jam It! concept are not content with domestic success, said Ye Ngwe Soe.
“Jam It! has become popular and won the interest of international music bands. We will try to win global recognition in the future.”
The musical network is an open platform. Even its fund-raising activities are collaborative.
Jam It! is exhibiting posters, prints and postcards for sale to raise money for a compilation album promoting Myanmar’s underground music scene.
The photographers who conbtributed to the effort include IMA, Ko Aye Say, Hein Htet, Greg Holland, Jeroen De Bakker and Myo Naing.
All it takes today for Myanmar’s musicians are talent and confidence and a hunger to share their creations with the public.
Jam It! provides the space they need to nurture their talent, said Ye Ngwe Soe.
This Article first appeared in the March 19, 2015 edition of Mizzima Weekly.
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