Call it social responsibility. Famous Myanmar singer Ma Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein appears to be taking a different tack with her new solo album released in April entitled, ‘Thou Shalt Be Remembered’.
“It came out earlier than planned, because the fans were too eager to hear the new album,” Ma Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein said. She is seated next to a large banner showing the cover of her new album on which the rock star wears a dashing black and red outfit.
With her new album, Ma Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein wants to bring a message to her fans. “People have long forgotten that we will be remembered by what we do in our lives,” she said about the title of her new album.
“What we choose do to, be a good person, a bad person or a hero depends on how you behave and how you treat the people around you. It’s a reminder,” she said.
She explained that when Bogyoke Aung San died, he was remembered as a hero. State leaders like Hitler of Nazi Germany, who was responsible for millions of deaths, would be remembered for the crimes they committed against other people.
So how would the artist herself like to be remembered?
“I would like to be remembered as an artist who takes her own responsibility,” Ma Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein said after carefully pondering her answer.
Making this album is a contribution to that responsibility. The songs on her new album are different from the songs she used to sing. “The songs are about the daily conditions and suffering of most of the people, not for that little 1 per cent of the country,” she said.
It was a challenge for Ma Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein to release the album and she is convinced that, if she had released it a few years ago, there would have been repercussions. The songs and the messages within them is what drives the album and Ma Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein thinks that her fans will support her.
“Millions of people are with me. They agree with the messages and the songs,” she said. She emphasised how much she owes to her fans for continuing to support her, even at times when the military government refused to broadcast her live shows because of her songs, outfits and even her voice.
Photos of her in extravagant outfits were never shown. Mostly she remembers the song she used to sing about the drug ‘Phensidyl’. For years, the song was not broadcast on state television and she was pressured to change the lyrics. Though the song was about a girl who was very much against the drug, because her boyfriend was addicted to it, the military did not allow her to sing the original until 2010.
Her confidence was another thorn in the eye of the regime that wanted her to behave more conventionally. “They banned a 10-second commercial because they said it was over-confident,” Ma Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein said.
“I am grateful for my fans, who continued to stand with me,” she said.
In the traditional environment of Myanmar, the way the singer, who was educated as a medical doctor, behaved on stage and the way she dressed was too much for the regime. In addition, she is certainly extravagant. It is for good reason that people call her the Lady Gaga of Myanmar.
Her outfits are designed by her sister. “Sometimes I think she designs them to see if I dare to wear them,” Ma Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein confides.
For herself, she never quite saw the similarity between herself and the American singer who wore a meat dress to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. However, this changed after Ma Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein had a chance to see the singer she had been compared to so often when Lady Gaga performed in Amsterdam last September. Just days after Ma Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein herself had performed in the Netherlands during the MasterPeace concert, a concert for peace with artists from conflict-affected countries, Lady Gaga held a solo concert in Amsterdam.
“After watching her, I understood the comparison. It was the connection between her and her fans, it was amazing,” Ma Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein said. “She’s a world famous music star and we have different music styles, but I believe they compare the effects of transportation and transformation at a concert, the ability to do that to an audience.”
As one of the most famous rock stars in Myanmar, Ma Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein is an inspiration to many young girls. She says she has her parents to thank for much of her success, because they raised her and her sister to be confident and honest.
“What we learned was from out parents, not in school,” Ma Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein said.
The quality of the education system in Myanmar deteriorated steeply under the mismanagement of the military.
“Even though I am trained to be a doctor here, we cannot learn what other medical students around the world can learn. For example, we have copied books, and each batch has as much as 200 medical students. We cannot be like other medical students around the world,” she said.
Asked what kind of message she had for young girls in Myanmar, who feel bound by tradition, she said, “I would like to encourage my girl fans to be confident, it comes from within. We should try to learn, grow intellectually, because it gives us confidence that nobody can take away from you.”
This Article first appeared in the May 21, 2015 edition of Mizzima Weekly.
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