Myanmar culture evolves despite junta's tight grip

Tue Oct 26, 2010 9:25pm EDT
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YANGON (Reuters) - With their bold outfits, sharp dance moves and hip hop rhythms, Myanmar's "Tiger Girls" shatter the usual image of Burmese women and hint at social change in one the world's most authoritarian states.

Their growing following among Myanmar's youth after forming just eight months ago illustrates how popular culture is finding a way to flourish in Myanmar, where the first election in two decades next month is widely seen as rigged to consolidate army rule.

But their success also points to the limitations of art under a military junta.

Making it in Myanmar takes more than popular songs. It involves eschewing obvious political themes, and accepting constant interference and censorship by the authorities.

"Stop talking and start dancing," sings Wei Hnin Khine, better known to her fans as "Tricky," in one Tiger Girls song. "Use your hips, not your lips."

Female singers in the former Burma are traditionally more conservative and cautious, seldom veering from well-worn romantic ballads. Outfits are carefully layered to prevent glimpses of too much skin. Lyrics, almost always in Burmese, are less overtly Western influenced.

Not so the Tiger Girls.

While there's nothing obviously political or subversive about Tricky, Baby, Chilli, Electro and Missy rehearsing in a studio in the commercial capital Yangon, or performing on stage, the mere act of challenging conventions is rare in a country mired in a cultural slumber brought about by 48 years of military rule.

They're also not alone. Hip hop artist Thxa Soe is testing other limits. His most recent album saw nine of 12 songs banned by Myanmar's army-run censorship board.   Continued...

<p>Members of the Tiger Girls (L-R) Baby Tiger, Tricky Tiger, Electro Tiger and Missy Tiger rehearse for their upcoming live concert in their studio at Yangon September 17, 2010. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun</p>