Monday, January 7, 2013

Jason Mraz mixes education, entertainment for 70,000 turnout

Jason Mraz mixes education, entertainment for 70,000 turnout  
By Nuam Bawi | Monday, 24 December 2012
Around 70,000 music fans flocked to People’s Square east of Shwedagon Pagoda on Sunday, December 16 to enjoy a concert by two-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, supported by a cast of some of Myanmar’s most accomplished musicians. The crowd estimate was according to a press statement released by the concert’s organisers, MTV Exit, the day after the event, which was aimed at not only entertaining the audience, but also educating people about issues related to human trafficking.
At a press conference held at Summit Parkview Hotel a few hours before the concert started, Mraz said he has had some experience working with survivors of human trafficking, and he felt it was “important” to be part of the concert in Yangon.
“We are expecting about 50,000 people today, and who knows how many more — hundreds of thousand, millions of people — will watching the programs, series and documentaries that will follow,” he said.
“If the people see that, they can say, ‘I know what that is now’ or ‘I’ve seen that this is happening’. People are waking up every day to the issue [of human trafficking].”
He added that after he goes back to the US, the experience of playing in Yangon will stick with him for a long time.
“It’s going to stick with me, what we will be able to accomplish here today. I’ll be able to tell people about the things I saw and music I heard. The story will be told and more people will know about this place. And those are the best souvenirs.”
The excitement generated by the concert was obvious even before the gates opened at 4pm, as a big crowd gathered of people keen to secure places close to the huge stage.
Among the local musicians who performed were R Zarni, Lynn Lynn, Sai Sai Kham Hlaing, Phyoe Gyi, Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein, Chit Thu Wai and Chan Chan, with backing music provided by The Trees.
Slot Machine from Thailand played about six songs, while Mraz and his band belted out more than 10 tunes, ending with “I’m Yours”, his most famous song among Myanmar fans.
The huge crowd was generally enthusiastic about the show.
“No world-famous singers come to Myanmar, so I was curious to see what kind of performances there would be at this concert,” audience member Htut Myat Thu told The Myanmar Times at the venue
“Up to now I’ve only seen these kinds of concerts on TV. This is the biggest concert I’ve ever seen in my country. I’m so excited.”
He added that it was the first time for Myanmar singers to perform alongside a world-famous act, which revealed some of the weaknesses of the local music scene.
“There are many differences in the level of performance between local singers and international acts. I hope the local singers can do better next time,” he said.
On Tuesday, December 18, just before he left Yangon, Mraz toured Shwedagon Pagoda, met with survivors of human trafficking and filmed with MTV EXIT for an upcoming television special.
The Yangon concert will be broadcast internationally on MTV on Wednesday, March 13, 2013
People’s Square earns its name following Jason Mraz crowd
What initially attracted me to the Jason Mraz concert in Yangon on Sunday, December 16 was the fact that tickets were free, and the venue was within easy walking distance of my apartment in Sanchaung’s Myaynigone ward.
But there were a few other pleasant surprises along the way, including the rare opportunity to walk down the middle of Pyay Road (closed to traffic for the event) without getting run over by an out-of-control bus; and the chance to guzzle as many litres as I desired of free Coca Cola at the concert, as long as I was willing to wade through the ever-deepening piles of discarded soft-drink cups to get a refill.
I arrived just before 6pm, ignoring the skuzzy scalpers selling free tickets for K2000 each, squeezing through the tiny crack in the front gate of People’s Square, and entering one of the most spectacular concert venues on the planet, with the illuminated Shwedagon Pagoda supplying the dramatic backdrop.
Chan Chan was the first performer, and she turned out to be one of the highlights of the first group of singers, most of whom delivered two songs each. Chan Chan made a dramatic entrance with a group of lotus-bearing dancers, and won over the crowd in her normal way: with her nice voice, nice smile and nice pop songs.
The entertainment then took a precipitous dive into a trench of sub-middling sluggishness, kicked off by Sai Sai and his tepid brand of hip-hop lite. At best he can be considered Myanmar’s answer to DJ Jazzy Jeff, but his appearance managed to grab the attention of the small gaggle of 12-year-old girls standing in front of me.
Chit Thu Wai was up next — she’s the antithesis of the angry young woman, with a sweet face and sour voice that together make her the poster child for why actors shouldn’t assume they are good singers just because they’ve been on TV.
 Gifted singer-songwriter Lynn Lynn went onstage next, shining an all-too-brief beam of light into the dimness. It’s a shame that a real musician such as Lynn Lynn was allowed to perform only one song while lesser talents were accorded more respect by the concert’s organisers.
Singer Phyoe Gyi marked a return to the forgettable. There was one song about a radio or something, but the toothless quality of the music ensured the complete absence of any lasting impression. 
Local diva Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein spearheaded the ascent from the trench. As usual, she took the stage born aloft on a platform and wearing one of her ultra-baroque outfits that have led lazy observers to compare her with Lady Gaga.

But there’s really no resemblance: Unlike Ms Gaga, the Myanmar singer dwells in a safe-for-the-whole-family realm where contentious social boundaries are not pushed, and raw sexuality is kept well under wraps — usually beneath dozens of metres of fabric that make up many of her costumes.

It’s also worth noting that outlandish costumes were a staple of Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein’s onstage persona for years before anyone anywhere in the world had ever heard of Lady Gaga.

As for her performance, Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein normally takes a while to get warmed up — her first song was plagued by flat spots and brave but failed attempts to hit some very low notes — but once she gets going, her voice becomes a remarkable, unrelenting force that has justifiably earned her the status of one of the greatest singers in the country.
R Zarni is another local entertainer with an awesome voice. He is a man who knows how to rock, in a 1980s glam-metal kind of way. Mark my words: If a big-name director ever makes a feel-good summer movie about the hunky, glamorous fighter pilots of the Myanmar Air Force, an R Zarni song will surely provide the rousing soundtrack as the final credits roll.
Then it was time to change the drum kit — thank god. The local tradition of having the same backing band (in this case The Trees) play throughout the night for a host of different vocalists is a real plague on Myanmar’s concert scene. Despite the constantly rotating singers, this practice results in an overall sameness to the music — after a few songs it all starts blending together.
So after a couple hours of musical uniformity, I was primed to hear the decidedly more robust sounds that emanated from the speakers when Slot Machine took the stage. These well-dressed lads from Bangkok are clear products of the New Romantic resurgence, and I wondered if their band name was intended as an homage to the Las Vegas-based group The Killers, who are an obvious influence.
The band delivered a decent performance, playing through a half-dozen likeable if unsurprising alt-rock songs, and demonstrating the virtues of putting sweat into developing the sort of solid stage presence that so many Myanmar bands seem to think is unimportant, to their detriment.
Musically speaking, Jason Mraz has never struck me as being all that special (I’m sure his mom, who according to the song “93 Million Miles” wants him to move back home, would disagree): His reggae-tinged pop tunes, while occasionally catchy, border on the redundant, and it can be difficult to stomach his “everything’s just super-awesome for everyone” spiel.
Still, it’s tough to sustain strong feelings of dislike for such an obviously swell guy, unless you’re a sociopath who drives around in a pickup truck looking for cats to shoot with your composite bow. I mean, props to anyone who gives shout-outs to the birds in roughly half his songs, and even the squirrels score a long-overdue mention in “Only Human”.
The duet with Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein on “Lucky” was a charming highlight of the hour-long set, and a few of the more upbeat songs had the audience swaying their torsos and waving their arms to the sensible rhythms.
The musicianship throughout the set was nearly flawless, and the band undoubtedly brought a level of professionalism to the stage previously unseen in Myanmar. Perhaps this will inspire local acts to tighten up and improve their game.
 Above all else, though, there was something very moving about seeing such a concert in People’s Square.
Up to 2005 — before the grand opening of insta-capital Nay Pyi Taw — the big, open square east of Shwedagon saw use once a year, as the site of the cloistered and heavily guarded Armed Forces Day ceremony presided over by the militarists who misruled the country for too long.
 Back then, it would have been tough to imagine a group of musicians turning it into a space worthy of the name People’s Square, where tens of thousands of Myanmar could hear and applaud songs about freedom, revolution and self-realisation, without having to flee to another country to do so.

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