Burmese Musician Win Maw: The Creator of Golden Melodies
“When the music is out of time, the rhythm is destroyed. When the timing isn’t right, the flavor of the curry is destroyed. In politics, when the timing is wrong, the image of the whole country is destroyed. The timing in politics is to do the right thing at the right time.”
- In Burma if you want to hear about issues the newspapers can’t talk about, you should go to a tea shop. Tea houses were where I used to meet with other activists, writers and artists, as well as where I built friendships. Within tea houses we talked about Burmese writers, literary trends we noticed, and, of course, politics. This online space attempts to emulate the conversations I enjoyed in Rangoon’s tea houses.
- Khet Mar is a journalist, novelist, short story writer, poet, and essayist from Burma. She is the author of one novel, Wild Snowy Night, as well as several collections of short stories, essays and poems. Her work has been translated into English and Japanese, been broadcast on radio, and made into a film. She is a former writer-in-residence at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh.
My friend Win Maw, a musician and video journalist, said this to his daughter Khin Suu Kyi. On January 5th she quoted him in an open letter to Thein Sein, the president of Burma, asking for his release from prison.
In 1981 Win Maw entered the music industry as the lead guitar player and band leader of Shwe Thansin (Golden Melody). When Golden Melody was banned from the airwaves he became the leader of the band A-Lin-Kar. On November 18, 1996, during a touristic campaign that the government called “Visit Myanmar Year,” Win Maw was arrested by the military government. He was sentenced to six years in prison for writing songs in support of Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
In 1991 Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. University students, including myself, protested for her liberation and the release of other political prisoners. As a result I was imprisoned. A few months after I left prison, Cherry, a friend I met in jail, passed away. As soon as I returned home from her funeral I wrote a story called “Fragranceless Journey.”
Win Maw read the story in prison and, based on it, he wrote a song called “Cherry.” In 2005 The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) released an album of political songs that included Win Maw’s “Cherry.”
After his release in 2002 Win Maw and I became friends. Throughout the years I was able to see that Win Maw was very soft and gentle, but he was also strong in his beliefs.
In 2007, during the Saffron Revolution, which was led by Burma’s monks, Win Maw became a video journalist. His images informed the world about the suffering happening at the hand of the military government. Later his and other video journalists’ stories were profiled in the documentary Burma VJ, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2010.
Because of his video journalism, Win Maw was arrested again in 2007. However, that didn’t stop him from creating music, and the Singapore-based group Freedom to Create awarded him the Freedom to Create Imprisoned Artist Prize in 2011. Freedom to Create explained why they recognized him: “Win Maw expresses the political views of the Burmese people with his music, which provides a rallying point for the masses during the numerous political upheavals in Myanmar.”
In 2010, Win Maw received the Kenji Nagai Memorial Award, named for the Japanese journalist who was shot by the military government during the Saffron Revolution. The Japanese news agency AFP and the Burma Media Association (BMA) sponsored the award.
“If video journalists like Win Maw did not take the risk of filming, the world would never know the details of the cruel crackdown that occurred during the Saffron Revolution,” said Thar Gyi, who was also imprisoned with Win Maw during his first time in jail.
On January 13, 2012, five days after Khin Suu Kyi sent the letter to Thein Sein, Win Maw returned home. The family was reunited as a result of the government’s fourth amnesty for prisoners.
“I took responsibility for the country as a musician. Then, when my country needed me again, I took responsibility as a video journalist. In the future, if my country needs me as a musician, or as a video journalist, or in any other way, I will take that responsibility.” These were Win Maw’s words when I talked to him on the phone the day after he was released from jail. Today there is no doubt from those who know him, myself included, that he will take on whatever responsibility he needs to.
Translation: Courtney Wittekind