The music of Burma on record (EAP592)

Aims and objectives

This project will safeguard the earliest but endangered recorded musical traditions of Burma, and in turn, offer an open access avenue through which the global community may enjoy and study those musical traditions.

The target materials, 78rpm records, date from those first produced by local Burmese recording companies in the early 1920s to the end of the 1950s. The recordings capture performances of centuries-old court, classical, dramatic, vocal, and folk music as traditions gave way to the “internationalising” of style and tuning towards solidification in the 1960s. With the earliest recordings pre-dating the stylistic changes that follow and the re-tuning of instruments to “international” standards during the 1960s, these recordings are significant as our only existing aural documentation of pre-industrial music in Burma. Further, there are no existing recording collections of any substantial size held outside of Burma. The project has identified 82 unique local companies that developed within Burma resulting from developmental training of local Burmese engineers and producers. Since few of these local companies still exist and production runs were extremely small, these are the most endangered of the target materials. Approximately 6,000 recordings will be digitised.

The urgency of the project is high due to a combination of difficult circumstances. Access to libraries and archives in Burma is extremely restricted and it is confirmed that the National Archives holds no significant amount of historical audio recordings and that the radio archive has been irrevocably damaged, first by decades of neglect, then abandonment when the capital was moved from Yangon to Naypyidaw, and finally from exposure during the Cyclone Nargis event of 2008. Therefore, this project relies wholly on recordings held among identified private collectors and stored in their private homes, in unprofessional conditions and vulnerable to long-term damage and decay.

Copies of the digital collection will be deposited with the Gitameit Music Center and Library in Yangon, the University of Washington, Southeast Asia Digital Library, and the British Library.