A celebration to honor 88-year-old veteran Mon ethnic leader, Nai Ngwe Thein, was held on October 31 at the Rahmonnya Hotel in Mawlamyine, Mon State. Nai Ngwe Thein, who is suffering from severe pain, led to improve nationalism, literary culture, music art, politics and educational development in Mon traditions for the youth throughout his life.
The interview with the Vice President of Mon Music Association, Nai Banya Aung, about Nai Ngwe Thein’s effort to develop modern Mon music and art, the contents of songs composed and his life.
TLT- It was learnt Sayagyi Nai Ngwe Thein plays a leader role to promote modern Mon traditional music. Could you talk about his efforts?
Naing Banya Aung – He made many milestones in Mon traditions. Around 1974, we transformed to the era of the studio. There, Saya Thein led to establish the Lia Hantha Band. After that, including Ko Kyan Yit, all of them were able to establish the Mon band under the guidance and leadership of Saya Thein. Lia Hantha Band is a studio era, like most Burmese music bands in Yangon, with their traditional instruments. There was Pharauk band before.
From the Pharauk Band to the Lia Hantha Band, we used electric guitars, piano and drums at that time and led by saya Thein.
There was no Mon band at that time. Lia Hantha Band is the beginning. It was the first Mon music band, and was led Saya Thein. He also composed Mon songs which play crucial role in the survival of Lia Hangtha Band. The previous Mon’s songs are not modern songs, only old songs.
Old songs were played with traditional instruments, not with guitars. It was impossible for young people to sing old songs played with piano. It became a studio band like a modern band that is popular among young people. I started playing Mon songs with the guitar, and in 1994, I started recording with the band Liahangtha, after that, other bands were also established.
More modern music bands have appeared gradually. There are many Mon music bands that play traditional Mon songs since the time of Sayargyi until now. He has turned to 88 in February. He is our master. We respect his in the field of Mon music. I have worked with him as a composer and musician under his guidance.
TLT – Sayargyi Nai Ngwe Thein mainly composed Mon songs, so what type of songs did he mainly compose?
Nai Banya Aung – Sayar Thein learned a little about xylophone and mandolin, but he couldn’t write melody. Saya Thein wrote the Song of ‘Goodness of Linka Mon’, about King Rajadhariz. It was a biopic of the king in Mon language.
These songs are written in ancient Mon literature and are the classical songs. He is the only one who can write great Mon songs. No one can write like him.
He is a learned person of Mon literature. He also understand three languages Mon, Burmese and English. So, he can also write old songs and classical Mon songs.
And most of modern songs are copy songs. In Myanmar, modern songs are written with Mon language. These song are the satires on the era. Political songs reflect the current situation. These were also written in Mon language.
But these were submitted to the Press Scrutiny Board, and that there were strict restrictions for approval. Some of his songs were not approved by the board for publishing. Saya Thein wrote more than 55 or 60 Mon songs for Lia Hangtha. There are about 30 songs for other music production.
TLT: Which songs of Sayargyi Nai Nwa were the most famous? Could you talk about these songs?
Nai Banya Aung – Modern youth have not been born at that time. For example, around 1980, 85 and 90, his songs were very influential. When the stereo songs become popular, he wrote a song titled ‘Challenges for People’ about their difficulties in daily life, such as in travelling by trains.
These songs criticized the administration and socialism. The songs are the satires on situations. The youth liked the songs at that time.
In the year 2000, his songs were left in the past, and no more in this decade. But, some songs are used for cover songs.
TLT: What should the Mon Music Association do to preserve his songs?
Nai Banya Aung – We do not know any thorough discussion about this. His Lia Hangtha Band is still existing. His songs and the band are related each other. Our Mon Music Association has not discussed it.
Ko Kyan Yit is still performing in this music band. The songs written by the Saya Thein are possessed by Lia Hangtha band. Music lovers have stored and preserved these songs in their own ways personally, not by the association. Players of this band have the songs in original versions. These have been converted to mp3 format in many resources. It is needed to consider how to conserve these songs.
The songs were , not as an organization. The members of the band also have previous albums. Now it’s loaded with MP3 version. It is everywhere. I assume that they will think about how to go forward.
TLT – Could your talk about a short memoir of Sayargyi Nai Ngwe Thein, for example, some of his activities in arts?
Nai Banya Aung: Sayargyi created ‘We are the World’ into a Mon political song which was sung by seven Mon university students, including Ko Kyan Yit, Zaw Lat, Aymond, and Mon Chan, in 1990s.
It is very difficult to translate a political song into Mon language concisely and effectively. It is a famous song among Mon univesity students.
TLT: What is your memoir of Sayargyi Nai Ngwe Thein in conclusion?
Nai Banya Aung – He also reminded that we should not put our focus only on arts, especially among Mon community. Even also in love songs, we were advised not to highlight only on romance. We should also mention nationalistic idea and thought. I have chosen my professional as a composer as he is my icon. I am personally familiar with him. Saya Thein used to advise Mon modern youth to put national views into the songs.