RMI: BURMA BONUS VIDEO / by Cyrus Moussavi

Our Raw Music International: Burma episode dropped last week, and many people asked me about the father-daughter duo who featured prominently in the video. 

They are Saw Pa and his daughter Naw Pa. They live in the Karen (Kayin) state in the hills of eastern Burma, several hours north of the capital Hpa-An.  It's a region rarely visited by foreigners and very close to ongoing fighting between the Burmese state and the various militia groups (ostensibly for self-determination, but also for trade routes and resources). 

Saw Pa and Naw Pa played seven songs that day, but this one stuck out.  I was surprised when Naw Pa craned her neck and let out that first high note.  I love the way they look at each other and the way she keeps her composure despite her nerves.  The song had a different melody, too, and they seemed to sing it with more ease.  Saw Pa said they wrote the song together, a rarity among traditional musicians in the region who usually play variations of folk classics.  I asked them to sing it twice, and this video splices together those performances. 

Burma has so many languages and dialects that translating this song took months.  My friend in Iowa, Tun Than, comes from a nearby village and speaks Sgaw Karen, the language in the video. But the dialect is different, and even he had trouble with some of the words.  I combined his translation with another I got from a nonprofit group in Burma and came up with this.  I'm not surprised that the song is about ethnicity and language. The Karen have been at war with the Burmese government since 1948, fighting to keep control of their villages and culture.  It's a history that, even in this idyllic setting, you can't escape.  


The Karen love our language

It reappears at Kaw Taw city

Like the early morning sun , bringing light to the shadows

From mother to child, generation to generation,

Our master (God) rediscovered it

And spread the Karen language far and wide

Our ancient language appears to shine in the soft air


The ancient Karen language

Shines with power over all

Our master shared this language

Dear brothers and sisters

Hold hands and learn together


To keep the Karen language alive,

The Karen people must love and keep it

This is our real language

When we get education we will have power

And the Karen language will shine and rule the land