Revealing The Heart: The Popular Music Industry In Yangon, Burma

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This dissertation is an ethnography of the Burmese popular music scene, which is centered in Yangon, Burma. The author attended concerts, rehearsals, recording sessions and music classes to develop the data discussed in the dissertation. She conducted seventy-seven individual interviews with members of the industry, including singers, instrument players, composers, studio owners, producers, managers, radio station employees and censors. In Chapter 1, she describes a typical recording session and then explains how the people there typify the larger Burmese pop music scene in terms of their gender, religion, career path, and their relationships to their fans, each other, and their government. She argues that musicians' frequent contributions to humanitarian causes are relevant to the ongoing debate about the development of civil society in Burma today. In Chapter 2, she describes a typical live show. She analyzes the kind of music that Burmese pop musicians create and describes their theories about music, showing that, for them, preserving the Anglo-American pop tradition is usually more important than creating innovative musical works. In Chapter 3, she explains the Burmese approach to learning and rehearsing music, showing that musicians' beliefs about talent mediate their rehearsal practices. Chapter 4 explains that, in Burma, musical recordings are distributed both via legal channels and by pirates, who pose -- according to industry members -- a tremendous threat to the industry. The author outlines the music distribution network using sociologist Richard A. Peterson's production perspective as a framework for the analysis. She argues that one of Peterson's most important contributions to the scholarship on cultural industries should be re-examined in light of the Burmese case. Chapter 5 offers a detailed look at the relationship between Burmese pop musicians and the government censors. The author shows that musicians use a variety of strategies to assert agency in the midst of the constraints imposed by the censorship system. She argues that scholar James Scott's ideas about power relationships, developed in studies of rural farmers, apply also to famous and influential musicians in Burma.

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