The cold weather in Yangon on January 12 was a real test for fans of Daw Mar Mar Aye, who performed an open-air concert on that night at People’s Square Park.
Concert-goers had to weight their uncontrollable shivering against their love for the singer and against how much they longed to hear her songs performed live.
In this case, the cold lost the battle as most of the audience stayed until the end of the show.
It was a special occasion. Daw Mar Mar Aye, 70, performs traditional Myanmar music that some worry is headed for extinction. The famous singer left Myanmar for United Stated nearly 15 years ago, and returned to her home country for the first time on January 7. The concert was the first solo concert in her life.
The concert kicked off about 30 minutes after the promised 7pm start time. Comedian Zaganar, one of the presenters for the evening, said, “It is a reward for the country to see Daw Mar Mar Aye back under the shadow of Shwedgon Pagoda.”
Daw Mar Mar Aye also addressed the crowd before she started performing.
“I’m so happy to see you all. While I was out of this country I didn’t forget the songs or all my friends,” she said, adding that for many years she had been eager to perform live with a complete orchestra, as she would do later in the evening.
Daw Mar Mar Aye told the audience that although she might look good physically, she was in reality a person who felt damaged inside.
“My heart has been troubled for 14 years and now it is old. I’m a different person now, and I can’t compare with the previous Mar Mar Aye. But I will try my best to perform, as this is my deepest desire,” she said.
She appeared tired during her speech, but if audience members wondered whether she would be able to last through the concert, those doubts were swept away as soon as she started singing.
Soon after the concert started, I heard people behind me remarking that she was a very skilful singer. “Her voice is still as good as it ever was,” one of them said.
The atmosphere was quite different from the Western-style concerts now common in Yangon, where the music is loud and the audience is young and energetic. Here, the biggest fans were middle-aged and elderly people, some of whom were in tears and others were happily singing along.
During the concert Daw Mar Mar Aye was joined onstage by her son and daughter, as well as her grandchildren. They helped her sing “That Tant Paw Mar Kasar Mae” (Play on the Rainbow), the breakthrough song that first brought her to the public’s attention many years ago.
Also joining her onstage were Wine Lamin Aung and May Thet Htar Swe, two children who won many gold medals at the annual nationwide Traditional Music Competition.
A highlight of the show was Daw Mar Mar Aye’s performance of “The Nwe, The Moe, The Saung” (This Summer, This Rainy Season, This Winter), which she had originally performed with the now-deceased actor Win Oo. At the concert she was joined by singer Daw Tin Tin Mya and singer/actress Daw Cho Pyone.
Hin Thada Tun Yin also performed with the host, and told the audience that Daw Mar Mar Aye’s return “gives strength to the community of traditional Myanmar musicians”.
“Our national TV channels always broadcast Korean drama series, and our traditional music in now in the back row. But I would like to tell the audience tonight that our traditional music will still be here 50 or 100 years from now,” he said.
Pianist Mg Hla Aye conducted the music for the concert, which included more than 30 songs and lasted until 1:30am.
The day after the show, Daw Mar Mar Aye told The Myanmar Times that she tried her best to perform despite some technical difficulties.
“There was a problem with the microphone, so I wasn’t satisfied with the sound system,” she said.
“But I was happy with the performance, and most of the audience left only after the concert was finished. I was very happy that they stayed until the end, even though it was very cold and very late. I would like to say ‘thank you’ to them,” she said.