JamIt!: Giving Myanmar musicians a stage

It’s 7pm on a hot, humid summer night in Yangon at a faded bowling alley on the outskirts of town. Out in the parking lot (a loose term as it’s overgrown with grass and weeds) gather forty Burmese youth dressed in everything from short skirts and heels to tight black ripped jeans with punk-inspired t-shirts. Inside, the tireless owner is scrambling to get some air-conditioning units kickstarted and bands are milling about with lukewarm beers. The doors open, the fans pay USD3 to enter, and the music kicks off. Eight bands play sets of 20-45 minutes each and the styles
could not be more varied, from a Portishead-inspired duo to a three-piece hip hop act with plenty of rock in between.

Welcome to JamIt!, a year-old project started by musicians Eaiddhi and Ye Ngwe Soe to provide opportunities for local unsigned, underground bands to play live. The concept was inspired by days when the two friends, in their younger days, would sit out on the street at night and strum their guitars with friends — but this time one notch up by choosing a more public location and inviting friends.

As Eaiddhi tells us, “We got this idea just to perform in public places like Kan Daw Gyi park with our acoustic guitars and invite some friends. It’s more like a party. Just like the old times when we were young playing guitars in the streets and that’s what all the young Myanmar people do.”

Since that first gathering a year ago, JamIt! has quickly grown from its humble roots. The first show drew just twenty fans but recently shows are drawing a crowd of around 300. The frequency of the shows has increased and the variety of acts is growing. Myanmar fans are taking note and grateful for the opportunities that JamIt! is creating.

One fan, Py Soe, stated that, “There are many underground bands in Myanmar… and I think they should get the chance to play to an audience. JamIt! can give them what they want.”

The challenges of organising concerts are immense: there are few venues in Yangon willing to host live bands, power supplies are irregular, sound equipment is expensive, sponsorship is virtually impossible to come by and getting the word out to new potential fans is tough. Yet Eaiddhi and Ye Ngwe Soe power on and the hard work is certainly paying off. One cannot help but be impressed with the quality of what they are putting together.

When asked about what it takes to stay motivated, Eaiddhi replies: “Despite the frustrations, I love doing it and I really enjoy it. Me and Ye Ngwe Soe always talk about this: when we’re growing old, we still don’t want to go and hear this same old shit. There’s gotta be places and bands we can go and see for real, good music. This is part of our dream too. One band can’t create scene, if we are together this is something.”

JamIt! is just one example of the growing push by the younger generation to promote creativity and free expression. The arts scene has taken off and the entertainment sector is liberalising and expanding — compared to three years ago, Yangon’s events calendar has exploded. New multi-purpose spaces such as Pansodan SceneDeitta Gallery and TS-1 are hosting theatre, music and exhibits while organisations such as ‘FAB’, an LGBT events group, and Myanmore, an online portal, are driving the social scene.

Whilst some of the ‘new’ Myanmar projects aim for financial benefits, JamIt! simply wants to promote talented musicians to more fans. They sum it up by saying, “None of these underground bands become rich from playing music. We are not trying to make money but we need money to make music. We hope that if can make more gigs happen, the bands could get more and more fans and it would also be a place to get more albums out.”

By Anne Cruickshanks