Download The girls are coming! After decades of military dictatorship, here’s another voice to emerge from Burma.
Please welcome Me N Ma Girls – a Burmese singing-and-dancing girl band attracting international attention.
These five young talented young women in their 20s aren’t just singing and dancing – but also pushing social and political boundaries.
Citra Dyah Prastuti follows them in Rangoon.
“Welcome to Burma” –sing the five young performers from Me N Ma Girls.
Like the lyrics to this song say, they want to be “just like any other girl in the world”.
They sing in both English and Burmese, and in the song’s video clip on YouTube wear a mix of traditional and modern clothes.
Me N Ma Girls want to break new ground in Burma’s music scene.
Htike Htike explains what makes their band different.
“Most of the songs are written by us and some are written by famous composers in Burma. Before our country’s President hasn’t changed, we must only write love song and sad song. Sad songs are easy to remember. But now, people emphasis to democracy and politics, that’s why after the President is changed, laws are changed, we can write songs about politics. The mind and the eyes are open, we can write and we say everything we like. We have freedom of speech.”
The band came together in 2010, when Australian dancer Nikki May decided to help form a Burmese version of the British group Spice Girls, and organised auditions.
She’s now the band’s manager.
They hired a producer who called them “The Tiger Girls”, and they covered other people’s songs.
But they wanted to do more. So last year they split with their producer and started up Me N Ma Girls.
The group’s name is a play on words – in English meaning ‘me and my girls’, which also sounds like the other name for Burma, Myanmar.
Last December they realeased their first album titled “Minga Lar Par” or “Welcome” in Burmese.
The band members meet once a week to rehearse at their manager’s Rangoon home.
But today the electricity is off.
Hitke Hitke again.
“It’s much more better than the previous years. We usually had the definite time when the electricity is on and off. But now it’s really rare not to have electricity. Most of the time we have electricity, but sometimes it’s off. (Like now?) Like this.”
They have to practice without any backing music – singing and dancing in front of a huge mirror.
They’ve captured international media attention with their performances – but popularity at home is still at an early stage.
“Our skin color is dark. In our country, people like white skin color and people like beautiful girls. And we’re not beautiful enough! (laughing) But we can sing beautifully! It’s a little bit difficult. But all the things that we’re doing is for our country. We want to show the world this is Me N Ma girls, that Myanmar girls are like any other girls in the world!”
There’s more to these girls than singing and dancing.
Htike Htike studied computer science, and Cha Cha holds a bachelor’s degree in zoology.
Ah Moon meanwhile studied the Russian language and Wai Hnin Khaing is a chemistry graduate.
Kimmy moved from Burma’s poorest Chin state to Rangoon to study mathematics – and anything else she loved.
“I also attend music school to learn music theory. But I’m not finished yet. I learn both mathematic and music theory at the same time and I also learn piano. But I don’t have time anymore. I learn to dance too. I want to do so many things! I want to improve myself.
All five come from different parts of the country and follow different religions.
Ah Moon comes from Kachin state.
“Sometimes I forget that I’m a Kachin girl. That’s true. I just want to be human – not Kachin, not Burmese, not American, not Australian, just human. That’s why I can say what’s on my mind. When I write, I feel like all the other girls in the world. When I write a political song, I feel like the rest of Myanmar people, not as a Kachin girl.”
Their new song is called ‘Come Back Home’ – it’s a call to millions of Burmese who fled to escape military repression and poverty.
Ah Moon co-wrote the song.
“There should be more political songs like this. There have been songs like this but they’re banned. And right now here’s the freedom of speech, we dare to write about this freely. And we dare to say it freely. It’s freedom of everything, it’s freedom of Myanmar people. And we’re just saying that Myanmar people from abroad to come back home, where your relatives are, and where the places are needing you.”
She already has another song ready for their next album.
Called ‘War’, it criticizes the civil conflict still going on in her home state Kachin.
It’s not easy for the girls to convince their families that they can survive just performing music.
Cha Cha says she decided to follow what she loved doing.
“At first my parents did not allow me to have this artist life. My father wants me to become a business woman, but I’m not interested. I love singing and dancing, so that’s why I choose my way. My dream comes true...nearly. Now I want to go to Hollywood with this girlband.”
And this might no longer just a dream. The band’s in the international media spotlight, says Ah Moon, and has been offered the chance to record its next album in Los Angeles.
“They saw us. International media are focusing on us, they have such a great interest on us. They believe in us. If they don’t believe, they won’t do that. As Nikki our manager says, they believe in you and you have to try hard. If you’re not successful, what else? The worst thing is we are going to America, record there and come back here. You will not lose anything.”
Off stage though, they’re just the girls next door.
Cha Cha still has a curfew from her parents to be home before 7 at night.
“Ah yes! That’s right! Who told you? (laughing) Because my mom doesn’t like me arriving home late. That’s why if we have rehearsal before 7pm, I can come and rehearse with the others. They understand me.”
Ah Moon’s father is a Christian priest and her mother, Lu Nan, a housewife.
Lu Nan says she supports her daughter all the way.
“There are people who don’t approve of my daughter being a performer, like some of the people from the church. But my husband, as a reverend, doesn’t feel the same way. We just want her to do whatever she wants to do. We understand her passion to dance and to sing. We don’t want to be narrow in our attitudes, we want to support her.”
Like their football song “Kick It!” says... kick it hard girls!