The rarely recorded traditional music of the Mon people is vanishing
and endangered, highly developed, and barely known even to Asian
traditional music connoisseurs. Historically the Mon were a dominant,
highly cultured, and influential people in Burma more than a thousand
There are several instruments peculiar to the Mon. Most recognizable is
the Kyam (crocodile zither), a 3-string long zither with frets that is
shaped like a crocodile. Another is the Batt Kine, a row of 14 or so
pitched gongs that is upturned at both ends like a crescent. Also,
there is the Mon violin, a 3-string fiddle with a western-like body
played upright. This is incredible music with an unique character!
Recorded in Yangon, Burma by noted musicologist Rick Heizman, the Nai Htaw Paing Ensemble are recognized as masters of traditional Mon music. There is currently an effort by concerned Mon people to revive and preserve Mon culture, language, and identity, and this recording will help further this effort.
Kyam - The kyam is perhaps the most distinctive Mon instrument. It is
often referred as the crocodile zither, and in Burmese language it is
called migyaung, mi kyaung or mijaun. A 3-string, long, fretted
zither, the body is carved into a crocodile shape.
Bat Kine - Another uniquely Mon instrument is the row of gongs known
as the Bat Kine. Rather than the circular set of tuned gongs used in
Burmese, Thai, Cambodian, and Laotian music, the Bat Kine is shaped
like a quarter full moon, upturned steeply on both ends.
Pone Pon - Underpinning most Mon (and Burmese) music is a small set of
drums played by one player. This set is known as the Hta Bone Pone Pon.
It has 4 small drums, a medium drum, and a large drum.
Graw - This ‘Upright Viola’ is an old and rare Mon traditional
instrument. It has a western-looking body, but is strung with only
3 strings. Before the British colonizers came there were some
traditional 2 or 3 string fiddle instruments, afterwards musicians
copied the body stylings of the western violin.
Battala - 23-key bamboo xylophone. The keys are soaked for up to
three years to elicit the best timbre.
Kha dae-Kha bart - In almost all Mon and Burmese music one hears the
small cymbals and the wood clacker that serve a time-keeping function.
Khanwe - a double reed oboe-like instrument.
Talutt - A bamboo flute of various sizes and types of bamboo.
BIO OF NAI HTAW PAING:
The leader of this ensemble, he currently serves as an assistant
lecturer at Yangon Cultural University. He Started studying Mon
traditional musical instruments, singing, and dance from his father,
Nai Khin Maung Gyi, in 1965. Regularly performs on Mon National Days,
Mon State Day, Union Day, and other important receptions. He
occasionally teaches the new generation of musicians but has
difficulty finding time given the economic situation of the profession.
He would like more Mon nationals to be aware of both their own music,
Myanmar traditional music and other world musics. He is passionate
about rediscovering and preserving the endangered arts of the Mon
Produced in Burma and the United States by Rick Heizman
Assistant producer in Burma: Ko Doo
Recorded at Khin Sabe Oo Studios, Yangon, Burma.
Recording engineers: Nanda Kyaw, Aung Zaw Moe, Nai Win Oo, Ye Soe
Mixing Engineer: Henry Kaiser, Berkeley, California
CD Design: Mark Frischman
Photos by Rick Heizman