Sai Htee Saing, one of the most celebrated singers in Burma, died early Monday morning in Rangoon General Hospital. He was 58.
An ethnic Shan, Sai Htee Saing was born in 1950 in Lin Khae, a small town in southern Shan State. He proved his musical talent when young: in 1969, the government-owned Burma Broadcasting Service—now Myanmar Television and Radio Department—aired his songs, which he wrote himself, in Shan language.
|Sai Htee Saing (Photo: SHAN)|
"He was a pioneer who introduced Burmese audiences to a new trend," said well-known singer Khin Maung Toe. "He and his band showed the way—you have to create your own music. That's the artist’s way.'"
Sai Htee Saing and The Wild ones became one of Burma’s modern music pioneers during late dictator Gen Ne Win’s era.
He sang in both Burmese and Shan languages, introducing many listeners in lower Burma to Shan culture. Although his songs were carefully scrutinized at that time by the infamous censorship bureau, the Press Scrutiny Board, his lyrics often conveyed political messages through hidden meanings which allowed him to successfully elude the censors.
Many of his songs were about the civil war and the struggles of life in his homeland. He helped pave the way for other ethnic singers that have become established figures in Burma’s music industry.
Sai Htee Saing, however, succumbed to the temptations of promoting government ideology, notably after 1988. Like other musicians who made the conscious decision to curry favor with the junta, he soon gained special privileges, but photos of the singer standing arm in arm with junta leaders were run regularly in the government-controlled media.
In singing songs written by military official Mya Than San and by neglecting the interests of the country’s artists as head of Burma’s musicians’ union, Sai Htee Saing’s audience soon abandoned him.
However, his old songs are still popular in Burma and his albums continually sell well. He was frequently invited overseas by expatriate Burmese to perform at Burmese festivals.
He made his last overseas performance in London on Shan New Year’s Day on 5 December, 2007.
Sai Htee Saing is survived by his wife, Khin Than Soe, his son and two daughters, all of whom live in Rangoon.
A funeral service will be held on Wednesday, March 12 at Yayway cemetery in the outskirts of Rangoon.