“Hip hop is free, open and direct. You can speak as you like. That is why I love hip hop”
Aung Pyae meets up with rap artist and fashion designer Nay Win of the band Snare.
“I’m the original godfather,” Nay Win jokes as he greets me in his downtown fashion shop
named “Oh my Godfather”. The joke is an ice breaker from the amicable Nay Win, who admits his ‘hard faced’ look often makes people hesitant to greet him.
For the past decade or so Nay Win’s name has been synonymous with Snare, the popular rap band he established with his school friend Sithu Phay Myint in the year 2000. They were soon joined by their friends Phyo Lay and Set Paing Soe as well as Nay Win’s cousin Aung Thu.
Nay Win’s family didn’t forbid him to enter the subversive world of rap but neither did they have the money to support him. “I only had my own pocket money. I started out on my own and solved all my problems on my own.”
Since Sithu was the man with the instruments their first album was recorded and burnt at Sithu’s house. “We had to record by equipping a computer microphone on the wall,” says Nay Win, “singing continuously and starting all over again when we made mistakes”. The first unofficial album was recorded in 2001 under a limited budget that allowed for only 40 copies: “Of course, we made sure we gifted the girls with a copy so we could flirt with them.”
By the year 2000 the musical genre of hip hop had already captured the attention of Yangon youth, primarily through the music of bands such as ‘Acid’ who led the way for American style hip hop in Myanmar. Nay Win was quick to notice the trend, taking the music of his favourite artists and expanding upon them.
“I liked the music of Ko Myo Kyawt Myaing to begin with” he says of early musical influences from Myanmar. “Later I got into Ko Yan Yan Chan from Acid band, Ko Zayar Thaw, Ko Hein Zaw, and also Sai Sai Kham Hlaing.”
Sometimes it is harder to maintain success than it is to find it in the first place. Having established themselves firmly on the Myanmar music scene, Snare were almost derailed and disbanded by forces beyond their control.
Around 2003/4 the producers of their second album were arrested for reasons Nay Win prefers not to divulge. As a result the album remained unfinished and the vocalist Aung Thu left the band due to personal reasons.
While not completely disbanding Snare entered the slow lane. “In 2005 and 2006 there were long periods we didn’t even meet up. I debuted one solo album called Hip Hop Vibration in 2005 and distributed a VCD”. While the album didn’t meet with the runaway success he’d hoped for it led to a style known popularly as ‘Nay Win Rap’ and established him with a unique identity amongst Myanmar’s fans of hip hop.
“I wrote and sang lots of songs when I made that album. I also spent three or four years in the studio. My own style appeared only after 2005.” The sarcasms and metaphors in Nay Win’s songs were contagious, encouraging his listeners to express themselves freely and without fear. The cultural landscape of Yangon was shifting towards freedom of expression and Nay Win was a part of that movement.
Back on track
With time acting as the great healer, the four remaining members of Snare got back together to work on a new set of songs at Sithu’s home studio in 2009. Samples of the new songs were distributed the same year, attracting the attention of the producer, Sai Sai Kham Hlaing.
“We started our new lives then,” says Nay Win. “Our first song on our return (called Danger) became popular”.
The song, strongly influenced by American hip hop, features a pulsating rhythm and high energy vocals guaranteed to raise the temperature on the dance floors of Yangon.
“The girls are cool, don’t flirt them – DANGER!
They gonna fool you one by one – DANGER!
Beauties from Yangon are – DANGER!”
Befitting Nay Win’s sense of humour and tendency not to take himself too seriously he throws in a comedy element.
“This cute granny on the street is also a – DANGER!”
Snare were back in the groove despite the fact that Sithu and Phaing Soe had moved on to other projects. Nay Win and Phyoe Lay, the only two left from the original line-up debuted their official second, self-titled album, ‘Ba Gyi Phyo and U Nay Win’.
Nay Win’s jovial personality defies the pressures upon the artist in modern day Myanmar, where copyright laws are virtually none existent, and the role of the artist is all too often looked down upon as unimportant.
“Since we became singers in the age of copyists, we start out with a financial loss whenever we start on a new album or show. The life of a singer in this age is tough. We have to give everything away for free yet everyone demands a high quality. We have to build our songs in such situations.”
Nay Win says he never wanted the title of ‘artist’ since that title only brings him burdens and responsibilities. “It’s like living in a space and time that hasn’t yet arrived. I prefer free living.”
Oh My Godfather
In 2013 Nay Win broadened his business and creative interests with the opening of ‘Oh My Godfather’, a fashion design and retail outlet where Nay Win plays a hand in designing new lines of clothing. “I don’t have much vision in business. I’m just selling things designed as I feel. I’m just doing what I want to do. So far, everything’s working out fine.”
But it’s his first love, rap music that Nay Win continues to be best known for and rap music that forms the golden thread that runs through his life. Since the age of 14 till this day, Nay Win has been belting out rap songs, revelling in the freedom of expression and infusing his fans with that passion.
“I listened to western songs by black people. I fell in love with them, imitated them in singing and writing. I was constantly touched by their songs and worked on them constantly”, he says of his teenage years in Kyaunk Myaung township. “Hip hop is free, open and direct. You can speak as you like. That is why I love hip hop”.
Today, you can still catch the impassioned Nay Win belting out the music of his youth from the concert venues of Yangon and beyond, keeping alive and passing on his passion for hip hop.
Follow Nay Win on Facebook for details of the upcoming concerts listed below:
- January 17 at Loi Kaw
- January 29 at Pathein
- Feb 10 at Mone Ywar
- Feb 14 Valentine’s day at Yangon