Rangoon Rhythm: Gabriel

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Gabriel at Mingalabar Festival. (Nintysix Photography)

Soul music consolidates components of African-American gospel music, musicality and blues and jazz. Although not widely popular in Myanmar, the genre is gradually finding its way into Yangon bars.

“Gabriel was born in 2014,” says Phway Nu Moe of her stage moniker. The 22-year-old medical student has become a top Yangon vocalist, performing her own songs with band Gabriel & The Jets at events such as Mingalabar Festival, Open Mic Night, and JAM IT.

Writing songs runs in the family: her father is singer and songwriter Saw Khu Sel, who has released five albums. “I had to learn piano in the summer holidays when I was a child, but I was lazy and didn’t practice much,” recalls Phway Nu Moe. “Then I learned about music theory from my teacher Ko Sai after high school and started writing lyrics. My other hobby is drawing.”

Studying medicine and performing music is a time squeeze though it means she doesn’t need to rely on music for income. “It’s more than a hobby though,” she says, adding that the two pursuits could be combined such as the use of music as a therapy for psychiatric patients. “My idea is that I could get involved in both fields.”

Phway Nu Moe counts American punk rock singer-songwriter Patti Smith as one of her biggest influences, hinting to an openness toward musical genres. “If I ever get a chance to perform together on stage with an idol, that would be Patti Smith and her hot single People Have The Power.”

“Life is unpredictable, but I always try to be positive,” she says. When she first began performing Phway Nu Moe suffered bad anxiety. “I couldn’t eat, couldn’t do anything the whole day before the show. But when I started getting into the mood, it got smooth.”

Her most memorable shows have been Mingalabar Festival and Open Mic Night. “In my very first shows, I forgot lyrics on the stage, the excitement eats me in the moment,” she adds.

As Gabriel, Phway Nu Moe will release her second record before the end of the year, available on iTunes, Spotify, and Apple Music. Follow her Facebook @gabrielphwaynm.

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