Traditional music in Myanmar is generally melodious and without harmony; to western ears it may sometimes sound harsh (and loud), with repetition a major feature. There are various folk and classical traditions, using drums, as well as string and wind instruments, and music is a key part of most pwe (more information below).
Away from traditional music, western musical styles such as pop, rock and hip-hop are popular, particularly among younger people. There is a growing music scene in Yangon, with some highly-rated bands emerging. This popularity means that you may often find music videos played loudly and repetitively on buses in Myanmar!
Traditional entertainment in Myanmar comes in the form of pwe, which often involve dancing and vividly colourful costumes. These routines sometimes recall ancient legends, sometimes religious, but the most famous pwe is a-nyeint (sometimes spelt anyeint), which combine dance with music, slapstick comedy and playful insults to the audience.
The humour tends to be very broad, and is likely to be quite different to anything most western visitors will have experienced – and for this reason alone a-nyeint performances are worth checking out.
There are many a-nyeint performers in Myanmar, but the most famous are the Moustache Brothers, based in Mandalay, and Zarganar; comedians who have spent time as political prisoners for using their shows to mock and challenge the former (and, to some extent, current) military regime.
Marionette theatre, called Yokhte (sometimes Youq-the) pwe, is another highly valued in Myanmar. As with many other pwe, it was originally performed to popularise Buddhist stories, and being a puppeteer was a respected profession – the 50cm tall marionettes may have a large number of strings to be manipulated, sometimes even for the fingers, eyes and mouth. Yokhte performances can be seen in Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan.