at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Zaw Win Htut: ဇော်ဝင်းထွဋ်

Zaw Win Htut (ဇော်ဝင်းထွဋ်) is a Burmese rock, country, and blues singer, and the lead vocalist of the band Emperor.

Zaw Win Htut was born into a musical family in Yangon, Myanmar. His father Kyi Khin was a physician, and his mother Tin Aye was a famous folk singer with the stage name Htar. His maternal grandfather was Shwe Taing Nyunt, a famous songwriter of classical Burmese music. His nickname was Nyi Htut. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from Yangon University.

Zaw Win Htut began his career in music as a drummer in a band called Oasis. He formed his own band, Emperor, in the 1980s with five members, Zaw Myo Htut (his brother and lead guitarist), Cin Khan Pun (bass), Wai Tun (drums), Maung Maung Lwin (keyboards), John O’Hara (acoustics). He was strictly a country, rock and roll singer in his early career. His first album, released in 1983, was not a success. His third album Hlyatsit Moe Kaungkin, released in 1989, made him a star.

Like most Burmese pop singers, Zaw Win Htut became famous with Burmese language covers of foreign (mostly Western rock and pop) hits, written by successful cover “songwriters” such as Thukhamein Hlaing, Min Chit Thu, Win Min Htwe, Saw Khu Sae. Unlike most Burmese pop stars, this grandson of Shwe Taing Nyunt was actually embarrassed about it. He famously said that singing those songs were like wearing someone’s else shirt. In a 2004 interview he said that his goal was to make original music.

He decided to make only “original” (i.e. non-cover) albums in mid 1990s. He was one of the first in the Burmese pop music industry to break away from taking the easy route of cover songs. (To be sure, some successful singers like Sai Htee Saing and Soe Lwin Lwin never recorded a cover song.) He did score a few hits with A-Hnaing-Me and Achit Mya Thu Si Mha. Nonetheless, his contrition has limits. He continues to perform his famous cover hits in concerts although he performs only the original songs in his overseas concerts. In a 2010 interview, he admitted that he refused to do any concerts overseas for many years because he did not have a sufficient number of original songs, and that he began doing overseas concerts only after he had collected enough original songs. In the same interview he said he had done over 20 overseas concerts. In 2000, he introduced the blues to his records.

“Though their profession calls for them to strut onstage like rebels, Burma’s rockers can only mime the anti-establishment part. Zaw Win Htut works in the sanitized vacuum of a country run by military rulers who view him automatically as a threat, a potential subversive, because he holds a microphone. Burma’s cultural input is zealously monitored and artistic expression heavily censored.” “As one of Burma’s biggest rock stars, Zaw Win Htut faces constant government scrutiny of his lyrics, album covers and music videos, but some of his biggest clashes concerned the length of his hair.” –taken from Wikipedia


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