Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Moustache Brothers

Go to Mandalay and see their dancing - it's important!

“Take pictures.  Free of charge.  On the house.  Put them on the internet.  Put them on your blog.  Let them know that we are alive.” - Lu maw, Moustache Brother # 2

This is the quote that is repeated time and time again by Lu Maw, “Moustache Brother Number Two”, from the ground floor performance venue of Mandalay’s Moustache Brothers.  They are a family vaudeville act that mixes traditional dance demonstrations with comedic dance numbers with an education in Burmese history of the last hundred and fifty years, with Lu Maw’s bittersweet sense of humor.

Lu Maw, explaining how things work (or don't) in Myanmar

Like everywhere else in Burma, Obama’s recent visit was a leitmotif sprinkled throughout the established routine intended to amuse and educate a primarily Western audience.  And it did that very well.  The show opens with Lu Maw’s audience patter.  He asks people where they are from.  If we were from the US, he referenced Obama, and also pointed out a poster of Derek Mitchell, the first Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma, appointed by Obama.  If we had been from Italy, as some other audience members were, his response was, "Italy - Dario Fo," naming another outspoken political comedian.  

He sprinkles pieces of information about life in Burma under military occupation over the last thirty years throughout the patter, but just to be absolutely clear (he also occasionally spelled words and used placards to drive home points throughout the show), he began with a video of celebrities who shared facts about Burma (Jennifer Aniston, Woody Harrelson, Will Ferrell, Sylvester Stalone - did you know that Rambo V was set in Burma?  I didn't.  Ric did...).  Facts such as that Burma has the highest percentage of child soldiers in the world.  Horrific anecdotes (dramatized in Rambo V) about how the government had used civilians to clear landmines before sending soldiers in to raid those same civilians' land.  Facts about poverty, wars between ethnicities, internal slavery, and prostitution.  This was the shorthand so that while we were enjoying the dancing, we would also understand the suffering that the people of Myanmar had been enduring for the last thirty years.  And also so that we would understand signs and Lu Maw's acerbic jokes.

Par Par Lay, Moustache #1, who was imprisoned for his political comedy act

Their show is outspoken because they openly state inside of Burma that things are broken.  But perhaps a more interesting aspect of the show is that it truly is a family vaudeville act.  Between the jokes and the political anecdotes, Lu Maw's wife, sisters, sisters-in-law, and Lu Zau (Moustache #3) perform traditional dances, as they have been for the last thirty years or so, as evidenced by a photograph of Lu Maw's wife on the cover of an old Lonely Planet.

All of them 60 plus, the family show endures, despite regime changes and the ever-present KGB (a sign that Lu Maw particularly enjoys threatening the audience with - a mark of the show's longevity).  It's a sincere introduction to culture and politics of Burma.  We should have begun our trip here, since the show serves as an excellent reminder of the hardships that Myanmar's people face, even as the country attempts to market itself as a tourist destination.  The Moustache Brothers remind the audience that everything in Myanmar should be taken with a grain of salt. You should go if you ever get a chance - and put it on your blog!

Moustache Brothers troupe performing a traditional dance of the Karen people

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