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By Cyrus Moussavi

Filmmaker Cyrus Moussavi and photographer Jacob Russell spent four weeks traveling through eastern Burma searching for music and stories that went unheard under the old regime.

For five decades, a brutal military regime silenced Burma’s citizens.

But song is harder to stifle than speech. So people sang.

Music allowed for veiled dissent. It helped keep minority languages and cultures alive. It was a release for a population squeezed between domestic turmoil and international sanctions.

Now Burma (renamed Myanmar by the military regime) appears to be opening up. 2010 brought semi-legit elections and reforms -- new newspapers and cellphones, fewer political prisoners and executions. No one knows if the reforms will last, but almost everyone agrees they’re an improvement.

Whole regions of the vast country are opening up to foreigners for the first time. We traveled some of these regions, looking for the music that nourished the nation in leaner times.

We traveled through ten different language groups and heard at least as many styles of music.

Two hours north of Hpa-An, Saw Paw and his daughter Naw Pa sang in praise of their Karen language. Their sweet voices and the idyllic background clashed with lyrics inspired by one of the world’s longest running civil wars.

“When we get education, we will have power,” they sang.

Burma is changing so fast that no one could tell us the rules. Smiling girls in matching hats sold us SIM cards for our cellphones for $1.50. Only a few years ago, they cost thousands. At one time, possession of video cameras could have meant a death sentence. Human rights activists used them to secretly document government abuses during the 2007 Saffron Revolution. Now we shot on the street with impunity. In the villages, people were unsure about how to approach the scraggly foreigners in their midst. But the nation’s notorious hospitality almost always trumped fear of government persecution, and we were welcomed despite ourselves.

No one is sure of the present in Burma, let alone the future. But music has always thrived. And the voices are getting louder.

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