YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — American singer-songwriter Jason Mraz mixed entertainment with education to become the first world-class entertainer in decades to perform in Myanmar, with a concert to raise awareness of human trafficking.
Mraz's 2008 hit "I'm Yours" was the finale for Sunday night's concert before a crowd of about 50,000 people at the base of the famous hilltop Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the country's biggest city.
Local artists, including a hip-hop singer, also played at the event organized by the anti-trafficking media group MTV EXIT — for "End Exploitation and Trafficking" —in cooperation with U.S. and Australian government aid agencies and the anti-slavery organization Walk Free.
Myanmar is emerging from decades of isolation under a reformist elected government that took office last year after almost five decades of military rule. It has been one of the region's poorest countries, and its bad human rights record made it the target of political and economic sanctions by Western nations.
But democratic reforms initiated by President Thein Sein have led to the lifting of most sanctions, and the country is hopeful of a political and economic revival. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy opposition leader, was released from house arrest in late 2010 and won a seat in parliament last April.
Mraz called his top-billed appearance at the concert a "tremendous honor."
"I think the country is, at this time, downloading lots of new information from all around the world," he said. "I've always wanted my music to be here, (for) hope and celebration, peace, love and happiness. And so I'm delighted that my music can be a part of this big download that Myanmar is experiencing right now."
Organizers said Mraz was the first international artist to perform at an open-air, mass public concert in Myanmar. Jazz artists Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Charlie Byrd visited the country under U.S. government sponsorship in the 1970s, when it was still called Burma, but played at much smaller venues.
Many in the crowd queued for two hours before being admitted to the concert site. Yangon native Sann Oo, 31, wearing a white T-shirt with a sketch of Mraz, said he was pleased that Mraz had come and that there would be a broadcast of the event.