Yangon: An enigmatic smile appears on his wrinkled face and his faded eyes shine brightly as his fingers caress the ivory keys of the one musical instrument he truly loves, his piano.

The melodious music which comes out grabs the attention of those nearby.

“We cannot stop people’s interest in music … it is something inherent in humans. Everyone has enjoyed listening to music since they were young,” says Gita Lulin U Ko Ko, a 77-year-old professional pianist.

The old musician, whose name translates as “a youth who adores music”, has spent his life preserving and teaching traditional Myanmar music, which he has adapted to perform on European instruments like his piano.

But Myanmar’s military government is becoming increasingly worried about younger musicians’ efforts to adopt modern Western styles, fearing the rising popularity of local hip-hop bands is destroying traditional culture.

“Traditional music is the only long term symbol for the country. So it should be the state’s own music,” says Gita Lulin U Ko Ko, who has practiced traditional music since age he was 11 and is considered a xylophone expert.

The junta holds an annual arts festival, due this year in the first week of October, to stage competitions in music, song composing, puppetry, drama, dance and singing.

But young people are increasingly allured by the temptation of western pop culture that still seeps into this isolated nation through pirated videos and CDs, as well as on satellite music stations.

Four university students who formed a new hip-hop group called Examplez have taken Yangon by storm with their unique style that mixes pop, rap and sometimes traditional songs, making them one of Myanmar’s top bands.

“Examplez’s music is our own musical creation coming from our hearts, something that people our age can relate to. We have to follow the trends,” says Examplez singer Tun Tun.

“It would be like insulting the country and our national dress if we wore sarongs while singing hip-hop. We don’t envy foreign performers. We are always proud to be from Myanmar,” adds the 21-year-old.

Phyo Maung Maung, 22, says his parents scolded him for being in the band at first.

“They could not listen or accept what I sing. So we tried singing old songs with our group’s new style. Now the elders understand our style, even my parents.

“I am crazy about the music.”

But it is the way they and their fans look as much as how they sound that worries the censors, for whom the sight of local youths dressing up like sex gods on satellite TV is a shock.

“The behaviour and attire of some of the girls are unacceptable. They act like they are in a foreign country. The authorities should stop them from dressing so decadently,” says Thandar, 27, an office worker who likes going to the concerts.

She worries that the T-shirts and mini-skirts draw unwanted attention from men, who could see the young women as easy targets for sexual assault.

“Young people like to wear fashionable clothes when they go to a concert, but I think they want to enjoy the show more than anything else,” Nan Nan, a 15-year-old high school girl says.

But the members of Examplez say authorities don’t need to worry about western values dominating Myanmar’s culture.

“You can’t say that western music is influencing our country. Music is just music. We have to work according to current trends,” says Htoo Kyaw, 21, another member of the group.

“We study musical ideas from other countries, through video CDs and MTV, but we like to create our own,” says Thet Aung, 21, the group’s fourth member.

“Other countries have all sorts of machines that bands need. They have better technology than us,” he says.

Gita Lulin U Ko Ko says he sympathises with younger musicians.

“Youths are the majority of Myanmar population. We cannot stop their interest in other music from other countries, or from watching the trends. Who’s to say whether western culture has penetrated Myanmar, or if it was welcomed out of self interest,” he says.

“I do not think Western music could ever completely influence our country. Every country has faced this situation before, but we must help the next generation carry traditional Myanmar music into the future.”