Even if you don’t understand the words during the Iron Cross set Saturday night at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, you’ll likely recognize the tunes.
The eight-piece band, composed of four instrumentalists and four vocalists, hails from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, a small country in southeast Asia. Iron Cross is Burma’s best-known musical group, but their influence isn’t limited to the Eastern Hemisphere.
For the past two decades, the band has been entertaining audiences all over the world with their signature sound — original Burmese lyrics set to American rock music.
“For American rock music, we like Van Halen ... Aerosmith,” says Chit San Maung, the band’s lead guitarist, via George Hmung, his manager and translator. “In the past, we’ve used Aerosmith music and put in our own lyrics.”
Maung says he was four when he first started learning to play the guitar. By 1988, at age 16, he was a professional. About a year later, Maung started playing with original Iron Cross founder Saw Byot Muu, and hasn’t looked back since.
Together now for 22 years, Iron Cross is on its third American tour in anticipation of its 20th anniversary album, expected to be released this fall. While a major milestone record would be considered a triumph by many, Maung seems unfazed by the feat. He explains that the lack of trained instrumentalists in Burma means the members of Iron Cross are in high demand whenever a singer want to record with live music.
“In my country, because there are not many talented players, a lot of the singers come and sing with our band,” says Maung, who estimates he has played guitar on somewhere between 500 and 800 records in the last 20 years.
The 20th-anniversary album will feature songs and instrumentals from Iron Cross’ last two decades. In addition to American rock songs, Maung says fans can expect to hear some original music from the band. He also adds that the album is an opportunity for individual band members to show off their abilities.
“Every player has their own solo,” Maung says. “The guitarist will show his talent, the drummer will show his talent.”
Saturday’s concert in Prince George’s County is one of seven America stops on Iron Cross’ tour this summer. Other cities include Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco. And while Maung says the band has a strong Burmese-American following in the U.S., it is not always easy to book American shows, even when the band is in high demand.
“There is a high Burmese population here,” Maung says. “There are many people who would like to see our shows, but without a promoter, that won’t happen. Without a promoter we wouldn’t be able to go overseas.”
For this particular tour, the promoter is Queen Bee Entertainment, a Houston-based group that’s paired the band with Hmung, of Clarksburg. Hmung has arranged shows on the tour and even organized a little time for some sightseeing in between concerts in Indiana and Chicago.
While Iron Cross has developed an international fan base previous tours have taken the group to Korea, the United Kingdom and Singapore the band is sure to make time to play for their homeown crowd. In fact, Maung says Iron Cross has a contract with a promoter in Burma, guaranteeing the band will perform at least 30 concerts a year in their home country.
Whether Iron Cross is performing for a hometown crowd or for fans thousands of miles away, Maung says the members of the band simply enjoy the art of entertaining an audience.
“As artists we are so enjoying what we are doing,” Maung says. “Performing in front of people is the most enjoyable moment we have ... when we perform in front of people, it makes us happy.”