Eagle Cross, from front to back: Tin Thawng Lin, Lza Bawi, Lai Hnin, Thanda Win, Salai Banh Za Thang, Van Thawng Khan and Robin Rawang. Not pictured: Bawi Lian Khan and Kyaw Lin
I can tell the members of Eagle Cross apart from the other people in the restaurant as soon as I walk in. They’re a big group– there are seven of them around the table, and they tell me that two other members couldn’t make it. But more than that, there’s a playful energy to the group. While small families quietly pick at their Burmese food around us, Eagle Cross is chatting, laughing, shuffling around in their chairs. I recognize this boisterous energy from my own time spent playing in bands in my teens and early-twenties, which is about how old the members of Eagle Cross seem to be.
All from Burmese-American families living in Buffalo, Eagle Cross met and formed through church, and have been playing music together for several years. They are quick to point out that they started with nothing–no instruments, no gigs–and that their community has supported them from the beginning. They’ve since become a mainstay at some of their community’s biggest events, like Chin National Day and the Burmese Water Festival.
But the band is also wary of being pigeonholed.
“We play all kinds of music,” Thanda Lin, the group’s lead female vocalist, tells me. “We play weddings, you know? So we can play a little bit of everything, religious or secular, in any language.” Thanda is the group’s unofficial spokesperson and interpreter. She is enthusiastic and earnest, always careful during our interview to make sure the views of her bandmates are represented.
Thanda joined the band after they formed, and the diversity she brings to the group–as a woman, as a non-Christian–nicely rounds out the band’s presence and appeal. “I love Taylor Swift, I love Adele,” she tells me when I ask about the band’s influences (which also range from traditional and popular Burmese music to Brazilian rhythms and American country western).
When not practicing or playing gigs, the band members live the kind of lives you would very much expect from a working local band. Thanda manages the sushi section of the Hamburg Wegman’s and is raising a young son; Van Thawng Khan, the group’s bassist, is a student at ECC and Robin Rawang, drummer, is a high school student at Lafayette. The others are also either studying, working or raising families.
But music seems to be the thing that connects them, maybe even more than their sense of community. When one member says that his favorite hobby is “listening to sad songs,” everyone bursts out laughing. Thanda tries to explain: “It’s… it’s just funny. Don’t worry about it.” For a minute I thought I didn’t get it because of the language barrier… but then I realized this is just the kind of inside joke that develops when a group of people get together to have fun, work hard and make music.
The fun and the sense of solidarity they share makes me nostalgic for those days, despite the awkwardness of it all. Being young and adapting to a new stage of life, like adapting to a new home or a new culture, is always easier when you share the experience with a group of people going through the same thing. It’s daunting trying to understand yourself and your place in the world at a time in your life when that’s both frighteningly difficult and extremely important. Fortunately, Eagle Cross seem to be having fun with it.