Tibet has a strange and tragic history. It was once a nation of warriors who ruled all of central Asia. Then the arrival of Buddhism, and its rapid fusion with local shamanism, formed a unique religion and took the kingdom in a new direction. By the 15th century it had become a theocracy, but its powerful neighbour China always had its eyes on Tibet and over the centuries pushed to increase its influence there, right up to the military invasion in 1950. Since then, the Chinese administration has had a single objective: to disappear every trace of Tibetan culture, eliminating its language, its religion, reverence for Tibetan gods and the Dalai Lama, and by submerging ethnic Tibetans in a sea of Chinese immigrants. The relentless pressure has continued for over 50 years – summary executions, torture and arbitrary imprisonment. But the Tibetan resistance has been largely non-violent, whether inside the country, or in exile alongside the Dalai – Lama. Mongolia also reveres the Dalai-Lama as a living god. Now liberated from Soviet guardianship, Mongolia is attempting to adapt to the new economic situation. With a majority Hindu population, Nepal tries to remain neutral in the face of its powerful neighbours India and China
Music made in exile, the steppes, and the mountains
Historically, Tibetan music forms a part of prayer or of meditation. Above all it is based on the voice, accompanied by drums, trumpets and cymbals. The Gyütö Monks remain faithful to this tradition. In exile, performed by lay people, the music takes on other colours, including a feeling of nostalgia. Singers like Yungchen Lhamo or Choying Drolma, or the flautist Nawang Khechog embody these new paths, which give some relief from exile.
In the Mongolian steppes, the most common instrument is the two or four stringed violin, accompanied by a drum. Like the Tibetans, Mongolian singers are famed for diphthongal, or overtone singing, also called throat singing – a technique unique to this part of the world - which produces two sounds simultaneously: a constant low tone and a more high pitched melody, reminiscent of a Jews Harp. The Khan Bogd d’Oulan Bator trio are masters of his tradition, while the singer Urna composes his own pieces which mix classical music with Mongolian traditions.
Yat-Kha and Huun Huur Tu, two groups from Tuva, in northern Mongolia, reflect a similar vocal tradition, as does Okna Tsahan Zam – master of overtone singing. While Sainkho Namtchylak is open to all kinds of experimentation, combining classical, jazz, traditional and contemporary song.
In Nepal, where various castes of musicians exist, music is largely performed as part of religious and community events (weddings, family or public celebrations). The Sur Sudha trio (flute, sitar, tablas) is one of the main ambassadors for Nepalese traditional music. Several singers feature in film soundtracks, such as Amber Gurung and Gopal Yonjan.
Photos : Alain Arsac
From warriors to lamas
Tibet has a strange and tragic history. It was once a nation of warriors who ruled all of central Asia. Then the arrival of Buddhism, and its rapid fusion with local shamanism, formed a unique religion and took...
The association ‘The Fields of Man’ organizes the Hos Ayas festival in Mongolia (23 August-6 September 2008). Alain Arsac, half of the Fatch d’Eux duo from Provence, gave us a musical report and his travel diary.
Aim of the project : to...
Gyütö Monks, The Perfect Jewel : Sacred Chants of Tibet, (Rykodisc/Naïve)
Yungchen Lhamo, Ama (Real World/Virgin-EMI)
Nawang Khechog, Music as Medicine (Gemini Sun)
Sainkho Namtchylak, Stepmother City (Ponderosa)
Tenzin Gönpo, In...
To continue your travels, here are some recommended films :
Himalaya (1999) dir. Eric Valli : At over 5000 metres above sea level we follow the yak caravans through spectacular landscapes. Excellent soundtrack by Bruno Coulais.
Kundun (1997) dir...