Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Remembering What Was Lost: Yungchen Lhamo and "9/11"



A few years ago, I had the opportunity to see Yungchen Lhamo at our local global music festival, Globalquerque. I remember that her voice was captivating, and not only that, but she also was very engaging with the audience. she told the stories behind each of the songs she did. Since I had not had a lot of experience with Asian music, it was a great opportunity to become better acquainted with at least this branch of Asian music.

As a matter of fact, I have very little experience with Asia at all. I did go to Bangladesh, which is a country that not a lot of Westerners visit, and I stayed in Dhaka and in rural areas for upwards of a month, but the media I saw in Bangladesh was overwhelmingly Indian or Indian influenced. I realize that India is in Asia, but I always saw it as being something apart. On that same trip, I got to spend a few days in Bangkok, Thailand, and that has whetted my appetite to see more but, unfortunately, that was in 1998 and therefore it's been 16 years since I traveled there. Asia always seems to have a mysterious pull and at the same time, be a bit intimidating to me. Perhaps I feel that way because of language - Asian languages approximate nothing that I know or am familiar with. Whereas I could go to Europe and be able to read the Western script and pick up a bit of the languages and perhaps communicate a little in non-English speaking countries, in Asia I wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of the writing and I would recognize nothing in the spoken language.

Perhaps it's the expense. Airfares to Asia are a bit intimidating. A country like Japan, which I would love to visit, has prices that are astronomically high. Perhaps it's the crush of the cities that I see on television and print - Chinese cities where visibility is almost nothing because of smog and where people are crowded together like sardines in a can. Or perhaps it's something else. Whatever the reason, I have not really spent much time there and would like to. I often think of traveling in the less traveled and more remote areas, and it would be great to see a country like Tibet, with its temples, monks and lifestyle that is modernizing due to Chinese influence but also tenaciously tries to hold on to its old traditions. To see and experience in some way the struggles of people transitioning between the old and new, and trying to decide what to keep of each, would be very exciting.

Today's tune comes from a Tibetan exile. Born in Lhasa, Yungchen Lhamo fled Tibet in 1989 and after a pilgrimage to Dharamsala to meet the Dalai Llama, she was inspired to reach out to the world through her music so that others would understand the beauty of her culture and the situation in Tibet. After a period in India, she moved to Australia in 1993 and to New York City in 2000. Her debut album in Australia received a top award for folk/traditional music and led to her signing with Peter Gabriel's label. She has since performed with artists such as Natalie Merchant, Annie Lennox, Billy Corgan, Peter Gabriel, Bono, Sheryl Crow and Michael Stipe, and performed at Lilith Fair and WOMAD. This song, 9/11, is from her 2006 album Ama (Mother). Of the song she writes:

"....This song begins and ends with chants reminiscent of a puja for the people who died, with prayers to ease their passage to another world.... In order for this tragedy not to happen again, what are we going to do about it? We can only hope the experience has made all of us more human."
 Yungchen Lhamo, as quoted in her Wikipedia entry