Laurie Anderson, Tenzin Choegyal and Jesse Paris Smith – Songs from the Bardo (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2019)
Songs from the Bardo is a spellbinding recording featuring
extraordinary musicians from various cultures and musical genres: American experimentalist
Laurie Anderson, Tibetan multi-instrumentalist and singer Tenzin Choegyal; and
composer, pianist and climate activist Jesse Paris Smith (Patti Smith’s
The album is a guided voyage through the farseeing text of the Tibetan Book of the Dead with Laurie Anderson on spoken word and violin. Songs from the Bardo intertwines captivating spoken word sections (accompanied by gongs and drones) and instrumental passages.
Tenzin Choegyal plays lingbu (Tibetan flute), dranyen
(Tibetan lute), singing bowls and gong; Jesse Paris Smith plays piano, crystal
bowls and gong. Guests include Rubin Kodheli on cello and Shadhad Ismaily on
The physical edition of the album includes a 32-page booklet with artist biographies, photos and details about the project.
Refugees for Refugees is a Belgium-based ensemble that
includes musicians from Syria, Tibet, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Belgium
who are united by their aspiration to intertwine links between their
music. The group has developed an
original repertoire that fuses various traditions.
Influences include Afghan, Tibetan, Arabic, Pakistani, and European music. Refugees for Refugees uses a wide range of musical instruments, including nomadic Tibetan chants, the South Asian sarod, Arabic ud and Middle Eastern percussion.
The lineup in 2019 included Asad Qizilbash on sarod (Pakistan), Aren Dolma on vocals (Tibet), Fakher Madallal on vocals, percussion (Syria), Kelsang Hula on dramyen, vocals (Tibet), Mohammad Aman Yusufi on dambura, vocals (Afghanistan), Simon Leleux on percussion (Belgium), Souhad Najem on qanun (Iraq), Tammam Al Ramadan on ney (Syria), Tareq Alsayed Yahya on ud (Syria) and Tristan Driessens on ud (Belgium).
In 1971, Ani Choying Drolma was born to Tibetan exiles in Kathmandu, Nepal. Her parents had fled the Cultural Revolution (and their homeland) in 1959. At age 13, Anila entered Nagi Gompa, a Buddhist nunnery on the rim of the Kathmandu Valley. The abbot of Nagi Gompa, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, an honored teacher of non-conceptual meditation, looked after Ani Choying’s development and taught her to sing traditional Tibetan Cho chant.
Choying Drolma is a fascinating character. She told an interviewer “Even before I was a nun I always had this thought, this question, wondering why, if boys can do something, why can’t girls?”
“That kind of attitude continued with me even in the nunnery. I would see lots of male teachers come and teach. All males. Why is it only monks that go on to become teachers, to get these chances” The Tibetan word for ‘woman’ translates as ‘low birth.’ I hated that.”
Frustrated by the lack of educational and development opportunities for Tibetan nuns, Ani Choying Drolma established the Nun’s Welfare Foundation in 1998. In January 2000, she opened the Arya Tara School. The school’s six-year program offers a free secular and Buddhist education to nuns from villages in Nepal, Tibet, and India, with the expectation that the nuns will develop skills to put their vows of compassion to practical use as teachers, health care workers, and community leaders.
“That’s what I want to do with the school I’ve started, the Arya Tara school. I want nuns to learn many things and know why they are doing what they are doing, what the benefit is in it. Not just in practicing Tibetan Buddhism, but in learning math, English, learning basic medicine. If they’re doing something, they must know why they are doing it.”
In 1994, guitarist Steve Tibbetts visited the remote monastery at Nagi Gompa to record the music of the Tibetan nuns. Tibbetts recalls the experience: “I work occasionally for the Naropa Institute’s study abroad programs in Bali and Nepal. Some of the students were studying at a small monastery at Pharping in the southern part of the Kathmandu valley (Nepal) in 1993 and I stayed there nights to make sure they were greeted, fed, and seen off each day. One of the translators (Andreas) came up to the roof to find me one evening saying, “You should really come and record this nun singing in the shrine room.” I came down, set up my portable tape recorder, and was so entranced by the sound I was hearing I forgot to take the tape deck off ‘pause.’ Luckily, the translator was also recording and lent me his tape to take home.
“I came back to do the same job the next year and brought a DAT recorder and two mics to do a proper recording session. This time the nuns were up at Nagi Gompa, a small nunnery in the foothills above Kathmandu. I asked Andreas what I could bring them from town and he suggested Cokes, candies, and cookies. The nuns were happy. They crinkled the candy wrappers, chugged the cokes down, and burped during the session.
“I returned home and added some instruments to the songs I liked, just as a gift for the nuns. I sent the tape back to Nepal with a friend. The nuns liked it. In fact, they asked that I produce a rap tune for them. I declined, but I did give a cassette to Rob Simonds at Rykodisc. He sent it to Joe Boyd at Hannibal, we all had dinner in Minneapolis, struck a deal, and I went back in January of 1996 to finish the recording. In the course of the recordings I did get them to rap, just to loosen them up a bit. It’s not on the CD. Call me up; I’ll play it over the phone for you.” Tibbetts framed the recordings with elegant and restrained arrangements to create the stunning collaboration that is Cho.
To finance her school, Anila generates income through musical endeavors. In 1997, Ani-la began performing and recording Cho for audiences around the world, connecting Westerners to Tibetan culture and music. The dharma songs that Anila performs have been handed down from accomplished masters for hundreds of years. At her concerts, Ani Choying explains Cho and Buddhist dharma, in addition to educating audiences about the situation facing Tibetan nuns today.
Cho (meaning “cutting”) is the contemplative system of Tibetan Buddhism practiced by Choying and her colleagues. It involves the yogi or yogini mentally offering his or her own body as a means of severing attachment, literally “cutting through ego-clinging and the traditional four demons.” The training is based on the tradition of Prajnaparamita (transcendent knowledge), in which the practitioner sees through the illusion of a solid reality by recognizing the insubstantial nature of all things. The religious songs that accompany this tradition have been passed from accomplished masters to worthy students for hundreds of years. Tibetans do not regard this music as folk music, but rather perceive the depth of meaning in these songs as capable of enhancing understanding and transforming ordinary experience.
A second album came out in 2004. The new album was built around recordings made by Tibbetts and his longtime percussionist Marc Anderson in Boudhanath, a Tibetan enclave in the Himalayan country of Nepal. There, not far from a school for nuns that Choying Drolma has founded, they recorded her chants, often feeding a drone into her headphones to set the pitch before letting the tape roll. “It seemed like she was singing with four lungs,” Tibbetts recalls. “Some of her takes left Marc and I somewhat stunned. She’d finish the song. I’d quickly save the recording file on the laptop. Choying would say “Tik chha”, meaning, ‘it’s okay’ and Marc and I would slowly nod.”
Back in Minnesota, Tibbetts and Anderson wove together tapestries of acoustic and electric guitars, shifting drones, and subtle hand percussion. They enlisted the support of Lee Townsend, who has produced most of Bill Frisell’s recordings, and created an organic blend of ancient and modern, Eastern and Western.
Namgyal Lhamo is a singer, songwriter and actress. Namgyal Lhamo originally hails from Shigatse in Tibet. Winner of the Best Female Singer award at the 2007 Tibetan music awards, Namgyal Lhamo took to singing at a very young age and was chosen to be trained at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala, India established by the Dalai Lama, to preserve the cultural identity of Tibetans by keeping alive their artistic traditions and by sharing them with the world.
She studied with the most important Tibetan music teachers of post war Tibet. In this way she stepped into the tradition of the various kinds of classical and folk music of her country. Her Nangma and Toeshe interpretations of classical Tibetan songs from the 17th century are renowned among Tibetans worldwide. Impressive also are her Lu interpretations – nomadic sounds from Amdo and Kham. Beside that Namgyal Lhamo plays various traditional instruments, such as the dranyen (Tibetan lute) and the gyumang (Tibetan celeste).
Her singing is an eclectic mix of science and soul with layers, tones and textures that define the form of a particular song. Lhamo’s training and discipline through concerts and performances throughout the world over the years has given rise to an exclusive sound that emits multi layering within her songs that create a rich ambience that is reflective of their highland origin.
Namgyal Lhamo is based in the Netherlands and continues to tour worldwide.
Yungchen Lhamo was born near Lhasa, Tibet at a time when the isolated ‘forbidden kingdom’ was caught in the ravages of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Her once wealthy family was punished and forced to endure desperate poverty.
In 1989 she escaped from Tibet with a small group of friends to find refuge in India. Despite her perilous journey, she survived encouraged by her profound determination to meet the Dalai Lama considered to be the living Buddha. She made the pilgrimage to Dharamsala, the place of exile of the Tibetan spiritual leader where she succeeded in meeting him and receiving his blessing. It was then that she decided to communicate her ideal ̶to contribute actively to make things better” through her voice.
She emigrated to Australia in 1993 where she had to overcome several obstacles: being a woman singing Tibetan spiritual songs a capella, not speaking English̷. But the public was amazed by the purity of her voice and by the power of her stage presence and in 1995 she received the Australian Record Industry Award (ARIA) for the best world music album with Tibetan Prayer. It was the beginning of international acclaim. In 1996 she released her first international album Tibet Tibet (Real World) and toured the world.
1997 was a breakthrough year for Yungchen Lhamo. Following the release Tibet Tibet, the singer traveled the world garnering accolades for her spellbinding a cappella performances and raising awareness for the struggle of the Tibetan people living under an oppressive Chinese regime.
“I am determined to make a path as a solo performer,” she says. “My childhood was one of such despair and poverty. Part of the Chinese rationale for the occupation of Tibet is that the Tibetan people are backward and inferior. By forging a path for Tibetan artists I am showing what we really can do if we have freedom.”
Yungchen Lhamo’s stately appearance in Tibetan robes and mala prayer beads her harrowing tale of childhood deprivation and flight to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s compound in Dharmsala India have made her a de facto ambassador of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism wherever she travels. But she is a woman and an artist not just an emblem for a cause.
Yungchen’s voice is very special. It is no wonder that a Lama named her “Goddess Of Song,” which is the literal meaning of Yungchen Lhamo in the Tibetan language. In its long sustained notes her voice evokes wind and mountain heights in its intricate melismas the language of birds. Preternaturally expressive her a cappella voice is stirring in full band context: richly complemented by guitars, violin, even the Finnish kantele and subtle loops and electronics.
“Traveling over the past years I met so many musicians who wanted to work with me,” Lhamo says. “I was reluctant at first because I really love performing a cappella.” But wary of her vocal gifts being sampled onto trance dance tracks she decided to jump in to explore, grow and change. She met noted European producer Hector Zazou (Bjork, John Cale, Suzanne Vega, Huun-Huur-Tu) at Laurie Anderson’s Meltdown Festival and was immediately interested. “He’s a good man,” Lhamo states, “and that makes a big difference to me.” Encouraged by Real World founder Peter Gabriel, Lhamo set to work with Zazou at Real World studios in England.
“Singing a cappella is very difficult,” Lhamo explains. “You feel totally responsible for everything the audience feels. Every sound is created by yourself.” Recording with Zazou gave her the opportunity to focus her interpretive energy with other musicians. “It was very enjoyable,” she says. “The years of singing a cappella have made me strong.”
That strength is witnessed in Coming Home’s songs all written by Yungchen and based on Tibetan melodies songs which share the trance qualities of Buddhist prayer and yet take off on graceful flights of their own. Each is steeped in metaphor layered in spiritual political and familial symbols.
In 2013 Lhamo released Tayatha, an album with Russian classical pianist Anton Batagov.
Tibetan Prayer (1995) Tibet, Tibet (Real World Records, 1996) Coming Home (Real World Records, 1998) Ama (Real World Records, 2006) Tayatha, with Anton Batagov (2013)
Tenzin was born in the remote Himalayas, as his parents were fleeing Tibet in the early 1970s. He grew up in the Tibetan refugee community in Dharamsala, northern India where the Dalai Lama actively encouraged his people to preserve their culture through language religion and arts.
As a child Tenzin would listen to his mother singing in the nomadic style and he attributes much of his passion for that genre to these early influences. Tenzin feels a particular connection to the music of the wandering people of his homeland. He worked at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in India over a period of five years in the mid 1990s, where he received training mainly from his brother Tsering Dorjee Bawa who is a Tibetan music and dance instructor and Gen Gonpo la.
Tenzin finished his high school from Tibetan Childern’s Village (Dharamsala India) school and BA in English and Indian history in Gov college for boys in Chandigarh.
Tenzin plays various instruments, including the Tibetan three or six stringed lute instrument called “dranyen” (Dra meaning “sound” and Nyen meaning “melodious”), which is the essential accompaniment for folk songs; the bamboo transverse flute called “lingbu” and the Tibetan drum “nga”. Tenzin sings in a traditional nomadic style combined with operatic and his own free-spirited style.
Since moving to Australia, Tenzin has made his mark on the world music circuit performing at such events as Woodford Folk Festival, Port Fairy Folk Festival, the National Folk Festival and Womadelaide.
Techung is a prominent Tibetan singer-songwriter living in exile in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is best known for his performances of traditional Tibetan music dance and opera under the name Tashi Dhondup Sharzur. He uses his childhood nickname Techung when performing as a solo artist.
Whether performing in traditional or contemporary styles, Techung’s dual goals are to revive Tibetan music in the Tibetan community and to expose the rich performing cultural tradition of his homeland to the world community.
Techung grew up in Dharamsala, India rather than in his native Tibet because in 1949 China occupied his homeland.
He and his family were forced to resettle in India along with tens of thousands of other Tibetans. Because of the limited educational opportunities open to young refugees in the 1970s he was enrolled at age 9 in the newly formed Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) although his family did not have an artistic background.
In his 19 years of residency at the Institute he studied all aspects of the Tibetan performing arts: folk, court and religious music traditions; through the oral teaching tradition used by the venerated Tibetan elders with whom he was honored to study.
He toured with TIPA in its first international tour as a leading child actor in 1975-76 and for many years afterwards. After emigrating to the U.S. he co-founded the San Francisco-based Chaksampa Tibetan Dance and Opera Company in 1989. Under Tashi Dhondup’s leadership as Artistic Director, Chaksampa has performed all over the world often by invitation at prestigious venues such as the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.
The group has performed in all four of the Tibetan Freedom Concerts organized by the Milarepa Fund appearing with such artists as John Lee Hooker, Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy, Pearl Jam, Herbie Hancock, Tracy Chapman, the Beastie BoysU2 and others.
Techung’s relationship with the Milarepa Fund included a position as Education Coodinator and Tibetan Community Liaison. One of Chaksampa’s songs is included in the CD Tibetan Freedom Concert produced by Grand Royal and Capitol Records. Chaksampa made its debut at Carnegie Hall with Philip Glass, REM, Trey Anastasio, Sean Colvin and Patti Smith as part of New York Tibet House’s annual Monlam festival concert.
In 2004 Techung opened for the Dalai Lama’s public talk in Florida and in Costa Rica. In addition to being looked up to as one of the key keepers of traditional Tibetan musical traditions, Techung is also respected for the original solo and collaborative music he creates by drawing on both his own heritage and his familiarity with other world music traditions. He collaborated on his first solo album Yarlung: Tibetan Songs of Love and Freedom (1997) with composer and performer Miguel Frasconi, followed by Sky Treasure (2001) with Windham Hill jazz keyboardist Kit Walker.
His other solo albums were Chang Shae: Traditional Tibetan Drinking Songs Vol 1 and Nyingtop-Courage (2002). His song,Losar” was chosen as the 2003 best modern traditional Tibetan song at the first annual Tibetan Music Awards held in Dharamsala.
Techung’s voice and music have been featured on the soundtracks of the IMAX film Everest, the feature film Windhorse, the documentary films Stranger in My Native Land, Tibet’s Stolen Child, Thsewa: In the Freedom of Exile, and Three Days for Tibet (about a concert in Dharamsala with Joan Osborne Zakir Hussain and other musicians). His music was also featured on PSA’s for the Milarepa Fund (promoting the 1999 Tibetan Freedom Concert) and Amnesty International (soliciting support for the human rights case of Ven. Palden Gyatso) as well as on an audio book by Diki Tsering titled “Dalai Lama My Son.
“My name is Techung (also known as Tashi D. Sharzur). I am a Tibetan singer-songwriter I currently live in San Francisco, California but am originally from Dharamsala a small town India.
I have been producing traditional and contemporary Tibetan music for the past fifteen years. Since I grew up in a culture that greatly values personal modesty and frowns upon any behavior that seems “self- interested” I did not actively promote my musical work during the early part of my career. However, after living in the United States I have come to realize that promotion of my music is an absolute necessity if I want to continue to grow both personally and professionally in my musical career.”
About Techung, A Compilation of Tibetan Folk and Freedom Songs.
“Most of my music is focused on the nonviolent struggle for the freedom of Tibet which was brutally invaded and occupied by the Chinese Communist government in 1949. In addition, I compose romantic songs of lyrical and melodic simplicity primarily for my younger Tibetan audience. Through my music I strive to honor the musical tradition of my culture that has been threatened for the past fifty years.
My music also expresses my own frustration as a refugee who has been robbed of his land and his freedom but who continues to fight for his own dignity and for the dignity of his fellow Tibetans. I do this with a special emphasis on the fact that such fighting is achieved through non-violence and compassion which are integral aspects of traditional Tibetan culture.”
Penpa Tsering a world class musician, singer and dancer, was born in Chamdo Kham (eastern Tibet) in 1963. In the 1970s and 1980s Tsering studied and performed throughout Tibet traveling with his school’s Tibet Cultural Center as a performing artist and studying singing with the nomads of Kham.
He moved to India in 1989 where he was invited to join the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) in Dharamsala as a teacher and performer. While in India, Tsering also taught at the Chushi Gangdruk Institute for Performing Arts in Delhi. With TIPA, Tsering toured extensively throughout India as well as in Japan Thailand Nepal Sikkim and Finland.
In October 2000 he moved to the United States where he has continued to teach and perform. Penpa Tsering currently resides in Massachusetts. Tsering’s voice can frequently be heard on Voice of America – Tibetan Services and on Radio Free Asia – Tibetan Services. Penpa Tsering has made a number of recordings both as a solo artist and in connection with TIPA.
Born in Tibet, Nawang Khechog spent his earliest years as the child of nomads. In his boyhood he first learned to play the bamboo flute, an ancient instrument popular in rural villages throughout Tibet. After the subjugation of Tibet by Chinese Communists in 1949 Nawang and his family escaped to India. There he studied meditation and Buddhist philosophy a path he followed as a monk for eleven years – four of them as a hermit.
In 1986 he emigrated to Australia where he first performed and his recordings achieved bestseller status. Nawang is best known for his collaborations with Japanese composer and multi-instrumentalist Kitaro, including a world tour and performances on Kitaro’s acclaimed Enchanted Evening and Mandala albums. His live performances with Philip Glass Paul Winter, Laurie Anderson, Paul Simon, Natalie Merchant, and Baba Olatunji have received international acclaim.
In 2003 he released Universal Love, his first major recording project in five years. The album features Tibetan flute on all songs; Tibetan long horn (doongchen) and overtone chanting; universal horn (invented by Nawang Khechog); Aboriginal didjeridu; African drums and kalimba; Mayan ocarinas; Native American drum; and chants of universal love by the Dalai Lama and others.
In February of 2007 Nawang Khechog was seriously injured in a car accident while in India. He recovered and currently lives in Colorado, USA.
Sounds Of Peace (Sounds True, 1988) Rhythms Of Peace (Music Tibet, 1989)
Quiet Mind (Sounds True, 1991)
Karuna (Domo, 1995)
Winds Of Devotion, with R. Carlos Nakai (EarthSea Records, 1998)
The Dance Of Innocents, with Peter Kater (EarthSea Records, 1998)
Universal Love (Sounds True, 2003) Music As Medicine, with R. Carlos Nakai (Sounds True, 2004) Tibetan Meditation Music – For Quiet Mind And Peaceful Heart (Sounds True, 2007) Tibetan Dream Journey (Sounds True, 2011)
Men of Dharamsala is a fascinating project in support of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts. Even though Dharamsala is located in northern india, it is the home of a large Tibetan exile community.
The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) was established by the Dalai Lama in 1959. Since then the TIPA and its musicians have labored to keep Tibetan performing arts alive.
The project was carried out by an American production crew consisting of associate producer and Tibetan opera singer Tsering Lodoe, executive producer Randy Bellous, assistant producer Jacob Horowitz, mastering engineer Steve Hoffman and their Tibetan friends Tenzin Sangpo, Rinchen Lhamo and Dhondup Namgyal.
The production team recorded Men of Dharamsala in the auditorium at TIPA in McLeod Ganj, above Dharamsala. Tibetan culture was represented by Tibetan opera, dance and folk music, nomad songs from the Tibetan plateau sung in Amdo, and mesmerizing pujas (prayers) from the Nechung Monastery featuring wind instruments, human skull rattles and Tibetan long horns.
The album begins with Chinbep Puja (Blessing of the Environment) by the monks of Nechung Monastery.
Track 2, “Great Eastern Sun”, is a Tibetan nomad song in Amdo by Toenpa Kyap.
Track 3, “Gyalue Namthar & Ringa” is a stage purification dance by Penpa Tsering, Sharab Wangmo and a chorus of dakinis.
On track 4, titled “Rangyul Rangla Mayna”, guitarist and vocalist Jamyang Choeden performs a modern folk song.
Track 5, “Rime Soldep” (Four Lineages Puja) is a prayer by the monks of Nechung Monastery.
Tibetan opera appears on track 6, “Nangsa Woebum” performed by Penpa Tsering.
Track 7, titled “Zandang Palri” features the monks of Nechung Monastery.
“Ayr-sha”, track 8, is a folk song about a majestic mountain pass, performd by Tsering Lodoe.
Track 9 presents “Drelkar,” a well-known spoken performance by Penpa Tsering.
The monks of Nechung Monastery deliver “Losar Puja”, a prayer for the New Year on track 10.
Track 11 is a deghtful Amdo folk song with a galloping rhythm titled “Homage to the Lama” performed by Toenpa Kyap on vocals and guitar and Tsering Lodoe on damyin (Tibetan lute).
On track 12, Tibetan opera returns with a white mask dance called “Tashi Shoelpa” featuring members of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts.
Tsering Lodoe sings in the next three tracks, “Dopoe Namthar” from the opera Drowa Sangmo, “Norsang Yab Ki Namthar” from the opera Prince Norsang and “Gyalue Namthar”, a stage purification dance.
Track 16 is a refuge puja titkled “Gyun, Chak Sumpa” by the monks of Nechung Monastery.
“Amdo Glory”, track 17 is another Tibetan nomad song by Toenpa Kyap.
The album closes with the spectacular sound of the Tibetan long horns played by the monks of Nechung Monastery.
This wonderful production received support from Stratton-Petit Foundation, Nechung Monastery, Jacques Farasat and Lynne & Tom Tillack.