Arc Music (2006)
My first encounter with Tibetan music occurred when I attended a concert featuring Tibetan Buddhist choir in 1994. My friends and I were exploring various “new age” spiritualities and felt curious about the Tibetan Buddhist monks and the Dalia Lama. In 1998, I saw Yungchen Lhamo perform Tibetan songs a cappella at WOMAD USA and then I saw her perform at WOMAD again in 2001. Then in 2006, I saw performances by former Tibetan Buddhist monk-turned musical performer Nawang Khechog. I also interviewed Lhamo and Khechog during those times. Now, I’m introduced to a new performer to my ears, Techung, who resides in San Francisco and performs mostly secular folkloric songs with traditional Tibetan instruments, Damnyen (a long-necked lute) and Piwang (spiked fiddle).
I doubt I would have found this material on a Nawang Khechog recording which leans towards more spiritual aspects of living or on Yungchen Lhamo’s recordings which also have spiritual leanings. Techung’s songs reflect on the traditional alcoholic drink chang and love songs. Techung opens his 2006 CD, Songs from Tibet with Snow Lion of Peace dedicated to the 14th Dalai Lhama and the works of peaceful warriors who wield compassion as their “weapon of joy”. The booklet contains text for each of the 14 tracks, and similarities between Rumi’s Sufi poems referring to intoxication as a spiritual metaphor comes to mind, especially on the love or courting song, Auspicious One, Melodiously Ascending. The words, “The first round of chang did not make me drunk. The second round did not make me drunk. The one that is offered by the lady more beautiful than a goddess: A bowl full makes me drunk.”
Techung’s sweeping vocals remind me of Lhamo’s soaring vocals that slide up scales effortlessly. I’m reminded Peoples of mountainous regions tend to sing in a swooping manner. You also hear similarities with traditional Tuvan and Mongolian music, especially the folkloric songs of the nomads and herders. The long-necked lute’s jangly plucks also recall traditional Tuvan songs minus the throat-singing. Overall, Songs from Tibet features gentle and relaxing songs. On The Golden Drinking Bowl we also hear Tibetan flute mingling with the lute. I enjoy the minimalist instrumental approach that emphasizes Techung’s stunning vocals and places an emphasis on traditional songs of a country mostly known for its people in exile and its Buddhist traditions.