“Techung: A Tibetan Singer” By Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on July 11, 2012 for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and posted on her blog on July 21, 2012.

Woeser’s post below is about Tibetan musician Techung and many High Peaks Pure Earth readers will be familiar with his music. Techung is currently on tour in USA, the tour is titled “For Peace in Tibet”.

Techung’s album “Lam La Che (On the Road)” features a collaboration with Woeser and American blues musician Keb’ Mo’ with the lyrics lifted from Woeser’s 1995 poem “On The Road”. The translation below of the song lyrics are taken from Ragged Banner’s translation of “On The Road”.

Finally, to watch the music video for Techung’s song “Lama Khen”, dedicated to the Tibetans who have self-immolated, follow this link: http://youtu.be/fLrT3RszUss

 

“Techung: A Tibetan Singer”
By Woeser

By no means have I heard all the songs by Techung but I have known for a long time that he is an outstanding musician. This is because of the space in which we are both in.

Like the Himalayas that stretch along the borderline that was created by colonialists and that block off the Tibetan people, this results in the existence of the separation between “internal” and “external” Tibet. But music has wings, it can fly across any man-made obstacles. Just like the group of birds, including the tung-tung, jha-goe and the khuyu, that, in an era not so long ago, followed the solar terms of nature and flew to and fro the secure and safe Tibet. This was possible because of the aesthetics of kindness of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings that taught never to kill an animal or boil it alive for culinary purposes.

Today, Techung, whose home is in Tibet but who was born in India, is a middle-aged man who resides in Atlanta in the United States. Both of his parents experienced the same fate that has befallen tens of thousands of Tibetan people whose homeland was occupied, whose monasteries were destroyed and whose Lamas were forced into exile; they have experienced the difficulties of living in foreign lands, trying to pass on the essence of their culture. The first time I heard Techung’s music was in some films, for example in “Dreaming Lhasa” and in the documentary “Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion” etc. His singing possesses the rhymes and sounds of traditional Tibetan musical expression such as Kalu, Nangma and Toshey but because of the loss and pain of Tibetan people, his music is full of sadness.

In 2008, the protests across Tibet were smashed to pieces by bullets, and were rolled over by armoured cars but the entire world heard the long and sustained cries of “Ka Hee Hee”. Tibetans, regardless of whether they were inside or outside Tibet, could hear the voices from the heart – “Tibetan people live together in happiness and sorrow” (བོད་མི་སྐྱིད་སྡུག་མཉམ་མྱོང་།) . That year on December 10, Techung held the “Tibet Freedom Concert” in Taiwan and the host commented on Facebook: “Techung’s resonant and melodious voice gives people the feeling of standing in the cool breeze on the Tibetan Plateau. This event happens to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights… I hope that Techung will deliver a message of peace to Taiwanese, Tibetans and even anyone in the world who supports human rights.”

I watched this music festival on the internet and had an idea. I have written several song lyrics, one of them being “On the Road” that I wrote many years ago in Lhasa and that expresses the longing for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I was thinking that if Techung could add music to it and perform it that would be the perfect dedication. I asked a friend from Amdo to translate the lyrics into Tibetan and then contacted Techung to present him with my idea and he happily agreed to do it. After some time had passed, he sent the basically completed song to me and it was exactly the song that I had hoped for with all my heart – relying mainly on the melody and rhythm of the dramnyen, with the famous blues musician and Grammy award winning Keb’ Mo’, Techung sang in a deep but affectionate voice:

“On the road / Ah, on the road / My eyes are brimming with tears / I clutch a flower not of this world / Hurrying before it dies / searching in all directions / That I may present it to an old man in a deep red robe // He is our Yeshe Norbu / He is our Kundun / Our Gongsachog / Our Gyalwa Rinpoche // On the road / Ah, on the road / My eyes are brimming with tears / I clutch a bouquet of the most beautiful flowers / To present to him, to present to him / A wisp of a smile / These bind the generations tight. ”

In 2010, Techung released a new record, “Semshae – Heart Songs”, that he had been working on for many years and that contained 16 nursery rhymes especially written for children. When he was interviewed by the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia, Techung explained that the reason for making this record was his own daughters who are growing up in the US and are slowly becoming Americanised and he hopes that his daughters from when they are young, will never forget that they are Tibetan, that Tibet is their homeland. That’s why he played the dramnyen and sang together with his children “In Tsuglakhang we can give an audience, in Tsuglakhang we can prostrate, let’s go to Tsuglakhang together…” and let his children sing “Amala, I have a wish, please teach me Tibetan…”

I really like these songs and when I went back to Lhasa, almost every day I played them to my little niece; they are such nice songs that every time she heard them, my niece, even though she cannot yet walk or speak, would move to the rhythm of songs, especially to those whose lyrics describe the characteristics of each one of the four seasons.

 

This year, Techung initiated a musical event in support of the freedom of two Tibetans, Dhondup Wangchen and Tashi Dhondup. Dhondup Wangchen was sentenced to six years in prison by the Chinese government for shooting a documentary that expressed the thoughts and feelings of the Tibetan people, Tashi Dhondup was sentenced to 13 months in prison for singing a song that expressed the thoughts and feelings of the Tibetan people. To make the world hear about the suffering of Tibetan people, Techung and many other exiled Tibetan singers held various concerts in the US and in India to show their solidarity with the Tibetans who are suffering.

 

In the flames that ignited all across Tibet in the past few years, each and every one of our Tibetan sons and daughters “gave up their lives for righteousness, for the truth and freedom” by bathing their bodies in those flames. Techung’s new song “Lama Khen” expresses the feelings of these self-immolators, he expresses their last words, singing out the suffering and resistance of the Tibetan people. This is not a sad or angry song, it is as tranquil as a someone who has lived through many changes and thinks of the Lama in a monastery, praying in silence; but it portrays the religious believers, the martyrs who set themselves on fire and it makes people show respect and it is difficult to hold back one’s tears – “Thousand Buddhas Chenno, Lama Chenno, Lama Gyalwa Tenzin Gyatso Chenno, resistance, nonviolent resistance, I burn my own body, Lama la. Protect us, protect us, Lama la, protect us!”

In fact, even though Techung cannot return to Tibet to play his dramnyen and sing, but the wings of his songs have carried his music back to his homeland, which enjoys a high reputation among Tibetan young people and is described like this: “The singing of the exiled Tibetan artist, Techung, gives one the feeling as if he is carefully telling us the secrets of Tibet’s past, they have a magnificent message, but even more does he carry the individual spirit of a bard, with a touch of sadness, without giving up his ideals and with a silent tenacity of the “bone of the heart”.

“Bone of the heart”(སྙིང་རུས།)is a Tibetan metaphor and we all know what it stands for. For Tibetans living inside and outside Tibet, even though manners and morals change, the power indulges in wanton massacre and persecution, and dignity is treated with contempt, but the “bone of the heart” can never be broken. The music of the Tibetan singer, Techung, reveals this scene to the grim and callous world.

July 11, 2012, Beijing

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified), Tibetan

5 Comments

  • Woeser; my hero, who is such an ardent fan of Techung la whose fan I too am one; has a perfect understanding of the music and the musician in Techung la that she puts him in an absolutely correct perspective. Woeserla’s almost philosophically defined opinions about Techung la’s love and understanding of pains, sufferings and agonies that our brothers and sisters, especially in Tibet are facing is so vivid, so clear, so present and alive that; one is living that sweet ( that we connect through music), yet sad (that our brothers and sisters in Tibet are left but with only one choice. Self-immolations)experience with Woeser la’s writing for she writes it in such a way that one travels with her lines. You are right Woeserla. Techung la is one of the very few living icons in exile who could hold onto the authenticity of the Tibetan traditional music; and yet making it to the top says tons about his talent, skill and sincere commitment to the traditional Tibetan art of music and the songs.
    Thank you so much Woeser la;for sharing your personal experiences with all your brothers and sisters in/exile and our friends.And, I am sure there is no one else who appreciates it more than Techung la himself.He could never have asked for any thing better for himself than something this magnitude coming across from his world famous Tibetan sister (in whom we take such a pride…) living under oppressed and suppressed iron curtained nation ruled by poisonous thorn and dark iron fists. Thank you for your courage ! You are our pillar of courage.We all look up to you for inspirations.Sending all our love and prayers to our brothers and sisters in Tibet through you .Take care !!!

  • I really enjoyed reading this tribute to Techung la who, in spite of his incredible talent and craftmanship as a singer and performer has remained a humble man !

    Total love and respect for him as an artist and especially as a father of four daughters which is a very special task !
    When I first heard Tibetan music it all sounded strange to my western ears !

    It was Techung that changed that as he has the gift of melody that reaches the soul no matter where that soul exists !

    That’s the sign of a true artist !

    Thanks Techung la and Woeser la for sharing your gifts with us !