Music & Words | Gang Chenpa

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Music from the land of snow

Pureand pristine, just the way it had always sounded in Tibet, until fortyyears ago. That is how Namgyal Lhamo, Kelsang Chukie Tethong, andTobden Gyamtso from Gang Chenpa - ‘People from the land of snow’ - wishto sing.


In present-day Tibet that would be virtually impossible. Forty yearsof Chinese rule have certainly left their marks. As a result, thetraditional Tibetan repertoire in Tibet itself became obscure.overnight. The generations that have grown up in Tibet in the last fewdecades no longer know these traditional songs and fewer people stillplay the traditional instruments like the dragnen - the Tibetan lute -and the gyumang - a multi-string hammered dulcimer.

Gang Chenpa is a group of Tibetan singers living in exile. The twosisters Namgyal Lhamo (1956) and Kelsang Chukie (1957) completed at anearly age an arduous musical training course at the Tibetan Instituteof Performing Arts (TIPA) in Dharamsala, India. They were destined tobecome major performers of traditional Tibetan music, but they stillhad a long way to go.
Tobden Gyamtso (1964) roamed the roads and villages of the Tibetancountryside as a child, living off his great talent for singing thegyae-sar - ancient Tibetan legends. In the late eighties he becameinvolved in the demonstration movement against the Chinese oppression.In the early nineties he was shown a series of photographs of theTibetan community in Dharamsala. This prompted him to devote all hisenergy to supporting the cause of his own people. He set out for Indiaon foot, reaching it a month later, singing all the way.

Namgyal, Chukie and Tobden met in 1996, in Argentina, during theshooting of Seven Years in Tibet. In some scenes in this film theirsinging can be heard in the background. During the long period theywere in Argentina, with many hours spent waiting between takes,Namgyal, Chukie and Tobden gradually found they were kindred souls.
All three of them wish to keep the traditional Tibetan music alive.They sing and play light-classical Tibetan songs as they were performedduring festivals and parties - but also love songs, mountain songs, andsongs that people used to sing while working in the fields or in theirworkshops.
They learnt their songs and singing techniques from people who, back in1959, were still able to sing freely. In Dharamsala they were taught bylegendary teachers of Tibetan traditions, like the singing mastersLhutsa and Majalhama, both dead now.
On this album they sing and play like they would on the stage - withoutany double recordings of voices or instruments. When singing theyperform the same ritual dances as during an actual stage performance -you may not be able to hear it, but it does show in the phrasing, inthe emotion conveyed by their songs, in the depth of their music.

Both sisters have performed at the Tibet Freedom Concerts in NewYork, and in March and April 2000 they will play a series of 15concerts in the biggest Dutch theatres.

The interest in Tibet has increased tremendously over the last fewyears, particularly in the West. Surprisingly thus far hardly anyonehad ever put the pure, genuine, traditional Tibetan music on cd. GangChenpa has succeeded in filling this gap quite convincingly.

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