Music & Words | Namgyal Lhamo

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Namgyal Lhamo was born in 1956, the year of the Chinese invasion of Tibet, just across the Tibetan border at the foot of the Kanchen Junga mountain range. Her father’s family originates from Mustang and Shigatse. Until she married, her mother lived alternately in Shigatse, in Lhasa or in the family’s country home in Nyanam. Namgyal’s father traded in goods with his caravan of horses between Tibet and India.
While in Tibet the Chinese increasingly dominated society, religion and cultural traditions, Namgyal grew up in a pure Tibetan environment where all religious, social and cultural traditions still prevailed. Her father was in charge of part of the Tamur river valley and was highly respected by all ethnic groups living there. He had a long term vision to develop the community while preserving the traditions. Education was key for him, so Namgyal – like her brothers - was sent to school at an early age.
The family owned large high mountain pastures with herds of yaks, sheep and other animals. In the valley any crop or fruit you can think of was growing. Namgyal remembers going into the cellar of the house and collecting eggs, berries and other fruits. She liked to play in the orchards and gardens overlooking the Tamur river. She would visit the refugee families camping nearby. Or go with her young ‘tulku’- brother to the monastery to bring offerings of milk, butter and cookies to the resident lama, who had just escaped from Tibet.

Music was a family tradition. Her father was the only one in the Tamur valley to listen in the evening to his records on the His Masters Voice gramophone. Her mother used to sing during the household chores and recited mantras and prayers in the praying room. Her uncle Toepa Chola Damdu-la was a famous musician in Tibet. So it is not surprising that Namgyal became an acclaimed exponent of Tibetan traditional singing and Tibetan Opera.

When the Nixon administration decided to stop the support for the Tibetan guerrillas, Namgyal’s father ran into trouble with the Nepalese authorities and army, as his house had been a natural stop for any Tibetan fleeing from Tibet over the passes west of the Kanchen Junga. For safety reasons his daughters were sent to India in the care of the Tibetan government in exile.
There in Dharamsala they were selected to join the Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts (TIPA, set up by H. H. the Dalai Lama). Starting at a very young age, Namgyal Lhamo trained for over fourteen years under the great masters of Tibetan Opera and Classical Music. She went on to become the star performer of the TIPA and travelled over India and the world. Her interpretations of the Nangma and the Toeshe, Tibetan opera and classical songs from the 17th century, have been universally acclaimed and she is popularly known as 'The Nightingale of Tibet'.

Through this passage she stepped into the tradition of the various kinds of classical and folk music of her country. She toured in 1998 through The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium with Tibet Impressions and participated in global manifestations such as Earth Dance, World Artists for Tibet, Forum 2000, the 50th Anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and performed at Freedom concerts in New York, Washington and Amsterdam.
Namgyal Lhamo performs solo and is accompanied on stage by her voice, the Tibetan lute (Dranyen), sometimes the flute or dulcimer and her independent spirit.

Namgyal Lhamo is the winner of the Best Female Solo artist from India/Tibet at the 2007 International Music awards held by Musicaid in the U.K and Best Female Singer awards at the 2007 Tibetan Music awards.In December 2008 she was nominated for Best World Music Act from Netherlands/Belgium at the MixedMagazine awards held in Amsterdam, Holland. In 2009 she won the Tibetan Music Award for the best music video (‘Paradise Lost’).
Since the 1980’s Namgyal Lhamo lives in the Netherlands, still pursuing the mission to preserve Tibetan culture and traditions through her music. She acted as extra in the Hollywood production ‘Seven Years in Tibet’, and was the leading figure in the Dutch documentary ‘Seven Dreams of Tibet’. She was the lead actress in the short film ‘Karma’ and is the leading actress and co-producer of the feature film ‘Drapchi’, which has just been released this summer.

September 2012
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