Saturday, February 2, 2013

Losar 2013 – Time For A Tibetan Pow-Wow

My children belong to the third generation of Tibetans living in the West. To keep them interested in the Tibetan language and culture, I use music as one of my most valuable allies. Over the years, the search for child-friendly songs and dances has become something like a creative hobby with Losar, the Tibetan New Year, figuring as a prime motivator and highlight where the children get to perform what they have learned during the year. We would always pep up the performances with beautiful Chupas and accessories brought from our travels to Tibet.

Much like what North American Indians do at their annual pow-wow, Losar is something like our Tibetan pow-wow: We get together with friends celebrating our heritage by joining in dancing and singing, sharing stories and eating Tibetan food that we cook together. In the process we receive a boost for another year ahead of us and the children are able to reconnect with their Tibetan roots. That's why this year too we will celebrate our New Year with all the bells and whistles. Losar is a ritualised event that keeps everyone positive and going.

I know we have been asked to skip festivities. But I believe it is not a wise recommendation. The daily stream of sad news coming out of Tibet is depressing and the hardliner response by China makes us feel helpless. In this situation, being asked to cancel New Year celebrations for the umpteenth time, could easily pull people further down instead of lifting them up. It's like twisting the knife in the wound.

Being continuously asked to cancel celebrations is scoring own-goals because we depend on cultural festivals to keep our traditions relevant. We can’t be in national mourning forever.  It paralyses our society. I don't want my kids to grow up in a morbid and culturally barren environment where all we do is shouting during demonstrations and mourning in prayers. I don't want them to subconsciously connect being Tibetan with negative emotions such as sadness, powerlessness, anger and uncertainty. If that’s where we wind up, then the sacrifice of the self-immolators is 100 % wasted.

Tibetan kids deserve to be happy, enthusiastic and self-confident like all other kids. I want to see them excelling in their Western environments, at the same time, knowing their Tibetan culture inside out. And I want myself as a parent to be able to set the example. For our kids and our culture to burgeon in the communities outside Tibet, I believe it is psychologically important to have something positive to relate to like Losar celebrations.

So here I am, sharing three songs from the broad range of contemporary Tibetan music that are fun and uplifting. I picked them for my Losar pow-wow because they don’t try too hard which is what makes them cool. They don’t have a big message. They don’t tell us: Speak Tibetan! Study hard! Work for Tibetan unity! I like these songs for this year’s Losar precisely because they don’t lecture, don’t plead nor mourn; they simply live it. 

The Losar Evergreen: Lokhor Dawa 12 - "Another Year Gone By"

"Another Year Gone By" is a Losar evergreen because it fulfills all the criteria of a perfect Tibetan New Year song: 1) It's a traditional folk tune; 2) The content of the song is really about the New Year and not something else; 3) The melody is easy, no high pitches, everyone can sing along; 4) There is an uncontrived group dance to go with it, that even little kids can master - the perfect pow-wow dance! Moreover, we can learn about the seasons, fauna, flora, and it tells us something about people's attitude and the local farming almanac. In addition, the blend between electronic music and traditional instruments gives it a contemporary touch. This song was also mentioned in Bashè Forever. 

Another Year Gone By

Again it's the first month (of the New Year)
Again the willow trees are turning green in the second month
Here a little dance, hoppedeehopp
There a little dance, hoppedeehopp

Again it's the third month
Again we can hear the cuckoo calling in the fourth month
Here a little dance, hoppedeehopp
There a little dance, hoppedeehopp

Again it's the fifth month
Again the ? are ripening in the sixth month
Here a little dance, hoppedeehopp
There a little dance, hoppedeehopp

Again it's the seventh month
Again the grass is turning yellow in the eighth month
Here a little dance, hoppedeehopp
There a little dance, hoppedeehopp

Again it's the ninth month
Again the leaves are falling off the trees in the tenth month
Here a little dance, hoppedeehopp
There a little dance, hoppedeehopp

Again the twelve months of the year are gone by
Don't forget: It's over in no time, as quick as that.
Here a little dance, hoppedeehopp
There a little dance, hoppedeehopp

The Runner Up: Gakyi Luyang  - "Song Of Joy And Happiness"

The "Song Of Joy And Happiness" is always a good choice and perfect for any festive occasion. I heard other versions but the interpretation by Tseten Dolkar below is my favourite. It's not merely a funky song but has deep meaning. It honours all people which Tibetan society considers worthy of special respect. It teaches a lot about social etiquette and traditional values: Reverence for the Dharma and its representatives, gratitude towards one's parents, the value of studying hard, nurturing our national sentiment, and instilling a sense of responsibility in kids for the future of Tibet. There is a sense of continuation coming out of this song, a feeling that our people will endure. All this is packed into a musically pleasant song. The beat is a plus because kids love funky music. A minus is that it is not Losar-specific.

                                          From the album ser bya'i las dbang, 2010, ISRC CN-G02-10-364-00/V.J6

Song Of Joy And Happiness

To mark the occasion, let us all go to Norbu Lingkha Park for a picnic.
To mark the occasion, let us entertain our parents, relatives and friends with songs and dances

Let the good times roll!
Let us offer the first Khata to the noble and kind root Guru

Let the good times roll
Let us offer the second Khata to the kindhearted and sincere people of the Tibetan race

Let the good times roll!
Let us offer the third Khata to the fortunate and wise ones (i. e. monks)

To mark the occasion, let us all sing a song of joy and happiness that we could all get together
To mark the occasion, let us entertain our parents, relatives and friends with songs and dances

Let the good times roll!
Let us offer the fourth Khata to our kind parents who are always anxious for our wellbeing

Let the good times roll!
Let us offer the fifth Khata to the students who are diligently learning

Let the good times roll!
Let us offer the sixth Khata to our heart's brothers and sisters from the three provinces of Tibet

Let the good times roll!
Let us offer the seventh Khata to the future youth of Tibet

The Bronze Medalist: Sempa Gasong – "Happy As Can Be"

Here's another folksong with a face lift. Whereas "Another Year Gone By" describes farming life in Eastern Tibet and "The Song Of Joy And Happiness" in an interpretation from Central Tibet teaches us about traditional values, "Happy As Can Be" has nomadic roots. We can learn that just like the Drokpa we don't need a whole lot of fancy material possessions to feel happy. It's the simple things in life that count like a sunrise or watching animals or enjoy nature. It's a particularly relevant reminder for people in places that overboard with consumerism. Create a hip dance to go along and your kids' Western pop idols can count on some serious competition!

                                                      From the album "bkra shis dawa", 2004; ISRC CN-T05-04-323-00/V.J6

Happy As Can Be

The moon reflecting on the surface of lake Yamdrok Yumtso illuminated everything around it
As I saw the bright landscape before me, I felt happy as can be.

The sun rising over the eastern mountain peaks brightened up the whole place.
As I saw the land immersed in light before me, I felt happy as can be.

When circumambulating snow-capped Mt. Machen, we saw peacefully grazing horses and white sheep
As I saw the horses and sheep so peacefully before me, I felt happy as can be.

In Tibet, the land of the great snow, there are white Khatas fluttering everywhere
As I saw all the Khatas fluttering around me, I felt happy as can be.

If you are uncomfortable with song and dance at this time, you could use the New Year holiday to improve your Tibetan language skills, read Tibetan comics with your kids or watch a Tibetan movie together or learn more about Dharma. You could also cook a Tibetan meal with your children or teach them how to play Sho and Tibetan card games. The list is endless if we use our fantasy and prepare ahead of time. The main point is not to succumb to grief and end up doing nothing.

I wish us a merry Losar with magic moments that we can draw upon for a long time to come. Gnam lo gsar la bkrashis bdelegs, thugs bzhes lhun 'grub!

Mountain Phoenix

Related Essays