Monday, February 2, 2009

A Hairdresser, A Nun, A Humble Little Boy, And A Hunk

I went for a haircut the other day to look my best for the upcoming Tibetan New Year, Losar, which falls on 25 February 2009. Although there are fancier hairdressers around, I always go to Nathalie. She knows how my hair falls and always makes me walk out of that salon feeling like a goddess.

Nathalie’s hair is very long, very blond - bleached of course - but still looking very natural. She has the prettiest face, blue eyes, a sweet smile, all topped off by a warm personality. Going to see her, is almost like going to see a therapist.

So there I sat waiting for her magic to begin, when she asked me: “Have you heard of that Tibetan nun? I went to her concert the other day and was so moved by her singing, I cried all the time!”

She couldn’t remember the name of the singing nun, but obviously meant Ani Choying Dolma, whom I had seen on Youtube performing “Amazing Grace” before a huge crowd. I thought she was extraordinary.

“The funny thing though was that there was only one Tibetan in the audience, apart from him, only Westerners,” Nathalie said.

“We normally associate nuns and monks with chanting prayers in a monastery. Singing is quite something else. I just don’t think a nun singing on a stage is something most Tibetans would go out to see for entertainment,” I told her.

Nathalie, sweetheart, you have no clue who our real stars are!

Tibetans would flock to the concert hall, when an international nobody like Phurbu T. Namgyal is in town. If you want to see a Tibetan crowd, go to his concert, baby!

One of my mom’s friends calls the US-based singer Bhutee Namgyal and declared him to be her favourite singer. That’s funny for two reasons: First, she doesn’t seem to notice that something can’t be right with the way she got her favourite singer’s name, because “Bhutee” is clearly a girl’s name; second, someone her age falling for this type of music would be like my 60-year old neighbour Gerdie saying her favourite band is the Backstreet Boys. You know what I mean? There’s just a huge disconnect here.

Believe it or not, Phurbu T. Namgyal’s popularity reaches all the way into Tibet. When I was in Lhasa in the summer of 2007, they played his song Lhasa’i Barkhor nangla in the Barkhor, day in and out, and reportedly, his song Nga yuk ney (“Leaving me” or literally “Throwing me away”) is melting plenty of hearts all over the place. Oh dear, to tell you the truth, I find that song so pitiful. I am perplexed that even some of our business partners – mature, grown-up folks - are also enamoured with these songs.

Is it just me? Something wrong with my senses?

The guy sounds like a kid with speech impairment. Tune-wise, most songs are so simplistic; don’t they remind you of nursery rhymes? The same goes for most of the lyrics with the same silly lines repeated ad nauseam; doesn’t that make the songs sound as if they were composed for the retarded? Think of Chim Chim Lhamu and the likes. And what does the “T” in his name stand for anyway - Tintin? Twerp?

By far the worst thing though is that he refers to himself in his songs as bhuchung (“little boy”), or worse even bhuchung nyamchung (“humble little boy”). Please, someone tell me: What self-respecting girl would take a second look at a guy like that? All my reflexes say: “Bhutee, go home to your Amala, quick!”

But hey, a big girl like me shouldn’t take him apart like that. Doesn’t make me look good bashing a humble little boy…

My friend Pema from the Tibetan for kids’ story thinks the best Tibetan singer is Yadong. She says his music has depth and character, his voice is expressive and powerful. Even if you don’t get the lyrics because he has a thick eastern Tibetan accent or sings in Chinese, she insists the emotions still run through.

She must know, she’s a sanjor (recent arrival from Tibet) and understands everything the man is singing about.

Another friend, Lhakpa, wanted to get Yadong over for a famous open air concert in her region. I sent her all the CDs and VCDs I had so she could pass them on to the organisers for an impression Yadong’s versatile music. Alas, in the end, they didn’t invite him - they weren’t sure he could move large Western audiences.

Every now and then you hear a rumour that Yadong, the self-proclaimed Khampa hanzi (“hunk from Kham”), got into trouble with the authorities for a politically sensitive song. But he always bounces back, has basically been around forever in this short-lived industry where singers pop in and out everyday and disappear into oblivion shortly thereafter. Not him.

Let’s see what’s next. A recent visitor from Kham told us Yadong just did a film in which he acts and sings. Right now he’s said to struggle with the censors to get it out into the public. Let me tell you one thing, that’s what makes the guy hot in my eyes: That deeply felt bond to Tibet, the art to put that into his music without instrumentalising his work, and the guts to look the occupying force in the eye.

Well Pema, I guess you got me on board as far as Yadong is concerned.

I have a suspicion that even Nathalie may like his music. He also has long hair. That helps. Nathalie has a weakness for men with long hair. I must bring her a CD next time.

Happy Losar!

Mountain Phoenix

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