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Tibet Folk Songs From Lhasa



Tibet Folk Songs From Lhasa

Recording Folk Songs in Lhasa 2004

During the past decades, Lhasa has been transformed from the capital and spiritual center of Tibet into another Chinese boom-town with tourist attractions such as; endless shopping malls, karaoke Bars,restaurants and a few sites of historical and cultural interest. These sites are dominated by an influx of massive tourist groups from mainland China, with their handycams and noisy picnics. The Jokhang temple in the old centre of Lhasa remains closed for Tibetan pilgrims until afternoon. Tourists have access from sunrise onwards. Tibetan folk culture – when not channelled by government institutions – appears to be in a process of adaptation to rapidly changing conditions. For example, attractive female folk singers are hired to entertain wealthy clients and nauseam in the establishments of doubtful reputation, which abound in contemporary Lhasa.
The ensemble of three folk singers featured on this album, includes Lhakpa Tsering Shingba, Tenzing Shingba and Jyabo Shingba from Shigatse. They work for a Chinese shopkeeper in the Norbulingka park (Dalai Lama’s summer palace). As soon as tourists arrive, the three men have to jump forward with their damnyen lutes, singing frantically with the obvious intention of luring visitors into the shop. Their repertoire consists of traditional songs including the following genres of Tibetan folk

Welcome Song
Toeshey (song-and-dance with slow and fast sections culminating in rapid dance steps), nangma (a genre popular with the former urban elite in central Tibet, song-and-dance with introductory music,
a song and a-dance),

Dance song
Solo song (singer accompanies himself on damnyen lute), and drinking song (inspired by barley beer).
This ensembles plays three different kinds of instruments:
Damnyen: Tibetan plucked lute with six strings tuned in paris in three pitches (‘d-g-c’),
Lumu: Transverse flute made of bamboo, ankle bells tied to the right leg of one singer.

The other ensemble presented here seems to have emerged from old Tibet. A group of twenty roof workers – two males, the rest young women- are specialists in repairing flat temple roofs, pounding them with an implement consisting of a stick with a flat stone on the lower end. These tools are called ‘arshey’ which is synonymous with ‘stick dance/song’. Another name for this special kind of work song is ‘lokha’, referring to a place in southern Tibet. The workers stand in a row, they sing and pound the wet clay in unison at a regular beat of fifty-four to fifty-eight beats per minute. Following each pounding movement, their free hand carries out little waves or flourishes. The song texts concern holy sites, Tibetan Buddhist deities and cultural heroes. One odd line praises the ‘communist rulers’ without further comment. The workers explained that their auspicious songs were indispensable as they ensure the temple roofs last for hundreds of years. Apparently unconcerned about finishing their work within a set time limit, they pounded gracefully and sang at exactly the right pace to attain the magic of fortifying the massive roof structure with the help of music and dance. Mao Jizeng describes roof workers whom he saw in 1957 at the Dahu monastery in Lhasa: “In the glow of the sunset, hearing their sonorous, beautiful voices and seeing their robust, dancelike movements, I found it difficult to say whether this was a scene from a work of art or a moment in real life. The singing had attracted a crowd of people who were watching, listening, and admiring it all in a kind of daze. To this day, the sounds and the scene are unforgettable.” (Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, vol. East Asia).


1.Tashi lak (welcome song):
Tashi lak!
Today, the sun rose from our place.
Get together all of you and best wishes to you.
Tashiu Delek, Phunsum Choeg (good wishes)
Aema Bagto, Kunkham Shang,
Get together all of you and best wishes forever.
Tashi Delek to all Tibetans living far away.
Best wishes for a life with no obstacles or mistakes.
Get together all of you and best wishes for life.

2.God-guru Gyashog Karpo (roof pounding song)
God-guru Gyashog Karpo,
In the vision of the golden eternal knot,
Inside the golden Pata (eternal knot), the Guru takes
his seat on the ground.
When asked to take a seat, the Guru takes his seat on
the ground.
From the vision of the golden snow mountain
One can see the Guru again and again.
From the vision of the turquoise snow mountain
One can see the Gungthren (communist) leaders
again and again.
From the vision of the conch shell snow mountain
One can see all parents again and again.
God-guru Gyashog Karpo,
In the vision of the Thuk eternal Knot,
Inside the Thuk eternal knot, all God-gurus take their seat.
When asked to take their seat, the Gurus take their seat inside.
From the vision of the golden snow mountain
One can see the Guru again and again.
From the vision of the turquoise snow mountain
One can see the Gungthren (communist) leaders
again and again.
From the vision of the conch shell snow mountain
One can see all parents again and again.

3.Dawe Sho-nu (toeshey)
The moon rises from the east
Rises with a white halo.
Rabbit, Loden Sherab,
Whom I never imagined I would meet you
This moon goes to one side,
A second one comes to the other side.
“Great white moon,
I will meet you on the crest.”

4.Gyagar Shar (nangma)
On a mountain in Eastern India
There lives a beautiful peacock
With lovely lithe feathers;
You are the only one
Peacock of eastern India
Parrot of lower Kong-yuil (Tibet)
Even though your birthplace is different
Meet together in Lhasa.

5.Drugla (toeshey)
Dragon with a thunderous roar
Mother of Oeser Dolma
Friend! At Tengey Ling (name of monastery) practice
And spread the dharma.

6.Joshag Yishin Norbu (roof pounding song)
Let us go, let us go to take a look at Joshag Yishir
Norbu (Dalai Lama). (Repeated)
Come on, come on to take a look at Josha
Yinshin Norbu. (Repated)
There is Sera, Drepung and Gaden, which are
excellent monasteries.
Let us go, let us go to take a look at Joshag Yinshin
There is a lively singer in the eastern direction.
liwa Lak (name of a person)
is on the right (good)
There is a residence of His Highness the Dalai Lama
Kalsang Gyatso.
On the left side, there is the residence of our
favourite deity Machig
Jiwa Lak is on the right side.
There is a residence of His Highness the Dalai Lama
Kalsang Gyatso.
Let us go, let us go to take a look at Joshag Yishi Norbu.

7.Phuyi Gaden Choesang (dance song)
Phuyi Gaden Choesang is the home and teaching
place of the original guru.
Shel-rig Drub-shig is the home of the greatest guru
in the world,
Wang-chi Dhang-la is the home of his assistants
Sapa Sa-shi in Dhing-ri is where the parents live,
Chiring Dhang-la is the residence of the officials.
The same great guru in different places.
What are you looking for?
I am looking for a place,
My sweetheart lives at Golue Dhang-la.
Tashi Shabdho, one, two, three!

8.Ri-dey Gyaltsen (toeshey)
That mountain is Mt. Gyaltsen
On the right side is Yingsa Choekyi Phodhang (a palace)
Growing and spreading even better than before.
That mountain is Mt. Norbu
On the left side of that is Gaden Phodhang, our central government,
Growing and spreading better than before.
Gaden Phodhang is fenced with Chang-ma trees
The wish-fulfilling jewel (alluding to Dalai Lama) is in there.

9.Ri-dey Kharag (solo song)
Looking at the base of Mt. Kharag from the bottom
of the mountain.
Walking away from the mountain, descending.
Staying at the base of Mt. Kharag,
Remaining at the base of Mt. Kharag.
She is watching you, the girl from Dhang-chang is watching you.
“Girl of Dhang-chang!”
Looking at the summit of Mt. Kharag from the top of Mt. Kharag.
Snow falls on the top of the mountain.
Descending from the snow-capped mountain
Climbing down from the snow-capped mountain.

10.Shago Pema Raka – (regional drinking song of Tsang)
“Shago Pema Raka”
The lines of the conch over there turn in the right direction.
Snow falls on the outer mountains
There is a hill near Gyadoe village.
Choegyal is a clever and religious man.
He is full of dignity.
Tepa is a little girl
Who looks like a lively peacock.

11.Nyelam-thong La (toeshey)
From the summit of Nyelam-thong hill
A stallion looked back.
It is true that his left-over food remained there.
From the summit of Nyelam-thong hill.
A man looked back.
It is true that he left his sweetheart there.

12.Ama Tsering (roof pounding song)
“Mother Tsering” get ready! The Lama is leaving now.
“Mother Tsering” get ready! The Lama is leaving now.
“Mother Tsering” get ready! Have chang (bade beer)!
Get ready on the right (good) side.
“Mother Tsering” get ready!
“Mother lwring” get ready! The Lama is leaving now.

13.Yargi Thamo (dance song)
“Yargi Thamo” Lhasa is a happy place.
“Bird Yerka” Lhalu (a place) is even happier.
“Yargi Thamo” Say if there is one or a thousand birds.
“Josha Ri” (slang) There is only water for two birds.
Lhasa is Lhasa. Lhalu is even happier.
“Joshag Ri” Luka is happier than Dung-Ka.
“Yargi Thamo” Langey Ling is only good for three birds.
“Joshag Ri” A place is even better.

14.Metog Suem (solo song)
White flowers grow in the middle of the snow- capped mountain.
My mind is whiter than the snow-capped mountain.
Red flowers grow on the rocky mountain slopes.
My mind is redder than the rocky mountain.
Blue flowers grow in the middle of the river.
My mind is longer than a river.

15.Sharlung Draag (toeshey)
On the slopes of Sharlung rock the rays of the sun are bright.
I would feel so happy, if I were a wild animal there.
On the grasslands there are zomo (female yak) with fine hair.
I feel happy, if there is no scarf left on the horns of the zomo.

16.Ama Chang-ma la (drinking song)
“Changlo Khang-sar” Where is the birthplace of your son?
Chang (beer) made out of rice is better than ordinary chang.
“Ama Chang-ma la” serves us the best chang.
Money is there on the table.
The mountain peak is covered with snow and fog.
I go home riding on a small yak.
The base of the mountain is surrounded by rain and water.
I go home, proud of (my catch of) the small yellow-eyed fishes.

17.Gyalui Sey (toeshey)
(I) heard about the Nye-chung (deity) of Gyalu.
(I) don’t think so. He is Prince Gyalu.
If you ask me to carry you, I would carry you to Gyathu-ling.
If you tell me to put something down, I would put 2500.

Mao Jizeng, The Traditional Music of Tibet’ in The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music,
Vol. 7 East Asia:China, Japan and Korea. New York and London 2002:Routledge)

Special thanks to Simonne for polishing the rough
translation of song texts by Khenrab and Tenzin Nyima
(dance and music teacher), to Phinjo-Dai and Narayan-
Dai (Eco Himal, Kathmandu) for logistic support, to
Namga Gyaltsen Sherpa who helped during the
recording expedition and to Sangay Sherpa and his
family for their kind hospitality.

Eco Himal
(Society for Ecological Co-operation Alps- Himalaya) is an Austrian non-governmental organization aiming to improve the living conditions of the people of the Himalayan region, focusing on ecological, social and cultural projects. The projects are primarily funded by the Austrian Development Co-operation.

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