Music from the Tibetan Plateau
Soname – Plateau
Review by Douglas Heselgrave
Soname was born in Tibet in the nineteen seventies, but like many of her generation she fled the oppression of her occupied homeland to live in freedom in India. While there, she resided in McLeod Ganj – the adopted home of the Dalai Lama and thousands of other Tibetan refugees – for many years before immigrating to England. While working as a cleaner in London, the beauty of her voice was discovered when she sang a traditional Tibetan song at a wedding she was helping cater. Plateau is her fourth CD and it is a groundbreaking release in the Tibetan popular music genre.
Many people in the west primarily associate Tibetan music with recordings of the religious chants of monks produced by producers like the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart. Yet, Tibet has a long history of folk and popular music that is just beginning to be appreciated outside of the Himalayan diasporas in India, Bhutan and Nepal.
The first Tibetan singer to be widely heard in the west was Yungchen Lhamo. A fellow British émigré, Lhamo has been recording for Peter Gabriel’s Realworld label for more than a decade. Still, as lovely as Lhamo’s voice is, her albums often suffer under the sometimes heavy handed Realworld production style. There is often little to distinguish the instrumentation of her CDs from the other world music albums released by the label, and the only way to really appreciate her unique qualities has been in a concert setting. Nepalese Tibetan nun Ani Choeling’s collaborations with the American guitarist Steve Tibbets are far more satisfying from a musical perspective, but Choeling’s ethereal vocals are often at the service of Tibbets’ soundscapes rather than the other way around. In may ways, Soname’s CDs offer the first chance for people outside of India and Nepal to hear authentic contemporary Tibetan music.
Tibetan music – like the music from any other country in the world – is not static. In Tibet, contemporary singers have been strongly influenced by Chinese music and it’s often difficult to distinguish songs from occupied Tibet from the syrupy Chinese pop tunes that dominate the country’s airwaves. By the same token, Tibetans communities have been established in India for more than fifty years, so Indian pop and classical music have had an inevitable effect on Tibetan singing and instrumentation. In this sense, Plateau is a surprisingly engaging and delightful collection of songs. Working with some of Britain’s finest Indian musicians such as tabla virtuoso Tanmoy Bose, Soname has crafted a collection of Tibetan songs that feature Indian and western instruments in a way that sounds completely natural. Soname avoids the pitfalls of trying to fit into westerners’ ideals about a lost Tibetan shang-ri-la and never gives into new age pretensions and has opted for challenging arrangements that extend the possibilities for modern Himalayan songcraft. Plateau is a beautifully produced and performed collection of songs that is warm and compelling from beginning to end.
This article originally appeared at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com