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A Tibetan Singer Preserves Culture

December 17, 2010 (blog)
posted by: Heidi Minx

Tibetan folk singer Techung is working hard to preserve his culture.  After Tibet's forced hostile takeover by China in 1949, Tibetans-in-exile have found inspiring ways to preserve their culture.

Techung grew up in Dharamshala, India, where his family and tens of thousands of other Tibetans resettled from their native Tibet. At the age of 9, he was enrolled in the newly formed Tibetan Dance and Drama School, now known as the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA).

In his 17 years of residency at the Institute, he studied all aspects of the Tibetan performing arts:  folk, court, and opera - through the oral teaching tradition used by the venerated Tibetan elders with whom he was honored to study. 

After emigrating to the U.S., he co-founded the San Francisco-based Chaksampa Tibetan Dance and Opera Company in 1989. From 1995-97, Techung worked for the Milarepa Fund in San Francisco, who organized the Tibetan Freedom Concerts worldwide.

His love of music has manifested in some remarkable ways.  This month, he has released 'Semshae,' which means 'Heart Songs' in Tibetan. It is a collection of Tibetan children's songs -- the first to be released from the exile community.

While Tibetans inside Tibet have, in the past months, been protesting the PRC's initiatives to remove the Tibetan language from schools, this CD in itself is a peaceful effort to keep the language alive through song.

Techung's dedication doesn't stop here, though.  Earlier this month, I worked with Care2 to create a petition calling for the release of Tashi Dhondup - a young singer from Amdo jailed for singing songs calling for freedom, and for torture to cease.

Within days of the petition going live, Techung contacted me, and asked how we could collaborate to raise more awareness for Tibet's artists, who are often political prisoners, and call for their release.

Techung's initiative was inspiring.  He has a vision that doesn't rest on just one continent.  This past week, he has organized and performed at two concerts, one in Delhi and one in Dharamsala, India.  In Delhi, he was joined by Dhondup Wangchen's wife, Lhamo Tso, and Tsundue (featured in photo above), another dedicated activist who emulates Ghandi's mantra of peaceful resistance.

Concerts are also planned for London, New York and Toronto.

After I founded Built on Respect, I spent a better part of the last two years living in Dharamsala, volunteering in the community there.  There is not a person I know there who does not have a relative in jail, or has not themselves been persecuted for their religous beliefs or desire for freedom.

I advocate for these prisoners, and have become friendly with their families.  On days when I think things are not so good, I think of the brave women I have met, like Lhamo Tso -- a mother, living as a refugee in a strange country, wondering if her husband is okay, knowing he has been tortured so badly he has contracted Hepatitis, and is being denied medicine.  And her three children, who see the efforts of the community and world around them, but still have no father to tuck them in or sing them songs at night.

I commend Techung for his selfless work, and hope that his music, and the voices of many will help preserve a culture, and be anthems for peace.

I encourage you to sign the petition for Tashi Dhondup and Dhondup Wangchen, and join in this community effort so these families can be safely reunited.

To learn more about 'Semshae - Heart Songs' or order a copy, visit
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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