I was born in Amdo Tsonung, Tibet....
My village’s name was Windu, the same village in which the 10th Panchen Lama was discovered. Growing up, I didn’t know who my father was and I didn’t meet him until I was 16 years old. He had another family, and didn’t care for me. When I was 10 years old my mother grew very ill. No-one knew what was wrong with her, and with no local hospital to go to, she died a year later. My 2-year-old little brother was sent to live with my mother’s twin sister, whilst I had to go and live in my uncle’s home, working for him as a nomad. Later, when he was older, my brother contracted a disease which, because he couldn’t get treatment, left him disabled in both legs. When he was thirteen, he passed away suddenly.
When I was growing up at first I was chosen to be a ngakpa (Tibetan shaman/yogi). And so my hair was cut to be short on the sides and bottom but leaving a long pony-tail on top. I wasn’t happy, I didn’t want to be a ngakpa and I really wanted long hair, like the mandolin players I had seen. And because I had long hair all the kids used to be able to catch me and hold onto my pony-tail when we were playing. Later, my grandfather decided I should be a monk, so he shaved off all of my hair. I was so afraid of the razor, I cried every time he did it. And I didn’t want to be a monk. I still wanted my long hair. Later, when I was working as a nomad, I would spend three or four months away from home with the herds and then I would come back. My hair would have grown so long but my uncle’s wife used to cut it when I slept (she said I looked like a girl!) so I would wake up with nothing left. But she would cut it in a really ugly way – with big scissors and unevenly. There was no hairdresser to do it for me!
I have been an activist for a number of years now, volunteering my services as an artist to various Tibetan NGOs. My activism changed in 2008, however. After the March 14th killings in Tibet I became highly active and began selling political T-shirts and participating in every protest. In response to these killings I designed a collection of T-shirts and have continued to release a new collection of political T-shirts ever since, each year on 10th March – the anniversary of the 1959 Lhasa uprising. I still work with many NGOs in the area such as the Tibet Hope Center (THC) and Learning and Ideas for Tibet (LIT) who work to improve the language skills and lives of Tibetans in exile. Every Thursday I participate in THC’s and LIT’s Tibetan Traditional night where I play music and sell T-shirts. I am also a member of Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) and the Democracy Party of Tibet.
In October 2011, I had my first acting role in the film ‘Escape from Tibet’ which was filmed in Ladakh, Kashmir. I played a rural Tibetan farmer who sends his children across the Himalayas to safety in India. Although it brought back painful memories from my past, I was very happy and proud to be part of this production.
I have remained an active musician since my days at Norbulingka. In 2012, I was finally able to produce my first album, Open Road. This contains a number of different genres of song, including a metal track – I am the first Tibetan musician to compose in the metal genre. Inspiration for the music came from the 2008 uprisings in Tibet as well as the recent tragic self-immolations. The album was made as a tribute to these heroes. This album also has special meaning for me. I was able, for the first time in 15 years, to meet my sister. She was able to come to India for the 2012 Bodhgaya Kalachakra ceremony given by His Holiness. When I met her in Nepal, at first I didn’t recognize her. My sister is a nun in Tibet. I was looking for nuns robes, and of course she wasn’t wearing them. Nuns and monks are no longer allowed to wear their robes in the capital city of Tibet, Lhasa, and so she had bought new Chinese clothes to travel to Nepal. When I saw her wearing the Chinese fashions, though, I thought it was very strange. She was still standing like a nun, walking very slowly and carefully, in the way nuns normally must do because of the way their robes hang. She was wearing ripped jeans – they’re very fashionable in Lhasa, she said! But I didn’t like them on her. She looked so strange. So I took her straight to the shop and we bought her nuns robes. Later, we recorded a track for my album. I recorded her singing a mantra for the Kalachakra song. We had sung a lot together when we were young children, but since she became a nun she had not had the opportunity to sing until now. The manager at the recording studio was very surprised by how beautiful her singing was – he said she had a voice like the smell of tsampa(Tibetan roasted barley flour)! We captured her voice on the first take, no more were needed.
Later, during the same Kalachakra, I had the opportunity to perform this song in front of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The lyrics of this song talk about the Dalai Lama’s life, the Kalachakra and exile. I was so happy to be able to perform this song – it was the perfect place and time for it. I remember His Holiness clapping and smiling and enjoying it – this was such a special experience for me.
All my music is political – I use it to further the freedom of Tibetans. My first album was entitled Open Road. All my future albums will also be titledOpen Road, until the day Tibetan gains its freedom. Recently I started a group with other Tibetan musicians and we gave our first concert on 20thOctober 2012. We hope to raise money to erect a commemorative pillar for those who’ve self-immolated for the Tibetan cause. In the future we hope to give concerts all over India and to work further for the Tibetan cause. I believe that music is an important vehicle for Tibetan politics – music is something that everyone engages with, almost every day, and tunes stick in your head. Through Tibetan music I try to remind Tibetans that they are still refugees and should try and work everyday for the Tibetan cause.
Böd Rangzen! བོད་རང་བཙན།