March 28, 2009

TO DO's and Run Ons

Preparing for a trip to Asia is a TO DO list of Rapunzelian length:

-Cypro and diamox from the pharmacy  
-BestBuy for memory cards, AA's and AAA's
-Buy duct tape and sand paper, apply to electronics case (cheap but effective premium for my equipment insurance policy) 
-Safeway for ziplock bags (Clause two of equipment insurance policy to protect against the elements)....

...If I forget anything, I'll end up with grainy mics that get heisted while I'm too sick with unmedicated AMS or Asia Flu to react.  But ke garne, I won't have any batteries left for recording anyway -- remember, I didn't have time to run to BestBuy.  So even if I don't get through the list, I'll still have faith in equilibrium.

And then there's the planning.  My Timeline for this trip was spellchecked with bolded, underlined headers and page numbers in the bottom right hand corner.  But when I looked away from my monitor, I felt Reality's imposing shadow.  Flooded by details, howevers and ifs, the formatting came atumblin down as I tried to to communicate with Tashi Tsering, the official singer of the Royal Court of Lo Monthang.

Lo Monthang is an ancient Tibetan walled city in Northern Nepal where I'm headed to record Tashi Tsering's music for the next couple of months.  It's walls, dating back to the 15th Century, are still standing.  And while Lo Monthang may seem isolated, it sits in a prominent glaciated pass at the base of the Himalayan Plateau -- a trough so large it'd challenge Moses, and one that provided an obvious trade route between Tibet and Nepal.  

But compare it to Jackson, and Lo Monthang is isolated: the town has one computer, little to no electricity, and even from this distance, I've begun to feel the polyrhythms of cultural time zones.  As I emailed Tsewang in Kathmandu, who responded to say that he'd gotten in touch with Sonam in Jomsom who'll call Indra in Lo Monthang, who'll walk to Tashi Tsering's house, discuss, walk back home, call Sonam, who'll email Tsewang, and that he'll keep me posted until I arrive in Kathmandu on Thursday, I realized that my Timeline is the Humpty Dumpty of Himalayan adobe.

I imagine that while trekking to Lo next week, I'll keep a look-out for Humpty's missing pieces amidst the sandy crimson cliffs.  And I'll listen for the murmurs of the Wind Horse, trying to catch snippets on my new recording equipment -- the equipment that's now fully insured, because I did have time to pop into Safeway for ziplock bags this afternoon!

March 25, 2009

vignettes of Ladakhi musician castes

---, a 42-year-old surna player and carpenter who lives in a hamlet of Nubra Valley, only a few kilometers from the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, understood that playing his music is a double-edged sword -- "Music is very important, valued very much in our Ladakhi culture...but we musicians are taken advantage of.  Our music is demanded.  We must play when we are ill and not complain.  We must make three-day treks in the middle of winter to play for a festival.  We must accept what they give us in return for our music, and not complain if they give us nothing or treat us badly."  --- spoke about the social role of his family and about the social and physical isolation of his community hamlet.  "It is where we Nurbuxsha live.  It was called Bekhang," referring to the peripheralized and untouchable community of which he is a part.

Twenty years ago, --- was required to play for a monastic celebration continuously for over twenty-four hours.  To stop would have been considered offensive, but he began to vomit blood.  The consequence of his overexertion left him unable to play the surna, thus without a source of livelihood.

In a village situated at 15,000 feet, near the border of China, one 80-year-old mon musician declined to share his history.  Villagers related memories of a neighbor beating him at a wedding because he had stopped performing his music before the party finished.  The village has since boycotted him and his family; they do not speak to him, will not sell him goods, or let him borrow their livestock for farming.