June 8, 2009

The Evolution of Lo Monthang's Music

At first it seemed unnatural for Tashi Tsering to perform behind a microphone and to be listening to him through large ear-covering headphones.  The World Map mocked the shiny, black, new equipment from its perch, on the wall just behind Tashi Tsering in our make shift studio.  But at the end of my three week stay in Lo Monthang, I sadly packed the Shure and Sennheiser mics, the Marantz recorder, the mic stands, the slabs of black foam, zip lock baggies and gafting tape into an equipment case.  They had found their place among the Chinese tea tables, Tibetan carpets and mud floors.  They had become an important part of the history of the Loba singing tradition.

Oral tradition is subject to evolution.  And it was the Marantz that had revealed to what degree and how.  A week and a half into our recording sessions I began to rerecord songs that hadn't come out clearly.  Maybe on the first take a bird had flown into the room or flies had collected around the microphone.  Perhaps the wind had caused the window to pop or the women who enjoyed congregating around the studio doorstep had gathered for their daily weaving, and were chattering loudly.  Or there was a cough, a belch, a loud slurp of chhang home-brew, or Tashi Tsering's oral signature in Logay intermixed in a percussive passage: This is Tashi Tsering, the most knowledgeable singer in all of Lo!  Transcribing is Karma, and recording is Katharine.  (And at that I was certain that Tashi Tsering would fit right in performing with any ACDC or Ozzie!)

Through comparing recordings of the same songs, two important elements of Lo Monthang's oral tradition were elucidated:  first, that Tashi Tsering’s ceremonial presence more valued in Lo Monthang than his lyrical and musical precision. Melodies and rhythms were never identical within one song's verses, or across recordings of the same song, but Tashi Tsering’s presence and presentation within a ceremony was essential.  If he was not present for ceremonies, villagers would visit him to express their frustration.  Second, the lyrics that Lobas had assumed were archaic or “difficult” Tibetan were many times alternate pronunciations caused by Tashi Tsering’s speech impediment or by additional nonsense syllables added to accommodate the melody.

Lo Monthang faces another imminent change in musical performance practice:  after Tashi Tsering is no longer be able to play the drums, the stigma associated with their performance will most likely preclude their performance.  How this will effect the continuation of Tashi Tsering's song repertoire is not in its preservation, as there is a strong enthusiasm among the youth in Lo Monthang to learn these songs.  How the lack of daman drums and an official musician will effect ceremonial practice is yet another question, as the timing of gatherings and ceremonies depends greatly on the daman rhythms and Tashi Tsering's presence.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Katey,
    Just hada achance to look at and read about your work trek. Just fascinating. I must confess that I was a little conflicted imagining you break dancing in Lo--immediately envisioning a mouthful of dust, as well as dust impaction in every otehr facial orifice. It was also something to contemplate the impact this scene must have had on the locals...they seem to find the yoga positions that Andrea and Sienna practiced amusing and curious. Evidently, the physicality of the body was not generally a site of enternaing exploration....
    Great work with recording TT's oevre. I understand that you still have lots more to do in this respect...hope more funding come through....
    I'd like to learn/hear more about thestigm a ssociated with the drums, as well as the "alms" culture practiced by the musicians...

    Thanks for doing this most excellent work....
    Best, Maureen