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Listen to your inner voice: Loten
MCLEOD GANJ, India, 1 August 2006 Loten Namling is a maverick and a versatile man — singer, musician, actor, cartoonist, artist, an orator and a visionary. He is robust by build, but the most powerful part of him is his voice.
He grew up listening to Abba, Beegees and Boney M, and Hindi songs such as "A dosti" (Sholay), "Tu me geeton may daloon ga" (Sawan ko annay do) and other songs from the film "Bobby". "Tibetans were awe-stricken with these songs and wondered how such melodious songs were made," Loten recalls. The first Tibetan song played with a guitar, "Zay pay Rinzin Wangmo" by Thubten Samdup in the late 1970s, never became deadbeat for Tibetans.
Music must have been in Loten's Karma. Growing up in Tibetan society influenced and inspired him into music. One particular song that hit Loten so deep to take up music was the song "Ama le ho" that has the lyrics — White Crane! Lend me your wings! I will not fly far, From Lithang I shall return — composed by the sixth Dalai Lama (1683-1706), from whom Loten draws his inspiration. Legend has it that the sixth Dalai Lama ruled Tibet in the daytime, but in the nighttime revelry ruled him.
Loten's specialisation is in the field of centuries old "Nangma" and "Toeshey". He feels it is important to keep old songs alive because they have souls from long ago and they connect us to the past. "I was not born in Tibet but when I play these old songs I get virtually transported back into the past, the Tibet that was."
However, he is not a conservative traditionalist — neither does he speak against the new and nascent array of contemporary and experimental genres and songs. What matters for him is to understand the value of the old.
After much research and consultation with experts and older Tibetans, Loten joined with those who believe the term "Nangma" to have derived from the Urdu word "Nagma", which literally means songs in that language. He felt it logical, perhaps, to accept this hypothesis of the origin of the word rather than the less-popular argument that the Nangma songs are performed in the courts or the inner enclosures (Tibetan: Nang) of the elites in Lhasa. Kashmiri immigrants to Lhasa started these songs around five centuries back. Hence, "Nangma" must have derived from mispronounced "Nagma".
"Toeshey" are songs from the Toe region (western Tibet), which were later adopted in Lhasa and became the legion of the Nangma-Toeshey. The rhythm and the pace make the Nangma and Toeshey two different and distinguishable genres.
Loten was inspired by his mother to learn Dranyen (a three-paired string Tibetan instrument) when he was of age 16. He received more lessons later from Mrs Ugen Choedon, when he attended the Tibetan Children's Village school in Dharamshala. He started music and stage artiste as a career right after he moved to Switzerland in 1989.
He feels lucky to have been raised in Tibetan cultural surroundings and now living in Europe. "I have gotten the best of both the East and the West." Life experiences in the West have honed his sense of professionalism, networking and the spirit of not giving up.
Ego, Loten says, is another area any artiste should reduce. It is an unhealthy element for an artiste. Artistes must practise positive pride and skills that benefit others.
More importantly, he has learned to speak his mind and listen to his inner voice encouraging Tibetans to do the same and not to be concerned about what society says and expects. "Tibetans should change that mentality and not feel afraid to come out of their hidebound attitude," Loten laments.
Having tasted Europe's classical music, he had noted that they are based on a tonality scale. "It's very mathematical and intellectual. Indian classical is based on rhythm. So, when Indian musicians meet a Western musician, they can easily play and catch up with them. Tibetans need to learn Indian and Western music to widen our knowledge of music in order to interact with other musicians."
What European musicians find when playing with Loten is the emotional warmth!
For Loten, a concert or a performance requires ritualistic preparation a few days in advance. This includes cleansing both the body and the mind. For his body, he tries not to eat food that may hinder his voice or throat. He also avoids smoke-filled areas and tries to have complete rest for a few days leading up to the concert.
As for his mind, he believes it is important to think positively, and be in a creative environment conducive to a peaceful state of mind. "I believe this will benefit other people as well. As a Buddhist I meditate to achieve the cleansing of my body and mind. When I sing, my motivation is to have a positive meaningful impact on my audience inspiring happiness."
Talking about the exile Tibetan music scene, he says the current mediocre pop within the Tibetan society itself is a revolution, because it's a new thing for Tibetans. But what he feels important for artistes to know is that after the success of the first album they should try to go in to more depth and try to bring something new in the next album. "All the albums shouldn't sound the same — same beat, same rhythm — and the lyrics also shouldn't sound like propaganda." Singers should strive to make their works worthy of admiration in their originality. They should also take inspiration from works of others.
The lyrics do not have to necessarily be political. Tibetan artistes in exile should also try to reach Tibetans inside Tibet. "So that they can feel our presence".
Change in the Tibetan music scene will take time. "There are still people who don't even count being a musician as a career. "I still meet people who tell me to leave aside singing and performing and take up some other job. I am happy to note that younger generation Tibetans have a different concept regarding that."
Although the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) was established in the early 1960s for the preservation and development of Tibetan performing arts and music, Tibetan music was at a very low edge. Then the music was not taken as an art, but the poverty-stricken Tibetans sent their children merely to get properly fed at the institute. Loten hopes that the situation has changed now and that education and talent are the basis for taking on artistes at TIPA.
Dedicating his life for Tibetan music and culture, and having performed in hundreds of concerts, his most important show was before the Dalai Lama in June 2005 in Berlin. His reward was a blessing from the Dalai Lama and an opportunity for a tête-à-tête with him. During the meeting the Dalai Lama said, "Art is an important medium in preserving and continuing the Tibetan culture."
"His Holiness' appreciation for my efforts in promoting Tibetan music and culture was my biggest reward and it is my source of strength."
"Tibet blues" is Loten's new quest. He takes inspiration for this new venture from African blues. He gets the right feeling from Blues for his life in exile. He is going to Senegal to find out more about this genre, and particularly Sufi music. "I hear Sufi elements in Nangma songs." The high pitch and melodious songs sung by Tibetans are how Sufi songs are sung as well. And since Nangma is mispronounced Urdu word "Nagma", he feels that these Tibetan songs were inspired by Sufism.
Loten has two albums to his credit: Songs of Tibet (1999) and White Crane (2002).
His last recorded work is a rock song titled "United Tibet", which was done in collaboration with a reknowned Dutch rock group: Heideroosjes. A new music video has also been made for the song. They will all play together in a concert during a festival called 'Ticket for Tibet' at the end of August in Holland and Belgium.
If you believe in a one-man army, Loten is one such powerful man, using his voice as his weapon.