Grammy for Good Luck: Interview with Techung
MCLEOD GANJ, India, 11 November 2015 (Tibet Sun)
Techung is aiming for a Grammy next year for his latest album Tashi Sho: Good Luck, Good Life, that will be launched worldwide in January. He has lived song, dance, and music his whole life since he was nine. Not that he needs a Grammy, but it would be right that they honour him with one for all that he has done in music. He says that he along with his band members have put their heart and soul into this, their latest album.
He goes by the stage name Techung, and two years ago people around the world voted to give Tashi Dhondup Sharsur four awards at the Tibetan Music Awards 2013 for his previous album Lam La Che: On The Road (2013).
He has seven albums to his credit, has toured around the world for love and freedom concerts, and his voice and music have been used in several films.
Speaking to Lobsang Wangyal of Tibet Sun in an interview, Techung says music is his religion. The interview was done to the sound of exploding fire crackers celebrating the Indian Festival of Lights, Deepawali. We hope the lights help him and his band — Techung and the Wind Horses shine for their album.
Please tell us about your new album, the work and the time in producing this. How are you seeing this, where do you think this will go, and what can people expect from the new album?
This new album Tashi Sho is with my band, Techung and the Wind Horses. We have been working on this for almost a year together. The songs were conceived three or four years ago. It is a mixture of traditional and original songs. Some are fun, non-political, some are political, some are pure traditional.
One of the key elements in this whole album is, so far in our music life, we have been sustained by friends and music lovers. So the name itself “Tashi Sho” is a thank you to the fans and friends.
We have some hopes for this album, because we are awakened to the time that we are doing this as a group, and we are doing this with all our heart and passion. We want to promote it widely, and we really hope to, if not win a Grammy, be nominated in the World Music category. At the same time we want to be practical, we would like people to pay for downloads, and have a lot of downloads. At the bottom line, we hope people will love this music.
There is a lot of piracy going on, for which there is a big outcry from the Tibetan artistes and producers, that they are not even able to break even on their costs. How would you promote your album, and your suggestions for Tibetans to market their music and art works.
My experience is that we have to really look at it as a whole sum. As a musician you need to of course think about your creativity, how is the song, being very honest to your heart.
At the same time, in production you have to go to recording and this and that, and you really want to keep some sense of sanity for yourself. Just be honest, that’s the biggest thing about the music. The audience understands, they cannot be fooled by your immediate game plan. Music is kind of sacred in that way.
At the same time you have to keep in mind that once you release an album, it’s not done. For us it’s done, but that whole reaching out to audience, reaching out to people, is a whole other game, it’s never going to end. So there, I think we are lacking this understanding, that it’s not just that the CD is produced and you’re going to sell it in one or two places, but how are you going to reach out? How can your music be listened to by a lot more people, and not only Tibetans?
I think musicians need to be smart, they need to be business-minded a little bit. You can make your small deals with local mobile phone shops, and try to get that kind of support. In the West I know that certain bands, especially hiphop bands, they have a whole bunch of friends selling their music for them, for a small fee. And everybody’s really helping. So you need to find those people who can help.
Piracy I don’t think we can stop, even Hollywood cannot stop it.
The more your music is out there, the better it is. There’s nothing wrong with promoting your music. So when I say that, I don’t mean you’re going to go crazy with it, but just using all the tools that we have. Your music website, MusicTibet.com, is just one example: Are we using that properly? Are we taking advantage of that? You are not charging anything for anybody. So we need to basically sit down and put our thing together and send it to you, or whoever. And people like to help. We are missing that point right now, we are not utilising all the small platforms that we have.
For us, we have three in our band, and we have some experienced members. One of our band members lives in Hollywood, and he’s pretty good with the ins and outs of the music business. And our other two members, we are Tibetans, and we are learning from him.
Tell us something about your band members. Particularly there is one woman singer, please introduce her.
At the moment our core members are three. We have Rinzing Wangyal la, he’s our guitarist. He grew up in Darjeeling, and lives in New York. Our second member is Michel Tyabji, he’s an Indian descendant, grew up in Bhutan, Bombay, London, Africa, everywhere. He was a music producer and sound engineer, and he lives in LA. And the third one is myself.
We had five before, but two of them are not any more. One is Sherep Wangmo, she was a TIPA artiste. She has two songs on the album. Right now we are a core of three members.
How do you see the trends of music in Tibet and in exile? What are the similarities and what are the differences?
I think the trend of Tibetan music inside and outside is kind of similar in a way that it’s going into a pop music style, with a message of unity and a message of identity and culture. We are right now nurtured by this studio kind of music, and the lyrics are written by some lamas and scholars.
It is to bring about some kind of connection, pride, and spiritual, religious, Buddhist ideas, and longing for freedom, longing for meeting your lamas. That’s all very similar.
Another similarity is that studio-produced music is kind of considered the best we can do at the moment. Those of us in exile, we go to Nepal and produce our music in a studio, with keyboard and synthesizers. In Tibet they also do that.
And we are also similar in a way that, in Tibet and in exile we are not really understanding what music should be. Right now we are just using it as a tool to keep us feeling good. But we are missing the point that music is a very individual expression, of an artiste’s feelings, their innermost story, what he wants to say.
I particularly noticed in the West, people are interested to hear somebody’s ideas, feelings. We shouldn’t look at music as some kind of entertainment alone. We should look at it as some kind of religion. How an artiste can share his experience, not only in political and cultural things, but his own life.
So I think we are missing that, in both worlds. You need to have your own voice, your own thoughts, your own sense of musical style. Some can be pop of course, some can be techno, some can be folk, traditional, whatever it is. But you need to have something to say — about change in the world, or about change in society. Otherwise it’s just entertainment, it just comes and goes.
You are talking about the artiste’s expression. Many Tibetan artistes seem to choose the theme “Ama”. What is this about, what are they trying to express out of this? Why are so many choosing “Ama” — and to some extent Apa?
Choosing the subject of your mother and father, Ama and Apa — I think it’s not just Tibetan, it’s an Eastern kind of thing. It’s not just the musician, it’s ingrained in our culture about that. Whereas in the West they would never sing about our Pala and Amala. [laughs]
I think you can also take it as love, for your father, your mother, your girlfriend — you can take it in so many ways. When we say about love, we think of our parents.
I’ll tell you, in hiphop, over in the West it’s all about hardship, difficulty, society, tough life. And when Tibetans do hiphop, it’s all about Pala, Amala, they’re saying good things about parents. And I thought, wow this really transforms. And if it works, it works. So I see kids singing hiphop, but praising their parents like crazy. I think it’s really cute how these kind of things change.
So I’m saying it’s ingrained, it has nothing to do with the individual. Because our artistic expression is so limited. Limited in the way that we grew up and how we were raised. It’s shaped by the way we think.
How is traditional Tibetan music doing in the face of modern times?
I think it’s doing quite well, to be honest. As you know, when I was growing up in Dharamshala, we were put aside, looked down on, for merely playing our own music. I remember in temples, when we would be playing some of the classical songs, people would get up, they would move away, “what the hell is this”. We would really have a hard time.
But now, the sense of finding the root is kind of growing. And I think that may have something to do with how we are now travelling outside, and being exposed to other cultures. So I would say it’s better.
But also in traditional music, we suffer from a systematic way of teaching. Traditional music in Tibet, was orally passed down. We learned that way from our teachers. So the thing about “orally” is, it takes a lot more time. Also, we are not learning only the song, the music, we are learning the behaviour of the whole thing.
Now in modern days, we don’t have a very good structure, a system, to teach. So I’m thinking that people are interested, but because of lack of a good system, we are also changing traditional music too.
Of course it changes, even if we don’t want it to change. But here, because of not having proper training in teaching methods, I’m a little bit worried. There’s not very good sources of learning and teachers, and the music loses its essence.
For that I think, some of the elder musicians, we need to come together and find a way, how we can achieve some kind of system, how can we teach in a proper way.
Why is Tibetan music not doing well at the international level? What do you think is lacking, what needs to be changed, incorporated or pushed?
In an international level that’s not 100% true. Some of the music is doing quite well. I’ll tell you: In the Tibetan community it’s not well known, but the spiritual music, like chantings, those are doing really well. And I think that’s also a musical contribution. It’s a new thing in our community, we don’t recognise that as a music genre.
So it’s funny that we are all looking for some new pop or some kind of thing; in the West they are all looking for spiritual music.
In terms of the general music, to be honest, we are only in exile for 50 years. In 50 years whatever we have is what we have right now. And there are hundreds of countries who are doing really well in the West right now, like Indian music, African, like Mali music, they are doing well. They all have a pretty long history of evolving and collaborating, and very strong roots.
For the Tibetan music, why we are not doing really well, we are seen only through the lens of Nepal and India, and through the lens of China. In that sense, we are really corrupted in the musical idea. Because in that we are so caught up in the pop world.
So what must we do? First of all I feel, one needs to have a good sense of your traditions, your roots. When I say traditional I don’t mean just singing something with dra-nyen. Learn songs from your elders, get some understanding of what are their meanings.
In Tibet, for thousands of years we sang, so we have a long musical tradition. From Kham, U-Tsang, Amdo — if you really research, we have quite a big reservoir of songs. And the reason why we can’t understand it now, is because we got cut off, because of our [exile] situation.
So once you learn these traditional folk songs, you will understand how our voices are, the use of our voice, the way we sing. If you have some grip of your traditional base, folk or whatever that is, then you can explore, you can come up with some new ideas, that can be a combination of anything, pop, reggae.
A good example is Tenzin Chogyal. He’s doing quite well. He’s in Australia. He has Tibetan a little bit, Indian a little bit. In him I see an artiste who has the elements of good ingredients, he’s open enough, he’s open to collaborate. Some of the traditional artistes like us, we are scared of collaboration.
Thank you so much, that was a wonderful interview.
Published in Tibet Sun