sexta-feira, 19 de julho de 2013

Yungchen Lhamo: The stories behind Peter Gabriel's Real World Records Nº 6

In 1989, Peter Gabriel used his big Genesis bucks to fund Real World Records. The label that, arguably, gave rise to the popularity of world music is celebrating its stellar history with a series of reissues called Real World Gold. CBC Music seized the opportunity to interview some of the label’s biggest names. There have been some surprises along the way, which sparked this six-part series. Part one featured Sheila Chandra, followed by Joseph Arthur, Blind Boys of AlabamaSimon Emmersonand Thomas Mapfumo. Now to part six, the final instalment in the series, with Yungchen Lhamo, the exiled Tibetan devotional singer.

When Yungchen Lhamo fled her homeland of Tibet in 1989, on foot over the Himalayas with her baby son strapped to her back, all she thought about was surviving the pilgrimage to Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama heads the Tibetan government in exile. She never planned a future that would involve her pairing Buddhist prayers with music, signing to Real World Records and touring the world as a devotional singer. She didn’t know Peter Gabriel from Billy Corgan, but more than two decades later, Lhamo has collaborated with both.
Living in Brooklyn since 2000, Lhamo has kept the connection to her native Tibet alive through her music and charitable contributions, such as her current project to build aqueducts in villages without access to clean water. CBC Music spoke with Lhamo over the phone from her home about how Real World changed her life, her resistance to becoming a singer and her childhood prayers to become a man.

How did get involved with Real World? 
I was in Buddhism school in my teacher centre and I made some prayers into melody. Real World got my tape, somebody passed it to them, and by that time I had already made one CD called Tibetan Prayer that won Australia’s Aria Award, which is a version of the Grammy Awards but for world music. But I don’t consider myself a singer per se, because in the Tibetan saying, it’s a karma. Peter [Gabriel] wanted to release my album internationally, since it was just released in Australia. So, I signed to Real World and then I came to England and that’s how my journey began.
Did you know who Peter Gabriel was? 
No, because for me, in young age, we don’t hear so much Western music. But you know sometime in life, when you see some pictures or something, even though you don’t know the person or what they do, sometime you feel you will meet? I was very honoured to meet him and sign to his label.... It’s very special. I didn’t plan for this. My vision was that I wanted to practice [devotion]. My plan was never [laughs] "I want to be a singer" ... I still often say I’m not a singer. 
What’s the distinction between calling yourself a singer and not? 
Many people really want to become singers. I never wanted to. But every human being has some part, we’re born with it, and it takes over.... I do the best I can. When I travel, I always hear, "You are the first Tibetan I’ve met doing this" or "You are the first Tibetan woman I’ve met doing this." Sometimes it’s good to be the first but sometimes it’s very hard. They think it’s very glamourous, but sometimes it’s hard to see the other side of your journey.

The other side of your journey seems difficult and perhaps lonely.

Yes. Of course I have a practice, I cannot be lonely like in some countries or the Western world, like, "I don’t have somebody and I am so lonely," I don’t have that. But on the other side, yes it is. You are just by yourself wherever you go. In my case, I don’t speak the English. Other Tibetans do, they go to school.

For me, I grow up in Tibet, but I don’t know the English or the language or the culture. People say "Oh yes, she has special voice," but then there are these obstacles: "She is woman, she is refugee, she don’t speak the language, she sings devotion songs, she is single." [Laughs] There are many, many things.

Do you remember much of your childhood growing up in Tibet? 
In a way, my childhood is very, very difficult and I cannot put into words. Much of the world have no idea of that time. The one good thing is my father, mother and grandmother all very much believe in being loving and compassionate to others, you never hate others. This has kept me in a good place. For me, I see they have been through so much, so much, and for no reason or meaning, and yet they’re very compassionate. I was very lucky in that sense.

What did you want when you were young? 
I prayed to be a man and I wanted to grow as quickly as possible. I prayed quietly to myself. One day my grandmother and mother said, "Where did you learn the prayer?" They said, "Prayer isn’t something you can make yourself. You should say what we teach you." One day I told my mother and grandmother the truth: I want to become a man and grow as quickly as possible. They were very much shocked. Their eyes went wide. "Oh, you can’t say that!" It was very much like, "Oh lord, oh lord." [Laughs]

They asked what I wanted to do and I said if I cannot be a practitioner and learn this philosophy, I want to do something to help people and do things for other people. She said, "If you really, really mean it, you don’t pray to become man. It’s such a sin of a prayer. You are woman, which is very special." She explained some Buddhism things, so I understood and changed my prayer, but I had to promise her to sing. I always said, "I don’t want to. Everybody can sing." She said, "You have a gift. So you sing."

When you made the pilgrimage over the Himalayas to India, did you feel you were escaping Tibet?
In a way, because you don’t know where you’re going, where you’ll land, and you packed a little bag and then you leave and then you never know when you return to the place you know, the place you love, your family.

And you had your baby son with you? 
Yes, and I was quite lucky and fortunate because many people don’t make that journey and we made it. We arrived in India and met the Dalai Lama and we’re very lucky.... You’re in Canada, right? The last time I was there was with Billy Corgan.
Really? Naturally, when someone thinks of Smashing Pumpkins and Billy Corgan, Tibetan devotional singer is a perfect match. What was that like?
Some people said, "Oh no, Yungchen. It’s very different. Maybe it’s not so matching." But I just said, ‘"I’s a karma. I don’t believe in something matching or unmatching." It was very different from my audience. His audience, they come to see him, and of course it was very young children. It was quite surprising. One time he lost his voice and we were supposed to sing together and we had a big sign on the table, like, please do not talk, no questions, Billy has pneumonia, or something like that. But they talked and talked "Billy, do you remember this? Billy, what about this?" I don’t understand that part. Maybe they are young.

Looking back, how did Real World Records change your life?
Peter Gabriel and all the Real World people are very kind. If it was just myself, people wouldn’t notice, but many people found out about my music through Real World. Peter made it easier for them [to find music] from all of these artists and talents. I really appreciate he supports my art and doesn’t judge me. Some CD companies, they tell you, "You do it our way." Peter doesn’t do that. He really lets you express your art. I was very lucky.

Source: by Andrea Warner -  CBC music 

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