Yungchen Lhamo has become the female voice of Tibet, singing its songs, practicing its Buddhist religion, and working quietly for her country's freedom from China. She was born under the rule of the superpower, but was encouraged by her grandmother to learn and sing the traditional music -- a dangerous thing, which, if discovered, could lead to torture and prolonged detention. She was, to all intents and purposes, raised by her grandmother, since her parents were in enforced labor and she only had the chance to see them every three years. By the time she was 14, Lhamo herself was working in a factory six days a week, helping in the clothing, feeding, and raising of her siblings. In 1989, the year the exiled Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize, Lhamo (encouraged by her grandmother) and a group of 60 friends made a perilous journey over the Himalayas to Dharamsala in India, where there was freedom -- and the Dalai Lama himself, whom Lhamo wished to meet. For the next four years she toured Tibetan refugee camps in India, working and singing and learning more Tibetan music. She finally met the Dalai Lama and was encouraged to use her vocal gifts to make the world more aware of the Tibetan problem.
After approaching several embassies, she was given permission to settle in Australia, where she moved in 1993, soon meeting and marrying Sam Doherty, the man who would become her manager. She began touring the country and then, at the request of the Buddhist Dharma center she attended, began singing the prayers for the meditation sessions. That material ended up as her debut, Tibetan Prayer, which won the 1995 Australian Recording Industry Award for best world music album. That disc found its way to Peter Gabriel and the following year, Lhamo was invited to his Real World studios to re-record the disc for his label. Released in 1996 as Tibet, Tibet, it featured the Gyoto Monks and brought her crashing into the world music scene, touring Europe and performing at the Day for Tibet celebrations. 1997 took her to the U.S. for the first time, appearing at Carnegie Hall, then the Free Tibet concert, and the traveling Lilith Fair, contributing to live albums from Lilith Fair and the Tibetan Freedom Concert, as well as to the soundtrack of Seven Years in Tibet. A year later came a new record, Coming Home, produced by Hector Zazou, which veered closer to New Age in its approach, although the singing was as pure as before. She continued to tour and appeared as a guest on Natalie Merchant's Ophelia. Lhamo also returned to Dharamsala for several months to work among refugees and began the Yungchen Lhamo Foundation, a non-profit aimed at funding refugee projects.