Here on Earth - Review of Tenzin Choegyal's limited edition EP
Phayul - December 26, 2018 09:29
Review of Gone Beyond, a limited edition EP (extended play) by Tenzin Choegyal and Tibet2Timbuk2

By Bhuchung D Sonam

Tenzin Choegyal at the concert for Pathway to Paris along with Patti Smith and Bob Weir of Grateful Dead - 2018.
We are perhaps as good – or as bad – as the sum total of our accumulated experience. For the exiles, because of the need to observe the smallest of things in order to survive and re-root in strange lands, the amassing of experience is expedited. If such deepened, and also troubling, negotiation and understanding of circumstances could be used as materials for creative outputs, the world would experience less distress and more ‘aesthetic joy’.

Tibetan musician/songwriter, Tenzin Choegyal and his band Tibet2Timbuk2’s limited edition EP Gone Beyond is one such evolved work.

Born to a pastoral family on the Tibetan Plateau, Choegyal grew up listening to his mother sing nomadic songs, which form the root of his memory and inspiration. He was later forced into exile and studied at a refugee school in Dharamsala, a small town in northern India. In Dzomo, one of the songs from the EP, he sings: “Dzomo la, Ama la,
Where are you?
Are you on this earth?
Are you in the water?
Are you in the fire?
Or are you in the air?” Like most refugees, he realizes the fact that he would not be allowed to return home to see his mother and family members. Hence, he does not ask ‘mother, wait for me, I will come back’; instead he invokes earth, water, air and fire to remind us all that his loss and inner hopes are universal. Choegyal’s vocals and Mishra’s haunting sarangi in Dzomo tug at one’s heart.

Art cannot be a pastime for the elite nor can it be, as Sartre says, ‘on the side of the purists’. Art must necessarily reflect the ever-changing reality. Art is politics. Art is religion. Art is struggle. Art is freedom. In a world webbed with inescapable conflicts between private and public, real and virtual, politics and the economy, religion and fundamentalism, business and the environment, and at a time when there is a clear danger to our very survival as a people and a nation, Tibetan musicians cannot go on churning out punishingly-saccharine songs with clichés like metok pema, nyingdruk, yetrok lhamo, nyingi zindru etc. They should escape from the realm of pop bubble and stop trying to please the audience with a sequence of agonizingly-uniform tunes propped up with mimicked music videos. Instead, they should dig into their innermost self to pour out their frustration, loss, disappointment, optimism, audacity and aspirations. The fount of melody cannot be found in manufactured K-pop or slapdash American pop. It is there, within each musician. No amount of dyed hair or torn jeans can substitute substance.

As a self-taught musician, Choegyal’s rough roads from Tibet to India and finally to Australia have taken him to performances at the prestigious WOMAD (World Music, Art and Dance), to Carnegie Hall, Concert for Pathway to Paris – during which he performed alongside Patti Smith, Bob Wier of the Grateful Dead and Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Flea among others – and Woodford Folk Festival, the Mahakumb Mela of music and arts, attended by over two hundred thousand people over a span of six days.

Choegyal has released a number of solo albums, including Heart Sutra and Heart String. Gone Beyond is arguably the first EP by a Tibetan musician. The logic behind the release of this limited edition EP, containing four songs and a bonus track, Choegyal said, is to “to give a taste of the [forthcoming] album at the Woodford Folk Festival later this month.” The full album will be launched in April 2019 at the Festival of Tibet-Brisbane, which Choegyal founded and directs. The release of the EP at this festive season is also meant to be “a very special collector’s item for all fans of Tenzin Choegyal and Tibet2Timbuk2”.

The title of the EP Gone Beyond is taken from one of the most important Buddhist scriptures the Heart Sutra: “Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone farther beyond, so be it!” I have no authority to comment on the higher philosophical and metaphysical meaning of this sutra
i.e. the notion of emptiness and going beyond the realm of the material world. What I can state with a certain amount of confidence is that Choegyal has gone beyond the horizon of many contemporary Tibetan musicians. His collaborations with the chamber orchestra of Camerata of St John’s in Western classical music, his work with Phillip Glass, his partnership with didgeridoo master William Barton and his performances around the globe are achievements many can only dream of.

The first two songs of this EP are wonderfully crafted and beautifully performed. In Apo Gaga and Dzomo, Choegyal pours his heart out singing and playing his metok, a dranyen-like instrument that he created. Apo Gaga has become one of my favourite modern Tibetan songs in exile alongside If by JJI-Exile Brothers, Lam La Chae and Rangzen by Jhola Techung and Missing Lhasa by Sungyi and Pemtse.

You might want to order a copy of this collector’s item before it parachutes out of stock.

The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.