By Wasfia Nazreen
In dialogue with Soname Yangchen in Dharamsala
Soname Yangchen, born in the villages of Yarlung and of noble descent, moved to Lhasa when she was seven years old. There she had to endure a life of servitude, forcefully working under Chinese occupation, far from her parents. Therefore, at the age of sixteen she decided to make the flight across the Himalayas, and arrived in Dharamsala. The following year, she was conceived and gave birth to her daughter Tenzin, who is now seventeen years old.
When Tenzin was around two and a half years of age, she had to be given up to her father’s family in Delhi, since Soname had no means of raising her. This deeply left a scar in the then young and fragile Soname. After six years she travelled to England (by way of France) where she has lived ever since, building a rapidly progressing singing career.
Soname fuses traditional Tibetan folk and mountain music, most of which has a spiritual influence along with a deep visual descriptions of the landscapes of Tibet. All her songs are written and composed by herself. She has had the gift of singing since birth. Without a single professional voice lesson, she gave her debut performances in the western world in 1998. This gathered audiences around France and Germany. She continued her journey with the magic of her voice, appearing at festivals like Glastonbury, and at venues like London Scala and Brighton Concorde. She charmed a celebrity studded gala at the Evening for Tibet Fundraiser under the presence of His Royal Highness Prince of Wales at the Vilar Floral Hall in London's Royal Opera House. Her first tour of Iceland was in 2004, where she performed with members of the Sugarcubes to sold-out theatres. Amongst recent highlights is her concerts in conjunction with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to Glasgow and Edinburgh Usher Hall. Harmonia Mundi is her distributors and her label is Fortunate Recordings. Her album ‘Unforgetable Land’ can be purchased from HMV . Her new album is to be finished by the end of September.
She has been featured in UK press frequently, such as The Observer, The Sunday Telegraph Magazine, The Mail on Sunday, The Scotsman, The Herald, The Argus, Morgundbladid, Songlines, fRoots Magazines and various other international newspapers. Amonst Radio shows, she has been captured by BBC2's The Week in Westminster, Channel 5's Morning News, BBC World Service's Outlook, Southern Counties Radio, BBC World Service, Radio 1, the Andy Kershaw Show, Radio 3's Late Junction, Radio 4A's Local Music Show, BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour, BBC Southern Counties.
She also made TV appearances in BBC News 24, Asia Today, Terry and Gaby Show on Channel 5, BBC 2 Westminster, BBC South Today, Iceland National TV Channel 1 and 2, and Scottish ITV.
Cover of Soname Yangchen's book
Soname's new book Child of Tibet was first published in Germany in 2004 and has been translated to English, Portugese, French and Macedonian since then. This autobiography describes her triumph over the various phases of life’s struggle, from the mighty mountains of Tibets, to a heart-breaking life in exile, and then finally her way out to the west.
When asked how it feels to be visiting Dharamsala now, Soname confesses that it brings her great sadness, seeing the present yet feeling nostalgic about the hardship she endured here. “When I am inside the temple of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it reminds me of the magic that continually exists in our culture. It still feels the same even when I visit after years- the same peace that I felt in my childhood is present always. That is what mainly brings me back from the west.”
Over meals, we discuss the difference of social restrictions and family constructions amongst other things in Dharamsala, years back and now. I notice her closing her eyes, as if visualizing her past. She expresses “Sometimes I wish I had knowledge back then. I did not have any geographical idea whatsoever. To me all westerners seemed to be of the same descent and place. And now sometimes when I find myself in the West, I realize a lot of things about myself, which I could probably never comprehend with the self that resided back in Dharamsala.”
Soname has been successful in tracing her daughter back in 2002. In 2003, they met in person and now both mother and daughter lives together back in the UK. She can be contacted at www.soname.com