Determined to use music to raise awareness of Tibet’s struggle to regain independence and to introduce his culture, Tibetan musician Techung has been touring the world and made his first pubic performance in Taiwan at the Tibet Freedom Concert in Taipei last Wednesday.
“I actually never wanted to learn music — I was put into a music school when I was little,” Techung said in an interview with the Taipei Times in Taipei last week.
Techung was born on the border between Tibet and India in 1961 when his parents escaped from China-controlled Tibet.
As Techung reached school age, his parents decided to send him to the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) in Dharamsala, India, the seat of the Tibetan government in-exile.
The institute was created in 1959 with the goal of preserving the traditional Tibetan performing arts.
Although Techung did not choose to study music, he said that music has had a profound impact on his life.
“Music is an easy way to connect to people and to spread your ideas,” Techung said. “Most of my musical works are combinations of traditional Tibetan melodies and lyrics about my feelings for Tibet, the Tibetan culture and my experiences of being in exile.”
One of the songs he performed at yesterday’s concert describes how people hang wind horse flags — or Tibetan prayer flags — atop a mountain to express gratitude for blessings from gods for their safety during a journey.
“It’s a very good representation of the Tibetan culture, because respecting nature is an important part of the Tibetan culture,” he said.
Traditional Tibetan lyrics are usually either about religious beliefs or about respecting the environment.
“We express our love for nature, our gratitude towards the gods for gifting us with the beautiful environment, reminders to protect the environment and warnings about punishment from the gods if you damage it,” Techung said, adding that along with the seemingly “harder” topics in Tibetan music, there are also many folk songs praising romantic love.
“For those of us born in exile and living in exile, I also wrote a lot of songs about my experiences in exile, and my feelings for Tibet,” he said.
Using mostly traditional Tibetan instruments, Techung has won the best modern and traditional music award at a Tibetan Music Awards ceremony in Dharamsala in 2003, and a best Asian folk album title in the US.
After being trained at the TIPA and touring with the institute for 17 years, Techung moved to the US when he was 30 to pursue studies in theater and has been living there ever since.
“After having performing in concerts in the west, I decided in recent years that it’s about time for me to come back to Asia,” he said.
Before coming to Taiwan, he also performed in Japan earlier this year.
Traveling with the Students for a Free Tibet executive director and deputy director to several universities around the country since his arrival last week, Techung has a very good impression of Taiwan.
“The people here are very friendly, and I was excited about the interest that university students in Taiwan have taken in the Tibet issue,” he said.
However, he also wanted to warn the Taiwanese about developing a relationship with China.
“In general, we believe that when we’re nice to others, they’ll be nice to us in return — but that’s not at all the case with the Chinese,” he said. “It may be a little difficult for the Chinese to change their attitude, so be very careful.”