Spotlight on: Dagyap, “Brothers on Fire”

Dagyap is a Tibetan hip-hop artist born and living in India. Just twenty-one years old, his real name is Sonam Chopel. He is known for releasing music that relates to the various problems that Tibetans face in exile. According to his facebook page, his influences are Jay Z, Tupac, the Game, and the Dalai Lama. That should give you a hint of what you are about to hear. 

Dagyap has not responded to my requests for an interview, unlike some other Tibetans in the exiled music scene. Yesterday he released a new piece on YouTube called “Brothers on Fire,” and I wanted to use this post/his spotlight to discuss the piece. If you need some background on the recent immolations of several Tibetan monks/nuns, consider reading the following articles, and the video that follows in this post:

I hate to include this video, but hold your breath and take a look [graphic warning]:

Now that you’re [hopefully] disgusted by this, and by your ignorance of its recent occurrence [13 times] in protest of the Chinese occupation, let’s take a look at Dagyap’s newest release, “Brothers on Fire” –

Before I continue, I’d like to mention [in case you aren’t aware] that as Marie Marshall recently said to me in another context, “The United States is in bed with China” – therefore nothing has/will be done about this via the United States. Tibet is virtually invisible in the American media, and our ridiculous relationship with China is the reason why (though with that said, the same ridiculous relationship may end up helping us face whatever is about to happen in North Korea as a result of Kim Jong Il’s death).

As you saw, the video opens with a salute for surviving the brutal Chinese mayhem.  The lyrics are as follows: 

(I had to type the lyrics into a text edit window and paste it as an image here – wordpress hates lyric formatting apparently)

This is musical expression that seeks to invoke change. This piece is framing an era, commenting on the current affairs of Tibetans while simultaneously reminding us that no one, including the UN, is doing a thing about it. Many musicians are social activists, and Dagyap is no exception.  The Tibetan issue is one of  global importance.  Hip-hop artists in the United States and South African have used their music as a means to disseminate the message of racial oppression, and artists in Indonesia have used hip-hop to speak out against government injustice and Islamic rule. Dagyap, and other Indo-Tibetan artists, are doing the same by sending this message: the Chinese are killing Tibetans. They are attempting to exterminate them.

Hip-hop in the Tibetan diaspora is a fairly new genre, as my forthcoming dissertation** [and hopefully, a few conference papers before then] will discuss.   In this piece, Dagyap names his oppressors, calls for change, and ends with the phrase “Bod Gyalo!” – illegal on Chinese soil [including the Tibetan autonomous region], this means “Victory for Tibet!” Here, here.  Congratulations to Dagyap on this outstanding piece of social commentary. Let’s share it with the stakeholders who give a damn, and more importantly, with those who don’t…


(**First I have to get this thesis churned out!)

Spotlight on: Karma Emchi “Shapaley”

Do you have a few minutes free? Take a moment to learn about this Tibetan artist. 

October 2011: Karma Emchi, a Swiss-based Tibetan vocalist released a new song on YouTube called “Made in Tibet.” The track has received over 30,000 hits since its release. It’s clear in this song that he is trying to send a message to Tibetans living within the borders of Tibet.  If you’ve been watching the news in the past few months, you’ve heard about several monks self-immolating themselves for the cause. Although it’s unrelated and there are several Tibetan social commentaries on those events, these videos could not have been released at a better [and more controversial] time.  Far from the precarious border himself, Karma Emchi is able to voice his opinion and send a message without fear of direct government retribution – though some of his work is banned in China according to other posts.  Listen to this October release, then continue reading:

I’ve already sent an email to him asking about getting a “Made in Tibet” shirt for myself. In addition to disseminating his message via music, Karma is taking a filmic stand. Concerned about identity loss, he directed this 3-minute short:

What else has this guy done? On March 24, 2011, Karma released a comedic song about Tibetan meat pastry. I posted the original video to my Twitter feed when it was first released. It was intended to be funny – listen to the story of what happened here as investigated by Rebecca Novick at The Tibet Connection. It may surprise you!

Finally, are you thirsty? Karma Emchi has more than a spark of humor in his work. Check out his parody on the Red Bull energy drink…. get ready to sip some Red Yak! See the awesome video below:

He’s obviously someone to keep an eye on… if you see/hear of anything new in relation to Emchi, let me know!

tibet elects a new pm to smack china upside the head

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Image via Wikipedia

I generally try not to make political statements here, but today is different. Today exiled Tibetans in Dharamsala shook a fist in the direction of China making a firm statement that Tibetan leadership is strong by electing a new [political] Prime Minister, Lobsang* Sangay (who happens to be a Fulbright Scholar and the first Tibetan to attend Harvard law).  The Chinese opposition has yet to comment, yet they consider that Tibetans have no legitimacy, and no right to have held the election in the first place. Guess what – they did it anyway!  Why is this such a big step for Tibetans? Tibet is a land of reincarnated lamas (teachers) and leaders who are appointed to their positions. That they have elected a new Prime Minister at the urging of HHDL not only means that they have new blood sitting in office to take strong political action, but also that exiled Tibetans are taking a step towards democracy. This in turn pries open the eyeballs of democratic nations across the globe that haven’t wanted to touch the “Tibet Conflict” with a ten-foot dungchen.

I’m curious to see what will happen when a Harvard lawyer (born in Darjeerling) representing all of exiled Tibet collaborates with a few interested political heads and sits down for tea with some [imperialist] Chinese delegates… I just have a feeling good things will happen – maybe not immediately, but eventually and inevitably… I hope. 


*Lobsang means: disciple with a fine mind

Ethnomusicologists You Should Know: Ngawang Choephel

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Image via Wikipedia

For the first time in a while, I have an afternoon free. I decided to spend it reading about Ngawang Choephel. Ngawang is a Tibetan-born ethnomusicologist raised in India who studied in the U.S. (Vermont) on a Fulbright Scholarship in the early 90’s. Before he came to the U.S., he received a certificate in Tibetan music from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala, India.

His story leads him from the U.S. to Lhasa in an attempt to archive and preserve traditional Tibetan song. Many ethnomusicologists are on some kind of  “save-the-world” humanitarian mission, but for Ngawang it is personal. This is his culture. He was walking into the field with an etic perspective – wanting to learn the traditions he could not grow up with in a post-occupation Tibetan refugee settlement. His fieldwork was cut short when Han officials imprisoned him in 1996. You can read all about it below in the link list. I strongly recommend the ‘Melody in Prison’ link. He spent over six years (of an 18 year sentence) in a Chinese prison, accused of being a spy.

This brings up a lot of issues for ethnomusicologists. Ngawang knew the dangers he was facing as he walked around Lhasa and Tibet’s countryside on a foreign visa with a camera (and an American companion – Katherine Culley). However, he was still of Tibetan heritage – and he was on an academic fieldwork expedition.  None of this mattered to the Chinese who imprisoned him for nearly a year before making a statement to let his family know he had been captured.  Likewise, the college he did coursework at in Vermont (though he had graduated two years prior) could not do a thing to come to his aid. This is a scary thought.

Are there other cultures like this, where ethnomusicologists are at risk for their lives just to archive some folk music (as was Ngawang)?  Of course – just as there would be risks for other disciplines.

I remember being in my early high school years talking about how I wanted to do Tibetan song archival work – not really having a clue what it was all about, or even that a field called ethnomusicology existed. I was interested in Tibetan Buddhism from a very young age, and today I still struggle with wanting to complete field work in Lhasa. Now that I’m doing graduate work in the field, I’m having to pick through the planet like an apple orchard and choose where I want to land, where I want to study. Then, I’m reminded of a qualitative research course I had in New Orleans several years ago where we discussed three concepts: Do-Ability, Want-to-do-ability, and Should-do-ability.  It’s about feasibility – whether the study is safe, whether it has a purpose, and whether it’s practical. In short – whether it’s worth it for you, for your informants, for the culture, for your time, for your safety, etc. (the list goes on)…

There are plenty of people getting around this decision by studying the diaspora – Tibetans in India and other places.  I can’t blame them. There are a whole host of reasons for this, and all of them lead to strong and valid research.  Tibetan presence in India is so strong now that “authentic” (I use this term loosely) studies can be made, and have been for years. There comes a point, though, where the origin of it all will disappear, and we have to remember that one of our jobs as ethnomusicologists is that primary source archival. Not enough people are taking that action in the case of Tibet, and as Ngawang has mentioned in several articles – the first music he heard in Tibet was Chinese, not Tibetan. I’m not sure I would have the courage to walk into the TAR (Tibetan Autonomous Region). In fact, at this point, I know I wouldn’t.  The reason I’m highlighting Ngawang Choephel today is because he did, and continues to do so. I can’t wait to see Tibet in Song, and I hope to shake his hand one day.

His Story:

  • Melody in Prison (Ngawang Choephel): This is by far the best biographical link that I’ve found which also delves into the chronology and development of his imprisonment with notes by his travel partner, Katherine Culley.

Bio references:

    Chronological Prison References:

    Film News:

    Missing in Tibet:

    Tibet in Song:

    Other Imprisoned Tibetans: