High Peaks Pure Earth has posted translations of two popular Tibetan songs about unity by prominent Tibetan musicians. Here’s a piece of the analysis:
Both songs share the same topic of unity amongst Tibetans but are markedly different in style. Whilst these two songs indicate that Tibetan identity and unity amongst all Tibetans were themes in songs both before and after the turbulent year for Tibetans with the protests of 2008, “Mentally Return” is the more cautious of the two songs in terms of the way the messages of the song are conveyed and the lyrics are arguably even more powerful and poetic in their subtlety. For example, in “Mentally Return”, the word “Tibet” (in Tibetan, bod) is never mentioned and instead, Tibet is referred to as the “bountiful land on the roof of the world” or the “Land of Snows”. The metaphor of the Tibetan circle dance is used to indicate unity and Tibet is also called both the fatherland and the mother – a place of comfort with the feeling of home. Tellingly, the singers are also from various parts of this “bountiful land”, Yadong, Kunga and Tsewang are from Kham and Gangshuk is from Amdo. Their places of origin in themselves are at odds with the map – none of them are from the place marked today as “Tibet” (Xizang in Chinese, known by Tibetans as U-Tsang, central Tibet).
On the other hand, Sherten’s 2010 song “The Sound of Unity” directly addresses “Tibetans” and boldly uses politically loaded phrases and words such as “three provinces”, “nation” and “freedom” – all studiously avoided by “Mentally Return” but implied nonetheless. Whereas “Mentally Return” inferred a unity that was related to an inner geography, “The Sound of Unity” literally calls on Tibetans traditionally of all three provinces Amdo, Kham and U-Tsang to unite and to draw strength from each other.
Today in Tibet, the cultural has become political. Music, art, poetry, film and writing have all become major channels for Tibetan political self-identification and expression. In response, the Chinese government has jailed dozens of leading intellectuals and artists, as well as prominent community leaders. But as the Chinese government’s crackdown on art and intellectual life with political intonations has increased, so too has the pace with which Tibetans are turning to culture as a means of expression.
It’s hard to imagine a situation in Tibet, short of the Dalai Lama returning, that is more frightening to the Chinese government than the one that is ongoing today. Culture is fueling a political awakening in Tibet and in turn, an increasing politicized Tibetan populace is turning to art, music, and poetry to express their political views in the open.