Digital Music Project Races to Save Tibetan Folk Songs

Paul Mooney in Red Cliff Village, China
for National Geographic News
June 29, 2007

In the remote plateaus of Tibet, recording artists have been hard at work laying down tracks of love ballads, drinking tunes, and songs meant to soothe the savage beast.

That's because students at Qinghai Normal University are trying to save Tibetan folk music, which has been vanishing in the face of cultural conflict and globalization.

Led by anthropology professor Gerald Roche, the team is fighting fire with fire, using high-tech devices to capture tunes that are being lost due in part to encroaching modernization.

"The goal is to digitalize the songs we record and return them to our communities," said 20-year-old student Dawa Drolma. "We want to record as many songs as possible."

Dubbed the Tibetan Endangered Music Project (TEMP), the volunteer-run program aims to put all the digital songs they collect online, as a way of archiving the material for future generations.

So far the students have recorded more than 250 songs, including melodies for herding, harvesting, singing babies to sleep, and coaxing yaks into giving more milk.

"It is quite remarkable how much they have been able to accomplish from such a remote place, thanks to the Internet and digital recording technology," said Jonathan C. Kramer, a professor of music at North Carolina State University who has worked with the students.

"It is hard to imagine such a project even 20 years ago."

Fading Melodies

Tibetan music first went on the decline during the Cultural Revolution, a campaign between 1966 and 1976 during which the Chinese government sought to wipe out all "feudal" practices and "make art serve politics."

(See related photos of Tibetan traditions still practiced under Chinese rule.)

The biggest threat today, however, is modernization.

Continued on Next Page >>


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