Meet Techung, the man who opens for the Dalai Lama

Techung on 17 January 2008

Techung seen in a 17 January 2008 file photo. Koichi Sudo (Nekomimi)

By Li Robbins | CBC

ON THE WEB, 18 May 2013

There aren’t too many people who can claim they open for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. But Tibetan singer and multi-instrumentalist Techung has opened for the Dalai Lama before (in Japan, Costa Rica and the US), and will again on 18 May for a speech the Tibetan leader will make in New Orleans.

Techung is a logical choice. He’s an exiled Tibetan based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, and is considered one of the key keepers of traditional Tibetan music. Before relocating to California from Dharamshala, the centre for exiled Tibetans in India, he spent 17 years studying all aspects of Tibetan performing arts, at what is now known as the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts.

Techung told CBC Music what it’s like being the opening act for such a uniquely famous headliner.

You’ve performed opening concerts for His Holiness the Dalai Lama before. What is it like, opening for the Dalai Lama?

Such an honour. I grew up in Dharamshala, the same town as His Holiness, and I used to perform for him during special occasions. In the 1980s our community had much access to see him, but since few years back his schedule had become so tight that it is hard to see him in Dharamshala. So, since I live in the West, it is fun to see him in front of a whole new audience.

How do you know you did your job?

Well, I know that what I do is based on traditional music and I am thrilled to play to a new audience. I feel confident that most of the traditional songs are based on respect and caring [for] each other and nature. I also play some of my new pieces and one of them, “Snow Lion of Peace” from the album Songs From Tibet, is dedicated to His Holiness and our great teachers who promote peace and love in the world.

Are you given instructions or guidance about what you should do in the concert?

Not really, but since I also sing some freedom songs, I know that I have to be careful not to overdo it.

How do you warm up the crowd for the Dalai Lama?

Well, everyone is expecting a very “holy” or “sacred” time and for us, playing before him is sort of creating an environment that nourishes the mind. I only hope that the sound from my voice and flute evoke some sense of reverence.

How does the Dalai Lama inspire you, as a musician?

His spiritual guidance is source of inspiration to me and my band members. I think creating a sense of oneness with the universe and all beings is a big revolution and I think this is exciting.

I’ve read that the Dalai Lama doesn’t feel that he understands much about music. Is that true, do you think?

Yes, completely. But I know he is very fond of Ache Lhamo or Tibetan opera. My band and I will do one aria to please him.

Have you talked with the Dalai Lama? Did he say anything about your music?

Yes, many times. He doesn’t talk about music. Once when I was in the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, in Dharamshala, he made a surprise visit to our school and to my room, and touched my dramyin (long-necked Tibetan lute). That was an auspicious moment.

What do you do to get ready for a concert opening for the Dalai Lama? Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Not really. I will make sure that we are well practiced and then relaxed. I think one thing that I will do is to try to motivate people to alleviate the sufferings in the world, especially in Tibet where over 100 Tibetans have self-immolated in the past two years for freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama back to Tibet.

What are your hopes for your upcoming concert in New Orleans?

You know, I do traditional music and I live a life of musician. My band and I are thrilled to share our music for the first time in New Orleans. My music is not really complicated or sophisticated but the sound has magic of my ancestors who lived a harmonious life in Tibet for hundreds of years. My band is mix of Latin, Indian and world musicians and we are a living representation of supporting each other and believing in a better future for our children and for everyone else.

Techung has a new album, On the Road, coming out in August 2013 on ARC Music.
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