Losar is almost here! In the run up to Losar 2023, we bring to you an interview with one of the most loved Tibetan singers, Phurbu T Namgyal la. He is one amongst the most known celebrities in the Tibetan diaspora. His works include album like Jelyong, Sem Kyipo, From My Heart, Nyima Sarpa Sharyong, and Joyful. He shared with us stories of his life in exile, his love for music, his upcoming single and the challenges he has faced.
1. How do you think Tibetan songs help in the preservation of Tibetan culture and traditions in exile?
Language and Music play pivotal role in preservation and promotion of culture and tradition. For most free nations, they deploy various programs in promotion of their cultures and traditions. Our scenario is more dire and difficult. We have limited resources to deploy in such effort. We are refugees dispersed all over the world. With limited budgets and means to promote our culture and tradition, our music and songs definitely play a major role in preserving our language, culture, and identity. Music is changing and it is an inevitable part of life. When new genre come into our communities, our youth embrace them and appreciate the artists and their work. Even though the genre are new in our community, the spoken words or lyrics are still in our mother tongue and this is even more beneficial in preserving our language, culture and identity for today’s youth, as they will continue to represent Tibet and Tibetans into the future.
2. Could you tell us about the struggles you faced being a talented artist in exile?
As I stated before, music is changing every day and so the music making and marketing changes as well, with time. I started writing songs and making music in early 90s, when I was in high school. I was probably 17 years when I first started writing and composing. The challenges I faced in the 90s are different from the challenges I face today. Some of the challenges we face today are, lack of Opportunities, Overall community support, and Music Marketing. I am sure our artists wish to have more opportunities to perform all over the world, but it is quite impossible at this time, because of our political situation. We are refugees and most of our people/fans are inside Tibet, and it is politically impossible for us to travel there for music. With this situation, we lose 99% of our opportunities. So we may have less than 1% of our people outside of Tibet, dispersed all over the world. These communities are new and are in no position to support our artists at this time, while doing their best to keep their local communities together and alive.
Another major issue we faced as an artist, used to be with marketing. Now with the help of internet, most of us are doing better with our marketing and distribution. This is not just a Tibetan artist's issue. This is more of an issue faced by global music/ musicians. And again, it’s part of the change we go through every day.
But this hits us more than most other nationalities, just because of our political situation and most of us unable to market our music inside Tibet, where most of our fan base is.
3. Where do you draw inspiration from for your lyrics?
My lyrics are based on the common things we all share as a Tibetan. We all love and respect our Teachers, Gurus, and Parents. We all miss our Homeland, Tibet. Some of us have relatives left behind, inside Tibet that we want to write about and sing for. We all go through teens to young adults, so we have so much we can talk about love, romance, heartaches, and breakups. We all think about our Unity and issues we face in our communities. I think about everyday things or events, we all go through as Tibetan and I write about them, because these are the lyrics that our listeners can relate to.
4. Could you tell us more about your Om charitable projects?
Om Charity is a social work I started in 2013. I have always wanted to find ways to give back to our community in some ways and in 2013, I decided to formally create an NGO and assist Poor and Sick Tibetans in exile with financial support for Medical needs. I personally do not have funds to assist Poor and Sick Tibetans in exile, so when I travel for music and concerts, I always raise funds on the side for my Social Work. 100% of all funds raised go towards the wellbeing of the Poor and Sick individuals we support. In the past 10 years, we have had the opportunity to assist over 100 patients and families in India, Nepal, and Tibet.
This past year (2022), we worked on a campaign to provide vision care to Tibetans in India. Between South India’s vision care project and the North India’s project, we had provided free eye clinic for over 1000 Tibetans and local Indians. We provided free Eye glasses to over 500 adults and school children. We provided eye surgery for over 50 older adults.
5. When you perform and the audience sings along, how does that energy make you feel?
One of the most rewarding aspect of writing songs is to see the audience sing them back to you during live concerts. And It never gets old. I wrote Jampa Dolma 20 years ago. When I am on stage anywhere in the world, the audience still sing it back to me, like it a new track. So it’s a blessing. And I truly appreciate all their love and support. For a performer, it is extremely important to have a lively and enthusiastic audience. When the audience is dull, quiet, and boring, the performer has a difficulty giving his/her 100%. When the audience have great time, singing, moving, dancing and cheering, the performer can use their energy and give back 110%.
6. If you could play in any venue in the world, where would it be?
Infront of the Potala Palace, without a doubt. No other place in the world.
7. Your songs are well-known not only in exile, but also in Tibet. So, what are your thoughts on that?
Fans and Listeners in Tibet have been supportive of my songs and music since day 1. I am forever grateful for their love and support. I am in contact with some fans and supporters in Tibet and China, so they share me so many stories. I am very grateful.
I used to have a website called Potala Sound, where I uploaded all my songs, so fans inside can download and listen. But that website was blocked by China very early on. Then 10 years ago, I created PhurbuNamgyal.com, and I only posted songs and music, so fans inside can still enjoy and listen. But that was blocked after a month or two.
I currently have Weibo, which is similar to Facebook, inside Tibet. I can’t post much, but this is one way I keep in contact with fans and supporters from Tibet. Since fans inside have never seen me sing live or do concerts in real live, I thought maybe I can do virtual shows for them someday. So about a year or two ago, we created a Kuaishou account, and my plan was to do LIVE singing for them.. But my Kuaishou was banned after few months later. And now my dream of doing a virtual singing/ show for them is in limbo.
8. Do you have any advice for aspiring younger Tibetan generation musicians?
There are many new artists coming up. They are all extremely talented. I am very happy for our younger and future generations.
Our music and songs will live on forever.
I do not have any particular advice for them. They are all doing far better than me, at their age. I just wish I was this smart and wise at their age. I envy them, and wish them all the best in the world.
9. When can we expect your new album?
As music and music marketing has changed drastically since my last full album. These days, its mostly the singles that most of us release. It is cost effective and more efficient way of releasing music online/ digitally.
My new single called “Tashi Dhuesang” (An Auspicious Moment) will be released on Tibetan New Year – 2023. I hope your audience like it and share it as well.
10. Which song do you consider as the best song of yours and why?
I have written over 150 songs for myself and for other artist in exile and in Tibet. To be very honest, I do not know how to choose one to be my favorite. I know there are songs that audiences prefer at different age group. Kids loved “Nyamdhu Dro”, Young Adults loved “Khayrang Ghapar Yoe”, and Older Adults Loved and still love “Jampa Dolma”, to name a few.
Then there is Chak Sum Tsel, Tsomo, Tashi Nyima Sharsong, Nga Yugni Mardo and so on…You can find many more of my music on Spotify, Amazon Music, Youtube, Apple Music and wherever you get your digital music from.