So much more than a "Buddhist monk turned rock star"
Friday 27th November 2015
The Lantern Theatre, Kenwood Park Road, S7 1NF
Photographs - Ayse Balko
Heard the one about the monk who smuggled his mandolin into the monastery? Or about the times that the monks sneaked out of the monastery to watch the World Cup? Well tonight was the night that Ngawang Lodup painted a very human picture of the life of a monk in Tibet. And, in case we didn’t know it, Ngawang also demonstrated that monks share the same concerns and interests of ‘ordinary’ young men the world over – turns out that David Beckham has a fanbase amongst the monks of Tibet! And all done with a lovely gentle and self-deprecating wit – which came as a surprise to some who assumed that an ex-monk was going to be very dour and devout.
But, of course, life was not all football and music! Ngawang also touched on the many serious issues of life in Tibet and the lack of religious, political and personal freedom in Tibet that ultimately led him to undertake the hugely dangerous crossing of the Himalayas into Nepal – leading eventually to England. Although we didn’t explore the details of his life and reasons for leaving – he still has family and friends in Tibet – we did get something of a glimpse of how life is changing for the Nomadic people of Tibet; how many have been forced out of this lifestyle, selling their animals and moving into purpose built “low quality” housing in new cities, but without the skills and education to make this new way of life feasible.
Ngawang explored the range and role of music in Tibetan society – treating us to an astonishing range of Tibetan folk, traditional, dance and popular music. He explained how the Chinese government forbade any reference to the Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama or other figures in Tibetan Buddhism so that many of his songs are based around beautiful allegories of the sun, the moon and the stars. Perhaps some of the most stunning musical moments of the evening were the acapella songs that Ngawang sang – demonstrating an amazing vocal control and range while conjuring up the atmosphere and feel of the wild and mountainous region that he grew up in.
On his other songs he accompanied himself on the electric mandolin or the traditional dranyen lute. He joked that he thought that the “Buddhist monk turned rock star” moniker bestowed on him by BBC Introducing initiative was due to his robust rhythmic playing of the mandolin – quite possibly. He also talked about and demonstrated the dranyen lute – a lovely 3 double-stringed instrument that generally provided a simple rhythmic backing structure for his songs.
And a first for a TalkingGig: we experienced a “stage invasion” by a Tibetan monk living in Sheffield – a very gentle and moving event as Ngawang was presented with a Khata (a yellow Tibetan scarf) echoing Ngawang’s presentation to the Dalai Lama at his address in the O2 in September … an event which had clearly been a huge honour and privilege for Ngawang.
Overall, this was a wonderful evening. Tibetan music isn’t the easiest thing for the ‘western ear’ to appreciate, but the combination of chat and music worked to make it so much more accessible. My abiding memory of the evening was not only of a hugely talented musician with a truly astonishing voice, but of a very warm, humorous and brave individual demonstrating enormous strength and resilience.