Music is one of the greatest and most easily accessible means of sticking up for something. You might first think of pop punk songs about how mom and dad suck, or, more seriously, the ’60s folk songs in protest of Vietnam. In the case of Tibetan performer Tsering Lodoe, he sings as a way to stick up for an entire country and culture.
The Tibet Autonomous Region has long been under the control of China, which activists accuse of human rights violations and quashing indigenous culture. Possessing a picture of the Dalai Lama, for instance, is a crime punishable by torture and jail, according to freetibet.org.
Lodoe grew up in India, raised by refugees from Kham Tibet, and was chosen to study at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala as a nine-year-old. He’s made it his life’s work to promote the music and dance of Tibet, spreading the word about its struggle for freedom, and has had his music featured in major films like Himalaya and Seven Years in Tibet. He’s performed for Pope John Paul and several times for the Dalai Lama, most recently in Portland. Tibetan dance varies regionally, for the fast rhythms of Lhasa to the more elaborate style of the Kham area; these generally are combined for Tibetan opera, and incorporated with traditional folk tales. Tibetan opera is listed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
For upcoming concerts at the Roxy, Lodoe plays drums, cymbals and damyin. Ani Tsering Wangmo, a Buddhist performer known as “the singing nun,” joins Lodoe on stage. I won’t pretend to be remotely qualified to talk about the fine points of Tibetan opera, but I can appreciate people who sing out in the face of oppression.