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Yungchen Lhamo

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  • Born: Lhasa, Tibet
  • Years Active: 1990s, 2000s


Biography All Music GuideWikipedia

All Music Guide:

Yungchen Lhamo has become the female voice of Tibet, singing its songs, practicing its Buddhist religion, and working quietly for her country's freedom from China. She was born under the rule of the superpower, but was encouraged by her grandmother to learn and sing the traditional music -- a dangerous thing, which, if discovered, could lead to torture and prolonged detention. She was, to all intents and purposes, raised by her grandmother, since her parents were in enforced labor and she only had the chance to see them every three years. By the time she was 14, Lhamo herself was working in a factory six days a week, helping in the clothing, feeding, and raising of her siblings. In 1989, the year the exiled Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize, Lhamo (encouraged by her grandmother) and a group of 60 friends made a perilous journey over the Himalayas to Dharamsala in India, where there was freedom -- and the Dalai Lama himself, whom Lhamo wished to meet. For the next four years she toured Tibetan refugee camps in India, working and singing and learning more Tibetan music. She finally met the Dalai Lama and was encouraged to use her vocal gifts to make the world more aware of the Tibetan problem.

After approaching several embassies, she was given permission to settle in Australia, where she moved in 1993, soon meeting and marrying Sam Doherty, the man who would become her manager. She began touring the country and then, at the request of the Buddhist Dharma center she attended, began singing the prayers for the meditation sessions. That material ended up as her debut, Tibetan Prayer, which won the 1995 Australian Recording Industry Award for best world music album. That disc found its way to Peter Gabriel and the following year, Lhamo was invited to his Real World studios to re-record the disc for his label. Released in 1996 as Tibet, Tibet, it featured the Gyoto Monks and brought her crashing into the world music scene, touring Europe and performing at the Day for Tibet celebrations. 1997 took her to the U.S. for the first time, appearing at Carnegie Hall, then the Free Tibet concert, and the traveling Lilith Fair, contributing to live albums from Lilith Fair and the Tibetan Freedom Concert, as well as to the soundtrack of Seven Years in Tibet. A year later came a new record, Coming Home, produced by Hector Zazou, which veered closer to New Age in its approach, although the singing was as pure as before. She continued to tour and appeared as a guest on Natalie Merchant's Ophelia. Lhamo also returned to Dharamsala for several months to work among refugees and began the Yungchen Lhamo Foundation, a non-profit aimed at funding refugee projects.


Yungchen Lhamo is a Tibetan singer-songwriter living in exile in New York City. She has won an Australian Record Industry Association award (ARIA) for best Folk/World/Traditional album, and was then signed by Peter Gabriel's Realworld Record label.

She has performed with Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) and has sung duets with Natalie Merchant on Ophelia. She collaborated with Annie Lennox on her latest CD Ama. Lhamo's recordings have been used in "Seven Years in Tibet" and many Tibetan documentaries.

Life and career[edit]

Lhamo has toured extensively throughout the world, singing unaccompanied, a combination of songs of her own composition and traditional Buddhist chant and mantras. She has performed with artists including Natalie Merchant, Annie Lennox, Billy Corgan, Peter Gabriel, Bono, Sheryl Crow and Michael Stipe. She has performed in the Lilith Fair Festival and toured widely as a part of the WOMAD World music festivals.

Lhamo's name means "Goddess of Song" - a name given to her by a Lama soon after she was born near Lhasa. Yungchen fled Tibet in 1989. She has made pilgrimage to Dharamsala, to receive the blessings of the Dalai Lama (where he heads the Tibetan Government in Exile). She was inspired to reach out to the world through her music; to share the great beauty of her culture and spread understanding about the situation in Tibet. She moved to Australia in 1993, then to New York City in 2000.

Lhamo's Australian debut album Tibetan Prayer, produced by John Prior, won the ARIA Music Awards for best Folk/World/Traditional Music release in 1995. She is the first Tibetan singer to win a prestigious music industry award. The success of that record led to her signing with Peter Gabriel's Real World label. Her first record for the label, Tibet, Tibet, mainly features a cappella renditions of original compositions—authentic Tibetan Buddhist prayers and songs. Her next recording, Coming Home, was a collaboration with producer Hector Zazou, showcasing her voice, and also featuring chanting by Tibetan monks, a wide range of mostly modern Western instruments, and the benefits of multi-track recording, enabling Lhamo's voice to be layered repeatedly.

On November 20, 22 and 24 2007 at the Louvre Museum in Paris, Yungchen accompanied a site-specific dance work 'Walking The Line' by American choreographer Bill T. Jones. This performance, with solo percussion by Florent Jodelet, took place in one of the museum's locations (the one-hundred meter perspective) stretching from the Winged Victory of Samothrace, to the Renaissance Arch (from the Stanga Palace) in which the celebrated sculptures The Dying Slave and The Rebellious Slave (c1513) by Michelangelo are exhibited. Yungchen has also performed at other venues such as London's Royal Festival Hall, New York's Carnegie Hall, and Berlin's Philharmonic Hall.

Lhamo's album Ama (which means Mother in the Tibetan language) was released in April 2006 and was produced by Iranian-American musician Jamshied Sharifi. Featured artists include Annie Lennox and Joy Askew. Recently, Yungchen’s music has earned her recognition by the Province of Genoa, Italy as a “Messenger of Peace” and she was awarded the title of “Ambassador of Culture.”

She is currently working on a new album with Jonathan Elias and guests on his forthcoming Prayer Cycle 2: Path to Zero (due May 2011).^ ARIA Music Awards of 1995^ [1]

9/11 comments[edit]

"We all were living in a dream. We often do. Nobody thought something like this would happen to New York City. That day, no matter how powerful you were, the sight of people falling from those buildings made everyone numb. I remember that feeling of helplessness. I think we all felt that. Then, of course, we all cried, no matter what country you were from. I moved to New York City with my son at the end of 2000, and America seemed like a monument or a flag to look up at. Now I travel the world, and when I see a city that looks like New York, it reminds me of that day. This song begins and ends with chants reminiscent of a puja for the people who died, with prayers to ease their passage to another world.... In order for this tragedy not to happen again, what are we going to do about it? We can only hope the experience has made all of us more human."

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