Yungchen Lhamo | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Yungchen Lhamo




The brutal repression of Tibetan culture by the Chinese is well-known to us now thanks to Hollywood, but Yungchen Lhamo suffered from it directly. Although her name means "Goddess of Melody and Song" and her grandmother always encouraged her to live up to it, at the age of 11 she was forced to begin working in a carpet-weaving factory, where she spent the next eight years toiling away from home. When she was 19 she escaped Tibet, making a pilgrimage to see the Dalai Lama. She ended up staying in northern India, and spent some time at a Tibetan performing-arts school there. In 1993 she moved to Australia, where she made her first recording and began achieving notoriety for her singing outside of the Tibetan community. She rerecorded the album after signing with Real World, and since then she's performed at the Beastie Boys' Tibetan Freedom Concert and played several dates on last year's Lilith Fair tour. The songs on her U.S. debut, Tibet, Tibet, are mostly originals, but Lhamo's spare arrangements--usually just her voice with occasional percussion and string accompaniment--make it hard to distinguish them from the traditional material. According to the brief album notes her songs deal with Buddhism, particularly its role in overcoming adversity, and with titles like "Om Mani Padme Hung," it's possible that they're derived from the prayers chanted by the likes of the Gyuto Monks. But even to those who don't speak her language the music conveys a stark, sad beauty that needs no translation. Saturday, 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 909 W. Armitage; 773-525-7793. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Michele Turriani.

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