Various – Streets of Lhasa

Various – Streets of Lhasa (Sublime Frequencies, SF 16)
Various – Harmika Yab Yum: Folk Sounds From Nepal (Sublime Frequencies, SF 17)
Two more disks in Seattle-based Sublime Frequencies’ remarkable series of experimental ethnomusicological recordings – this time from two Himalayan regions: Nepal and Tibet. Like many of the other disks in the series, these disks are montages of street recordings, local performers and radio recordings. Streets of Lhasa gives us a rare opportunity to sample some contemporary Tibetan sounds from the now-occupied by the Chinese former capital, courtesy of Zhang Jian of Beijing base art collective fm3, who recorded the sounds in Lhasa in 2003, hiring street musicians to record. Most impressive are the songs featuring the banjo-like “San Xian”. Although not as impressive as some of the home made cassettes of the stuff for sale in Lhasa, these recordings, with their driving, stomping Dock Boggs-like rowdiness will make anyone who thinks Tibet is all chanting monks and New Age flutes, think again. Tibet remains the wild west and its folk music has a lawless, nomadic quality, even if there are Chinese police stations and army roadblocks everywhere these days. Harmika Yabyum features what are now more familiar sounds of various Indian Bollywood songs and other popular styles, alongside vibrant recordings of a Nepalese wedding procession, snake charmers, Buddhist monks performing rituals and various street sounds. The highlight is a recording of ritual slaughter for the goddess Durga that dissolves into ambient street sounds. As with other SF releases, there’s a certain essential shock here – a breakthrough into a sound-world that remains full of life.

originally published in Signal to Noise.

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