Cultural diversity is woven into the fabric of American life today and nowhere more so than in the arts. From Jamaican reggae and African American hip hop music to Latin salsa dancing and India’s Bollywood movies, the American art and music scene has developed into a diverse, ever evolving patchwork quilt with something for just about everyone to sample and savor.

One often overlooked but emerging strand in this potpourri is the traditional and contemporary music from Tibet and Tibetans who are living in exile. All too often the U.S. news media reports about the most recent, usually negative, experiences of the long suffering people of Tibet, yet few Americans know that there is a also a vibrant and rich tradition of music, dance, visual arts andculture that binds the Tibetan people to their heritage and to each other.

This summer audiences in the Pacific Northwest will have the rare opportunity to enjoy the beautiful and exciting traditional and contemporary music of Tibetan singer/songwriter Techung and his multicultural band, beginning in Olympia, Washington on August 17. (See schedule below)

Techung, also known as Tashi Dhondup Shazur, is a Tibetan performer who grew up in India and now makes his home in the U.S. Trained in India in classical Tibetan music and dance since the age of 9, Techung brought his talents to the U.S as a young man and has developed into a multifaceted performer who embraces both the richness of Eastern cultural traditions and the vitality of contemporary western music.

Techung has established a global reputation as a gifted performer, particularly in Asia and is one of the most revered contemporary Tibetan singer/songwriters. He and his high energy band are now well on their way to creating a musical presence in his adopted country of America.

Check out a Video from the Techung Band from their recent New Orleans concert

Techung Band has just released its August, 2013 touring schedule

  • August 17 Olympia, Washington Capitol Theatre 206 5th Avenue SE Olympia Wa, 98501 Tel: (364) 754- 6670. Door at 6PM, Show at 7PM website
  • August 20 Seattle, Washington The Neptune Theater, Seattle. Door at 7PM, Show at 8PM website (This is a free concert!)
  • Check out Neptune Theatre Video!
  • August 22 Mount Vernon, Washington, Lincoln Theatre, Door at 6PM, Show at 7PM website
  • August 24 and 25 Seattle, Washington, TibetFest. A whole day event of Tibetan music,dance, food and vendors.

If you have the impression that Tibetan themed music is mainly composed of red robed chanting monks and Ravi Shankar style sitar music, Techung and his band will surely surprise you. This high energy band puts its heart and soul into performances that are an eclectic mix of music that is both evocative and entertaining.

As this writer has witnessed, a concert with the Techung Band is an uplifting and inspiring mix of powerful lyrics, soaring vocals and pulsing percussion that delivers what audiences crave. The band blends musical influences from across the globe and features a diverse ensemble: Techung, lead vocal; Michel Tyabji, percussionist, originally from India; Kito Rodriguez on bass, whose Puerto Rican heritage adds a distinctive Latin groove and Rinzing Wangyal on guitar, who rounds out the foursome with influences from Nepal and India.

The Techung Band just completed a cross country tour of the U.S. from Los Angeles to Rockport, Massachusetts in spring 2013. One of the highlights of the tour was a performance in New Orleans where the group opened for His Holiness the Dalai Lama in front of an audience of 10,000 people.

However, whether they play for 10,000 people or in a more intimate venue, these performers deliver the goods and give their all to their audience. If you have the chance, don't miss this concert.

The Film:

At its core, the documentary A Good Day to Die is the sort of film best suited for an audience that will most likely never see it. This particular audience is the one made up of people who with little to no knowledge of Dennis Banks or the American Indian Movement (AIM), the central points of focus in David Mueller and Lynn Salt's documentary, and is ultimately the audience that most needs to see this film the most. Instead, I suspect, the people mostly likely to watch A Good Day to Die are those that know a bit about either Banks or AIM or both, and may find much of the film to be a refresher course in a part of American history that has long been ignored. It is the former group that the documentary best serves, yet the latter group that will probably be the one who sees it, coming away with the feeling of wanting to know more. But the fact of the matter is that if you don't know about Dennis Banks or AIM, this is a great place to start.

A Good Day to Die serves the dual purpose of highlighting the life of charismatic Native American activist and political firebrand Dennis Banks, as well as tracing the origins of AIM, a politicized organization dedicated to the protection of Native people. Featuring interviews with Banks, several Native American activists, and a wealth of archival footage, A Good Day to Die weaves together a fascinating story of cultural and sociopolitical struggle that is a crucial part of American history, yet largely unknown by many people. Banks is the central focus of the film, and through a series of interviews, he recounts the story of his life. Removed from his home at an early age, Banks was placed in a government-operated Indian boarding school, where young Native children were stripped of their culture and language, and educated to be "normal" Americans. Indian boarding schools where children were beaten for speaking their native language are just one chapter in the dark and brutal history surrounding the treatment of Native Americans, and a crucial part of who Dennis Banks would become.

After running away from the boarding school, Banks joined the Army, after which he turned to alcohol in his civilian life, and ended up in prison, where he became politicized. In the 1960s, as protests against the Vietnam War were dividing the country, and the Civil Rights Movement was fighting to make America more inclusive for African Americans, Banks and other Native Americans began to gather in Minneapolis. This was the beginning of the AIM (American Indian Movement), a political action group that relied on militancy in a way similar to the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. AIM made headlines in the 1970s for occupying the office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C., a standoff against federal troops at the Wounded Knee monument in South Dakota, and a deadly shootout on the Pine Ridge Reservation, also in South Dakota. These three events are the ones most closely associated with AIM, though A Good Day to Die only really focuses on the incidents at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Wounded Knee, while the shootout on Pine Ridge is treated as nothing more than a minor incident in the history of AIM, when it is really the one event most closely connected with the organization.

In some areas, A Good Day to Die feels like a more complete and comprehensive documentary most notably when it deals with the life of Banks himself. The portions of the film dealing with the formation and early days of AIM are also quite interesting, but those familiar with both subjects will likely feel that the documentary falls short towards the end. Crucial information about the American Indian Movement is either barely mentioned, or not mentioned at all, and as a result, the film feels a bit incomplete at least for those who have more than a passing knowledge of the subject matter at hand. As an example, the film never really touches upon the incalculable damage wrought upon AIM by the FBI through their Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), and that is a huge part of the picture. And while the film does a solid job of profiling Banks, other key AIM members are not presented as fully realized portraits, but more as half-finished sketches. Still, despite these problems, the film does work as a whole, especially as an introductory lesson, serving as a nice companion piece to Michael Apted's seminal 1992 documentaryIncident at Oglala, or Peter Matthiesen's book In the Spirit of Crazy Horse.

Video: A Good Day to Die is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen. The overall picture quality is good, with a crips clean image, vibrant colors, and no noticeable artifacts or defects. There is, however, a considerable amount of archival footage that is not the best quality.

Audio: A Good Day to Die is presented in English in 2.0 Stereo. The sound quality is good, with audio levels and a sound mix that remain consistent throughout the film.

Bonus Material: There is more than an hour of deleted interview footage with several individuals that appear in the film. Some of this footage offers more historical insight into the American Indian Movement, as well as aspects of Dennis Banks's life.

The Film: More of an introduction to the life of Dennis Banks and the formation of the American Indian Movement, A Good Day to Die is informative, but not comprehensive. It serves as a good starting point for learning more, and overall it is a very well made documentary, well worth watching.

Ken Burns, Filmmaker on "A Good Day to Die"

"A wonderful, sorrowful, compelling film.  From classrooms of fear and forced assimilation to the climatic standoff at Wounded Knee it is an essential chapter in the all-too-infrequently-told tale of those who can truly call this continent home"

As a modern woman who has accepted the discipline of the mystic's path, each one of Heyraneh's musical offerings starts from an  intention to find the way which leads the listener to union with the divine, poetically expressed as"the beloved" in the poetic works of Sufis throughout the ages. This album offers the listener the opportunity to join her on this journey, wherever it is played, in a car,  yoga studio or as a form of devotion.  The places may be many but the sounds are one.

Interview with Techung

techongTechung is a Tibetan folk and freedom singer/songwriter living in exile in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is best known for his performances of traditional Tibetan music, dance, and opera under the name Tashi Dhondup Sharzur. He uses his childhood nickname,


Techung, when performing as a solo artist. Whether performing in traditional or contemporary styles, Techung's dual goals are to revive Tibetan music in the Tibetan community and to expose the rich performing cultural tradition of his homeland to the world community. Surprisingly, music for this great Tibetan singer happened more by chance than choice.


Tibet Express: Let us begin by hearing you speak about yourself.



Techung: I was born in Gangtok in 1961 after my parents fled Tibet from the Chinese invasion of our country. Like every Tibetans then, our family too came to Dharamshala to follow His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I was about nine when my parent sought admission for me in a Tibetan school that was already packed and had no space to accommodate any additional student. Hence, I was enrolled in the then newly formed Tibetan Dance and Drama School now known as the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA). I studied various aspects of Tibetan performing arts for 17 years and later emigrated to U.S.


Being a musician, I have thought that I can contribute something to the Tibetan music in terms of introducing the music to world audience and with that conviction in myself; I emigrated to the U. S where for the last 20 years, I dedicated much of my time to preserving and developing the Tibetan musical tradition and I still continue to do so.


techong2Tibet Express: During the initial period post Chinese invasion and subsequent destruction of Tibetan culture, Tibetans made enormous efforts to reconstruct and revive the culture in exile and you are one of the artists involved during this rebuilding process. How did you actually get interested in music?


Techung: I have never actually wanted to learn music (sounding straightforward). It is just that I was put in a music school when I was little. When you are being taught something, it comes to you anyway. But it all changed later when I came to United States where I came in contact with western artists and I learned the actual value of my knowledge of the Tibetan musical tradition.


I know that when I first moved to the west, Tibetans as a whole is undergoing through a very tormenting period. Despite the fact that I am strongly motivated to do whatever I can in the field of music in making the voices of Tibetans suffering heard, I am not fully convinced of myself that I can do something miraculous or big in my own rights at the same time. I feel there comes a time for setbacks for any exile life and there is every danger of losing one’s cultural identity if efforts to maintain it are not made during such period. So with this thought, I took upon myself to make all the more effort in putting my knowledge of music to good use and fortunately, I was able to bring out a few albums which I feel is a contribution to Tibetan musical tradition. I feel the younger Tibetan generations like my works and that is encouraging for me.


Tibet Express: How do the western audiences generally view Tibetan music, particularly the traditional music?


Techung: I realized that in the west which is multi-cultural society, people are generally conscious of their own traditions and culture and make great efforts to preserve them against the onslaught of the dominant cultural influence. Besides, artists of any genre and types generally enjoy same respect and recognition like any other profession in the western culture irrespective of what art an artist is concerned with. So even though westerners don’t generally understand or show pure interest for traditional Tibetan music, but for the fact that someone is an artist brings him/her respect and recognition of the work one does.


Secondly, in the past two decades, the issue of Tibetan freedom and Tibetan Buddhism has scored some genuine interest in the west thanks to the tireless efforts of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In such course, Tibetan music which is part of the larger Tibetan culture also finds some interest among the westerners.


So the dual aspects (of westerners’ perception of an art and artist in general and the growing interest for Tibetan Buddhist culture lately) actually helped to get some support for the Tibetan musical tradition.


Tibet Express: Have you any suggestion to share for the development of Tibetan musical tradition as a whole?


Techung: For the Tibetan musical tradition to prosper, the need to keep the roots of the Tibetan traditional influence in the music is essential. I have met quite a number of successful international musicians from various traditional backgrounds and one of the defining factors of their success is their ability to maintain their cultural roots and its influence in the art work. Hence likewise, I feel it is important the Tibetan musicians do not lose sight of the cultural identity in their music at the end of the day. This is important in the light of Tibetans’ survival in various cultural diasporas where the cultural influence of the host country integrates into the dynamics of the mainstream Tibetan traditional music.


Apart from the significance of manifestation of cultural influence in the music, other key points that I think are very essential for sustainable development of Tibetan music are such as in-depth knowledge of Tibetan language, both written and spoken, and considerable knowledge of western musical tradition.


Tibet Express: Your recent kids’ album called ‘Semshae’ contains lots of lyrics that deal with teaching the basics of Tibetan culture to children of today. How well is such music received by listeners?


Techung: One of the things that I experienced when I migrated to west is that one’s cultural identity is always at stake of losing if one doesn’t care enough. This is because of the multiculturalism of western society where one’s culture should co-exist side by side with cultures of other ethnic people. As a parent, I am constantly challenged by the need to make my kids not lose sight of our cultural roots and I feel the same is the case with other parents as well.


Being an artist, I identified a need to make the kids aware of the basics of our culture without having to teach them the conventional way. So I made the album primarily meant to benefit the Tibetan kids of today. The album was supposed to be made in 6 months time but it actually took seven years to complete it. So far I feel there is some positive response from Tibetans living outside of Tibet, especially those in the western countries.


I want to also make the album reach the Tibetans inside Tibet where there is also danger of our culture being lost. The good thing about ‘Semshae’ is that there are no political elements in the songs of the album and so it should not be a problem to reach the Tibetans inside Tibet.

The Maestro

It started with a Cuban song, Sofrito, recorded by Mongo Santamaria Y Amigas on the Fantasy record label in early 1960s, just after the Cuban revolution. In Spanish Sofrito means “lightly fried” as in an open air restaurant and I suspect the word has something to do with the Cuban male fascination for brown skinned women, not quite black and not quite white.

Although Sofrito is an instrumental piece I can imagine the late Santamaria, king of the Afro Cuban style, playing it while remembering his carefree youth on the streets and in the clubs of pre revolutionary Havana, before his move to the States.

In Dar es Salaam Tanzania, in the year 1999, I met two recording engineers who had come to Tanzania to digitally capture the remarkably diverse traditional and popular music of this nation of more than one hundred tribes. Although they had come in good faith, the ministerial bureaucracy to whom they were attached created constant Kafkaesque like scenarios for these two young idealists.

In despair they came to me and a Tanzanian friend and colleague in the hope that we could help successfully advise them how to negotiate the non linear nature of an African government bureaucracy that was acting towards them in the usual predatory manner.

The young engineers were good students and before long the bureaucrats backed off and more or less let them do what they had actually come to do, to work with Tanzanian musicians of all kinds, to help them understand how a modern multi track digital studio worked, to provide them with the understanding of how the world of the music business worked and, to provide them with legal protection so that one day, when their disks were on sale on the Internet, they could earn small amounts of foreign currency to help them and their extended families survive the ups and downs of third world economies.

As a token of their appreciation they let me use their studio free of charge for an evening. I had always wanted to lay down a guitar track and then play over it three or four times, a one man Gypsy king, and my friends helped me lay down and mix the tracks. I played my own version of Sofrito, for three guitars, and asked Michel, one of the engineers, to lay down a version with a drum set and another with congas as he was (and is) a fine percussionist. He did so and sent me back to the bush with a CD copy in my bag.

My version of Sofrito is not the most virtuosic performance I have ever given but, it was done with joy, in an effortless and playful manner, without desire for gain and for the love of the art as I was to discover to my surprise about eighteen months later.

I was sitting in my office in the middle of Tanzania, watching the spear toting Barabaig tribesmen drive their cattle past my window when the phone rang.

We had had no phone on the project site for the first year and half and then presto, the World Bank had financed a microwave relay station throughout the rift valley of Tanzania and one day, a technician came to install my phone and internet connection. I was miles from nowhere but suddenly, I was wired.

One of my first callers was Rosa, the other half of the Michel and Rosa equation, a personable, talkative worldly engineer and all purpose musical manager and impresario. After marveling how the telephone connection between her office in Dar and my office was better than the Dar city phone exchange (based on deteriorating copper wires), she told me that there were some musicians in Dar who wanted to meet me and wanted me to play on one or two of their new albums.

She had played for them my version of Sofrito. She told me that they were largely middle aged Tanzanian and Congolese immigrant musicians who were still playing the old Afro Cubanic style in the night clubs of Dar es Salaam. She imitated their Franco African accents, “Thees man” she quoted one of them “We want heem to play on our next album!”

Rosa explained that because of the ravages of the socialist economy and the one party state control of everything until the 90s (including music and musicians) these remarkable talents were scraping by on a few hundred dollars a month playing the clubs in Dar, with the occasional well paid but command performance done for the ruling party, the CCM, or “party of the revolution” a revolution that no one believed in anymore and had become a multi ethnic club of bureaucrats who lived off development assistance and who always craved for more.

It all sounded like a Tanzanian version of the Buena Vista Social Club and I wasn’t quite up to taking on the role of Ry Cooder. I had a major rural development project to run, one hundred small projects to manage, high level political conflicts that were in constant need of resolution and paper work that was endless. I told Rosa that although I sometimes regretted my move from music, to ethnomusicology, to ethnology, museology and then to development anthropology still, someone had to pay the bills and send the kids to college. I was unenthusiastic about taking on any new projects and said as much.

Rosa put Michel on the line. He said, “Listen, these old guys are extremely cool. You have no idea. They walk, talk and breathe music. They have heard something familiar in what you play and something different. I think they want to merge with that familiarity and difference that you showed us on Sofrito.”

I said, “Michel I am honored by the offer, but, most of the Congolese music that I have heard so far sounds like those 19th century wax recordings, tinny and without timbre. The only stuff I have heard that strikes me as beautiful are those old Hugh Tracey recordings of acoustic Congolese guitar from the fifties and sixties. I don’t suppose they are doing that?”

Michel countered, “Look Geoffrey, next time you are in Dar drop by, you can listen to the tracks, you don’t even have to meet these guys if you are not up to it and, you can lay down some tracks if you want to. If you like them fine, if they like them fine, if you don’t, fine, if they don’t, also fine.”

“Ok,” I answered, almost realizing, that I had almost turned down an invitation to play with the best musicians in Tanzania still playing the Congolese Afro Cubanic style. But that realization was to take some time until it finally sunk in.

Michel was satisfied. “Excellent!” he said, his trade mark expletive when things were going his way.

To get to the capital of Tanzania from my site in Central Tanzania, to the city of Dar es Salaam (the official capital is Dodoma in the center of the country, but none of the Embassies or Ministries are really based there) I had to drive on an unpaved road for six hours to Arusha town.

The drive is beautiful. It follows the rift valley up towards the Kenyan border. You pass Lake Manyara on the west, Tarangire game park on the east and on good days, you can see snow capped Kilimanjaro to the north east. Every forty or fifty miles there is a small trading post or missionary centre. You can tell if the settlements are old or not by the mango trees. The 19th century Swahili and Arab slave traders established villages on the slave route to and from the Congo and wherever they settled they planted mangos. Some villages are surrounded by concentric circles of mango trees as far as the eye can see.

As you approach Arusha town Mount Meru faces you with its snow capped peak and on the plains nearby you see tall Masai and Barabaig herdsmen, dressed in red wrap arounds, carrying spears and clubs and wearing elaborate beads and ivory ear plugs, oblivious to the modern world around them.

Off the main highway (which is a wide dirt road) Masai and Barabaig women would sometimes herd their flocks, bare breasted, away from the puritanism of local government officials who have adopted the externals of the sexual puritanism of local missionaries. Many times on my drives north I would stop and watch Masai warriors jumping in unison, singing their tribal songs in a long low roar that sounded like Gregorian chant played through distorted speakers.

During the first year of my project the road to my site was flooded by the El Nino. The drive to and from Arusha often took 12 hours and when the road disappeared into flooded swamp lands, bands of ten to twenty peasants would build acacia tree paths and tracks through the water, and push and pull our jeep to the other side.

On one trip these local engineers miscalculated, as the water climbed up to the doors of our land cruiser and into our jeep. I ordered all of my staff out. We walked across the river from the jeep with our files and equipment on our heads.

When I reached the shore I looked behind me to see our dandy driver walking in a river of flowing brown mud and debris with his red tie, diamond pin and starched white shirt providing an urban contrast with that most African river.

From Arusha, the flight to Dar takes two hours. If you drive, it takes another eight hours, so it was many months before I could take up Rosa and Michel’s offer.

Dar is a run down third world, port city. It attracts thousands of unemployed peasants from the country side who come to the city looking for opportunity and a better life for themselves and their children. They therefore end up living in slums, like the favelas of Brazil, where they eke out a living as hawkers and day laborers.

Women who have the looks for it, very often enter the world of prostitution, but it is different from that of the West. There are no pimps and the line between outright prostitution and being shown a good time and having your man of the day lend you or give you some money to get you through the week, is blurred at best. But, there is an AIDs epidemic that no one seems to care about.

Despite the poverty of Dar, it has its charm. It hugs the coast of the Indian Ocean. Tanzanians swim on those beaches where they have less fear of sharks. Tanzanians of all walks of life love the beach and spend time there when they can. And Dar is not as violent as other large African cities. The streets and bars are filled with people at night. The private transport is continuous and foreigners are not at terrible risk at least if, they keep to the main roads after dark.

In Dar there are city based fisherman who use carved out logs to fish the Indian Ocean and sell their produce in local markets and street corners. Outside of one of the most luxurious of Scandinavian embassy compounds stands an enormous Baobab tree where a traditional healer, a “mganga”, treats the sick and the unhappy. Somehow, wildlife survives in deserted parts of the city as one day we drove into our driveway and a full grown male baboon hopped the fence, startled at our sudden return home.

Even in the middle class suburbs men walk the streets hawking everything from fried food and cassava chips to knock offs of leather Gucci belts that sell for two or three dollars. Cows walk through the streets and are tended by young boys. Small herds of goats and sheep can be seen grazing in any vacant lot. Around every corner there are outdoor fruit venders with racks of mangos, avocados and every other tropical fruit imaginable up for sale.

At stop lights beggars politely ask for money while displaying their infirmities while other men run up to your car window, selling cashew nuts and the latest Time or Newsweek. Dar is really a series of improvised villages with a semi modern city with its international hotels, its Hiltons, Holiday Inns and South African banks, transplanted from overseas.

As you sit in a hotel and look out at the pounding surf of the Indian Ocean, large container ships float by, dhows skit across the ocean surface with their curved lateen sails and pontoons that prevent them from tipping. On calm days, young men balance themselves on the pontoons and hold the rigging of their sails. The clouds pile up like a 1950s woman’s hairdo, the air is always humid and the climate slows your thinking and movement. The flavor of spices and food cooked outdoors fill the air. It is hard to rush anything or anyone in Dar.

In the evenings the city centre empties. The thousands of secretaries, sweepers, hawkers and employees of the city’s nascent private sector take informal transport, overstuffed buses and vans called “dalla dallas” and make their way home (because these vans once cost one Tanzanian dollar to ride when they started service many years ago). These vehicles take their passengers out to settlements with names like Kinondoni. That is where urban Tanzanians live and that is where they dance the night away.

In each suburb or slum at the edges of Dar es Salaam, there are pubs and clubs. These are usually open courtyards where you can buy beer and barbequed goat or beef called “nyama choma” in Swahili, roasted meet. Here in the evenings you can meet your friends in a friendly, open and spacious place, the antithesis of the cramped and dismal quarters which characterize these slums, many of them without electricity, proper plumbing or modern sewage disposal.

I have spent a number of evenings in these slums with Tanzanian musician friends. Although I was the only “mazungu” (white person) to have ever strayed in there (so said one bartender) I found the people friendly and respectful. The fact that I spoke Swahili helped, as Tanzanians are very proud of their national lingua franca. They give much credit to any foreigner who makes the effort to speak it.

It is in these slums where the many popular ensembles live and play for their local consumers. Sometimes they get money from a payment at the door and sometimes they get a cut of the drinks. Sometimes they play for a flat fee. Either way it is in these clubs where the real popular music lives, where bands compete for attention and where one band can dissolve and another reform. There is a constant circulation of musicians from one band to another and younger musicians are breaking in all the time.

Across sub Saharan Africa, sometime after WWII, African peasants started what has become a growing and mass migration to the cities. “City air makes free” as the old medieval German saying goes. Many of the migrants had fought for the allies in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa. They had seen the world. They had tasted the fruits of modernity and the money economy. Returning to the village and its tribal ways did not appeal to them.

They brought their tribal musical traditions with them to the city and there they also heard international music: European popular music, Jazz and the African influenced music of the Caribbean and Latin America. Young men bought cheap guitars and taught themselves how to play. They learnt the sax and horns in marching bands, both military and religious.

Like the blues men of old they combined European and African melodies, harmonies and rhythms, and created varieties of popular music which spoke to and reflected the joys, passions and suffering of these new urban immigrants. Much of the music was club and dance music. It was youth based and rebelled against tribal ways. It was youth music decades ahead of the youth music, rebellion that was to characterize the music of the 50s and 60s, in America and Europe.

In parts of West Africa the music was called High Life, in other parts Ju Ju and in Central Africa it was called Congolese. In East Africa the Congolese music was called Afro Cubanic. After the unrest in the Belgian Congo, the relative peace of Tanzania under the Pan African socialism and nationalism of Tanzania’s first Prime Minister Julius Nyerere, this country provided an incentive for musicians from the Congo to set up shop in Dar es Salaam, with its burgeoning club life, peaceful relations among its many tribes and its newly urbanized African ruling elites.

Despite the kleptocracy and poverty that characterizes Tanzania today, Tanzanian friends and colleagues have often reminded me, nostalgically, that during the first ten years of independence, there was little visible corruption, the shilling was stable, salaries were reasonable, there was work for the growing number of educated Africans, the population had yet to explode and the future of Africa looked bright indeed.

I got off work at a reasonable hour. All my project accounts had balanced. All my meetings had gone well. My reports had been accepted. I had that temporary feeling of any rural development project manager, that I had made some dent in the local decline into poverty, some cessation of grief and hopelessness for a number of clients in one part of the country.

In doing so, I and my Tanzanian colleagues had shown that a project could function like a fair and rational bureaucracy in any Western democracy, thus providing some direct experience for peasants that things did not have to be the way they are and that maybe, just maybe, one day they would start demanding from their own governments what they and everyone else in East Africa seemed to demand and expect from the donor organizations of the OECD countries-transparency and fairness. But as I said, it was a good day and my mind was free from the daily concerns of a rural development project manager.

I had to drive for over an hour, from my hotel in the centre of town that served largely expatriate development workers, diplomats and the African elites through long streets to the slums of Dar, down roads where I was the only white man to be seen. I turned down an unpaved road and then negotiated five or six speed bumps, mounds of dirt and stone that rose and fell from the unpaved road like waves in the ocean. Eventually I saw a small sign that said “ Makuti Studio” and the guard opened the gate to allow my jeep entry.

I parked the jeep, dusted myself off and walked into the building. Rosa and Michel met me at the entrance and took me into their sound room. It was filled with mixers, and tape recorders, all digital, and looked onto a large recording room through a large glass window. “Compppppletely up to dddate” stuttered their assistant engineer, a warm and friendly young man who Rosa and Michel called “the Wizard” because he could fix anything with wires or cables and if he couldn’t, he could find the person who could.

The equipment in the recording room was guarded by a mounted security camera, which moved back and forth every few minutes. It drew a lot of enthusiastic comments from the musicians and recording trainees. Everyone boasted that Makuti had the best security of any project in the country. That was why nothing ever went missing.

Only Rosa, Michel and I knew that the machine had no film, was made out of plastic, had been bought at a five and dime store in the States for a few dollars and was not plugged into anything. There must be a quote from Sun Tzu to support this kind of defense. I will find it.

They opened the door to the studio and we walked in. Ten men were standing and sitting around the studio doing various things. One was propped upright in a corner. He was holding ice against his cheek and he complained that he had just returned from the dentist. Another was peeling some bananas and handing them to various people. Another was sitting and tuning a guitar. Another was sipping a cup of tea.

The rest were standing around, chatting, laughing and speaking to each other in Swahili, bits of French and Lingala, one of the major languages of Zaire or what was now once more called the Congo. One of the singers was in the midst of a sad tale about how the boys at his son’s school had thrown a rock at him because he was a foreigner, a refugee and although he had come to Tanzania as an infant and spoke fluent Swahili, he was taunted for not really being Tanzanian.

Rosa and Michel introduced me to each person in the studio. It was informal but as customary in Africa I shook hands with each musician in turn and chatted with each one as I did. The obvious leader of them all, a tall, and constantly smiling man named Ndala Kasheba kept slapping me on the back saying,

“Ah yes Geoffrey, yes, yes, Geoffrois, the friend of Michel and Rosa, the guitarist, the one with the Cuban song…ah yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! I am Ndala Kasheba. Some call me…The Maestro. Bienvenue, bienvenue…you are very welcome…Karibu. “

I had not expected this. The feeling I got in the studio was like that of walking in to an African village. They worked and moved like an extended family, talking to each other, breaking off to do something else, sitting in silence for a while, singing a melody, eating, drinking tea, resting if necessary, answering a cell phone in the midst of everyone’s activity and not feeling obliged to leave the room and continue the conversation in “private.” I felt very much at home.

I had expected something very different; attitude, machismo, hierarchy, suspicion. It wasn’t everyday that a middle aged North American guitarist walked into a session of nationally celebrated Congolese and Tanzanian musicians and was treated like a long lost member of the family. Was it all because of my love for Sofrito?

Blown away by the kindness and warmth that permeated the studio I felt completely at ease. No stage fright. No worries about what I would do or how I would sound. It was one of those classic situations where you are poised and in the flow.

Within a few minutes I had plugged in my guitar, the head phones were adjusted, they played the first track and I just plucked away. Everyone was watching me, some from the recording room and some from within the studio. I was oblivious to it all and entered the flow of this music. It was familiar. It had the lyricism and melody of Latin music and the rhythm of Africa. I played and played and played.

At the end of the first piece we all sat back and listened. Kasheba smiled and clicked his tongue. Rosa and Michel looked on in relaxed satisfaction. This had been their idea and it could have gone wrong, but it hadn’t. I hadn’t let them down.

That evening and the following evening I laid down tracks for four or five pieces for their upcoming albums. One of them was a song written in French that Kasheba had written and which sounded more like a Leonard Cohen or George Moustakis ballad. He was pushing the boundaries of the genre and I wondered what other ideas he had in mind but that would have to wait for another day. I accompanied Kasheba on this piece  with a Travis pick typical of Anglo American folk music. “ day you will teach me how you do this ?” Bien sur…Of course” I answered,  “Bila shaka...without doubt!” I said in Swahili. I added a melody to the piece and mentioned to Michel and Rosa that it would be nice if a children’s choir could take up the melody with the theme “liberte” from the French lyrics. Kasheba agreed.

At the end of it all I took Kasheba aside for a huddle with Rosa and Michel. I told him that I had drawn on many different kinds of music for the parts that I had added to his repertoire. The licks were coming from I don’t know where. I reiterated that it was his band, his disk and his repertoire. I was just a guest artist and if he did not like what I had done he could feel free not to use it. “No, no, my friend” he answered. “Everything you have done is a plus” speaking English but thinking in French. “Do not worry, Rosa and Michel are, are…’les grand artistes’…they know how to mix well.” The next morning I flew back to my project site.

I did not return to Dar for many months. I did manage to host Rosa and Michel a few times onsite when they worked as the sound crew for a documentary on the project that I was working on. In the process they managed to make some digital recordings of the tribal music of the peoples of Mount Hanang where our project was located. It is beautiful stuff and one day deserves an audience; Barabaig women’s ritual songs that sound like chants from highland Tibet; remarkable.

On subsequent trips to Dar I spent much of my spare time with Rosa and Michel. They were about the age of my eldest son. But somehow we met half way in the ageless and timeless world of musicians. We would spend hours, listening to their growing number of digital recordings, hearing about their nearly constant but successful battles with the government bureaucracy and listening sympathetically to their plans to return to the United States so they could raise some more money to continue their work in Tanzania. After almost three years they had run out of funds and finally had to fly home.

In the States they approached a number of donor organizations but could not persuade them that man does not live by bread alone and that cultural preservation in Africa was and should be a serious part and parcel of social development.

It is an interesting phenomena this, this donor disinterest in African music. By all criteria laid out by sociologists, economists and development organizations such as the World Bank, sub Saharan Africa is a mess! It is a continent that is now plagued by “shortgevity.” That is the shorthand word used for the fact that the AIDs pandemic is shortening the life span of the average African. The life span of Africans in the sub Saharan region is going down, whereas in the industrialized world and in industrializing Asia it is going up.

Although the fall of the Berlin wall put an end to the ideological proxy wars that had been fought between East and West in Africa, African countries’ fragile national boundaries were always an invitation to civil war and tribal blood baths as the ongoing civil war in central Africa shows us. With more than three million dead or missing this conflict has yet to go away.

Zimbabwe has been turned into an economic basket case by the dictator Robert Mugabe and the new regime in South Africa has lost much of the credit that Mandela had earned for it, by its studious non intervention there, and by not publicizing the fact that more than two million Zimbabweans have voted with their feet and are illegal refugees in South Africa. Former Prime Minister Mbeki’s public statements that HIV and AIDs had nothing to do with each other has further eroded the good will that the new democratic South African regime had been given at the start of its tenure.

On a recent trip to Johannesburg I found out that just about everybody I met had hired a Zimbabwean maid. They were honest, hard working and if they did not like you they would not call upon some friend or relative to car jack you at your garage or shoot you on the street.

The objective suffering of people in Africa causes many right minded people to wonder how on earth their lot can be improved and, what is it precisely that has made Africa the social and economic basket case of the world and once more, the burden of the Western donors.

Pop stars like Bono argue successfully for more aid. But he misses the point. So much of that Aid is stolen, perhaps more than 50%. It would be better if he campaigned for good government. If you ask Africans whether they prefer freedom and transparency to growing dependency on a Western aid machine that gets siphoned off by powerful politicians, they will tell you they prefer freedom and honest government to the dependency of development assistance.

But there is another perspective to be had on Africa. Drop into any private music school, or jazz workshop or musicology department at a college or university and here you will discover a “world turned upside down.” Ethnomusicologists have convincingly shown us that the roots of Jazz are African, that the roots of Latin and Cuban music are largely and still African, that Calypso is and was African, largely, and that Rock and Roll would never be anything if it was not for African music.

So that the skeptical reader may wonder what I am talking about, despite the near infinite variations of melody and rhythm that are found across the African continent, there are a number of distinctive features that characterize the Pan African tradition. As the French historian Fernand Braudel has argued, sub Saharan Africa is a distinct civilization. It therefore has its distinctive musical world just like Asia or Europe.

The African soundscape is different from the soundscape of European folk, popular and classical music. Yet it is this configuration of sound, the sound of slaves and former slaves, of the poor and the dispossessed that has time and time again “overwritten” the Anglo American folk tradition or bypassed and then surpassed the traditional of “serious” music that was imported from Europe.

As most journalistic writings about music avoid musicological talk, assuming that most readers will not know what they are talking about, let me take a chance and move against the grain. Allow me to briefly describe to you the outlines of the “Pan African musical style.” Once you understand it you will never listen to music in the same way again.

Let me number the traits:

0.Instruments are varied and numerous and are used individually and in ensembles

0.There is a tendency to have at least two or more things going on at once and thus there is widespread rhythmic and melodic polyphony

0.The percussive sound is an ideal and can be best explained  as an overall aesthetic tendency towards a “buzzing” musical background or more aptly “a percussive surround”

0.Plucked instruments far outnumber bowed ones

0.They often have jangles of some sort attached to them so that there is a buzzing sound that is almost always present

0.Variation and improvisation upon short melodic motifs dominate melodic structure

0.There is a close relationship between language and melody

0.Melodies are often built upon major seconds and thirds

0.Antiponal and responsorial techniques pre dominate

0.There always appear to be many things going on at once. The most dramatic example of this is rhythmic polyphony; the superimposition of two or more different rhythmic structures one upon each other. Each rhythm is strongly accented and the various parts enter one after another from simple to complex

0.Music is almost always associated with dance.

There you have it. Now, when you listen to African or African influenced music you will be conscious of what makes it African. It is a nice and easy grid to bear in mind.

As Wynton Marsalis describes it in the Ken Burns PBS series on Jazz, early in the 20th century the Music Department at Harvard University held a conference on what the nature of a new American classical music would be. Marsalis smiles as he points out that the question was valid, but the answer was just down the street in the ghettos and speakeasies where African Americans were inventing Jazz, outside of the conservatory by using their instruments, melodies and harmonies in ways that Conservatory trained musicians could not and did not imagine.

Such is the unstoppable creativity of the African musical tradition. It never lets up and when Western pop music falters, the great continent draws on another tradition to reinvigorate the cultural life of the descendants of European migrants to the New World.

If you are a development professional it is easier to deal with a continent if you assume it is a total basket case. If each development worker or donor organization would come to Africa with the artistic humility that musicians do when they go there, or receive African musicians in their home countries, then, the development process might benefit from such an approach. For a variety of reasons that is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Rosa and Michel went home to America and the Makuti studio was no more. They said they could master the tapes better in the States. They said they would do it for free while they kept down day jobs in the music industry and, they said they would open a small Internet based label to try and stimulate interest for the materials that they had recorded. They were as good as their word.

I found myself in Dar, many months later with little to do. Maestro Kasheba had told me that every Friday he and a floating roster of Congolese and Tanzanian musicians played at the Police Officer’s Mess, in Msasani, off Sekou Toure road in the middle of the diplomatic suburb on the peninsula a five minute drive from our house.

Here I was told Tanzania’s upper classes and middle classes went out for the night. There they would wine and dine with their wives or mistresses “mama ndogo” in polite Swahili (“little” or “secondary” mothers). The music was Afro Cubanic; it was a dance, eat and drink situation. No tourists frequented the place and if you were white, not only were you welcome but you were invisible. Race was not an issue. These were worldly and sophisticated people and if you wanted to hang out at their club all the better. “Karibu,” or welcome as they would say in Swahili.

I drive up to the Police Officers mess. I had arrived with some Tanzanian colleagues, largely middle aged technical experts who worked for my project and who over the last two years have become my friends. I suspect that rural development project work is akin to being in the army. You are thrown in with other people. You have goals to fulfill and tasks to do and you do everything in your power to do them well. You spend days, weeks and months together, often to the exclusion of your family and friends and you make sure that you work on the principle of all for one and one for all. Any other approach spells failure.

The Police Officers Mess is an L shaped building where on the open side lies an empty swimming pool. You enter into the building where there is a large bar on one side and then across to a large patio. There, there are hundreds of white plastic chairs and many tables. There you will see well dressed Tanzanian men and women, usually in large groups, drinking, eating, smoking, talking and laughing. There is a fair amount of flirtatiousness in the air but it is very modest and very low key. Beyond the patio there is an open stage. It is large and wide and at least ten to fifteen musicians are spread across it.

There are trap sets and bongo drums in various places; conga drums and microphones with stands, stands for guitars, numerous amplifiers, sound system speakers, keyboards, mixing boards and plastic chairs at the side where the musicians who are not on stage sit, smoke and drink.

Behind the musicians, a few yards away are the coral cliffs and the sea, where you can hear the waves crash. Sometimes you can feel the spray near the stage. You can see the lights of the large container and oil ships at anchor glittering in the harbor. On moonlit nights you can see to the far horizon and the waves and water are aglitter as if they were sprinkled with moon dust. The air is humid but the wind makes it comfortable and at times pleasant. In January it is hot as hell but in July and August it is chilly and you may need to wear a sweater.

In Dar I discovered that onstage in the world of Congolese pop music there is hierarchy and gerontocracy. It is the senior musicians and singers who “rule.” Younger musicians take on the role of apprentices and often play the earlier sets warming up the crowds for the famous old timers. The old timers do not really start in until 10:30 or 11:00 in the evening and they will often go till two, three or even four in the morning.

Shortly after my first visit to the Mess my wife and our teenage son moved to Dar es Salaam. Our house was within walking distance of the Mess and there were nights where we could hear the music wafting across the air until four in the morning. Many a night I fell asleep to the bass line of Yellow Card or the choruses of Marinella, songs I had played in the studio many months before.

I am sitting at a table at the Police Officers mess. The seniors, Kasheba, King Kiki,  and the late Basiano are all on stage. They sing a song and the dance floor fills up. Even the most overweight of women are light on their feet and many couples dance as if they have known each other for years. There is a lot of tenderness in the air.

At the end of each song all dancers walk off the stage and back to their tables as if they had been sent back to their seats by their teachers. With each new song they reenter the dance floor and at the song’s end they retire to their tables. Very soon I hear an announcement. It is Kasheba. He has his acoustic guitar strapped on. He is wearing a red shirt with white guitars all over it and green floral motives. With his large straw hat on (his signature) he stands out like a colorful peacock against the subdued color of the white shirted, black pant wearing, junior back up musicians.

He starts his announcement in Swahili and it goes something like this:

“Ladies and Gentlemen..I am Ndala Kasheba… some of you know me as…the Maestro… tonight we have in the audience a dear and close friend. His name is Geoffrois. He is a guitarist and he loves the African music. He is going to come on stage and play with us the famous Congolese song, Kokolai.”

I walk away from my table, I get up on stage and one of the young apprentices fusses over me and makes sure that my guitar is tuned, properly balanced and plugged in.

“Un, deux, un, deux, trois quatre” We are off. The chorus comes in. The horns do their thing. Kasheba is wailing out the melody and the back up singers do their part. I can feel the drum beats and conga rhythms enter me physically. I supposed this is what is it like to start off an evening in one of those Afro Cubanic cults of the Candomble of Brazil. I am not in trance, but I am entranced. I feel like I am floating on numerous melodic and rhythmic motives buoying me up and giving me the feeling that it is time to water ski.

I quickly catch the chords and start doing some variations. I throw in some rock rhythms. I lay on some Flamenco rasguedos, those multi finger, and multi flaying infinity kind of chords that just keep on going. Kasheba takes one of his marvelous and classically Congolese solos and then signals to me.

I take off for a solo and I go to places on my guitar where I have not been in many years. Bits of half remembered Carlos Santana appear on my fret board, echoes of Clapton and lots of Latin like scales. Occasionally, I bend and scream a few notes and then just as quickly, I decide that I have pushed the envelope just enough to get the esteem of the guys on stage and the satisfaction of the audience. We eventually wind down and exchange some dramatic chords as an ending. I realize that I have been playing with my legs spread wide apart, swaying to the rhythms, smiling and laughing with the other musicians on the stage.

They look at each other and me as if to say, “different…but you are okay and one of us.” As I take off my guitar many of the off stage musicians come over to shake my hand. The elderly musicians do the same, laughing and slapping me on the back. Then as I return to my table, I shake the hands of many of the admiring dancers. “Tafauti, lakini maridadi sana...different but very pretty they say in Swahili.” I had been famous for fifteen minutes.

I would drop into the Mess now and then to greet Kasheba and the other musicians and give them my version of the news from Rosa and Michel. They were still trying to get money from foundations to return and continue their work but no luck yet. They started a home based label and were mixing albums. They were working on other people’s projects to pay the rent but slowly organizing and mixing the material that they had brought back so that it could get some attention in America.

They had finally mixed the album we had all played on. It was called Yellow Card (available on the internet at Bravely, they sent a copy to the reviewers at the New York Times and the Village Voice and it got praise from both. Rosa and Michel are many things-artists, impresarios, entrepreneurs. One thing they are is confident that they work with artists that they choose and when in the studio they mix sounds like painters.

Visiting Kasheba at the Police Officer’s mess I would often sit in for a song or two. There was a pattern to it. At first I could feel the anxiety of the Tanzanian audience giving me the feeling “Oh God who is this guy and is he going to blow my next dance?” Then moving to “ah ah, this is musical and fun.” Then to, “Ok forget about the fact that he is a foreigner, he is in the groove, let’s dance” to the usually smiles, laughter and then lots of people shaking my hand after I stepped down.

When my wife joined me in Dar we would often go to have a beer near the sea, dance and bring friends along to hear the music. Everyone loved it. Everyone was impressed by the musicians and it gave them a feeling of a normal country with people doing normal things, not starving, stealing, fighting and demanding anything from outsiders-a snapshot of a “developed” society.

Once our household was up and running Kasheba would come over for dinner. He would bring his guitar, and we would play different kinds of music together. I taught him "Norwegian Wood," "Gracias a la Vida" and other tunes that I had picked up over the years. We would mess around with "La Bamba." He showed me a touching elegy that he wrote for the recently deceased President Nyerere.

When I took on a part time job playing folk rock at a local restaurant he dropped by one evening. He played back up to my versions of "Drivin Wheel" and old blues tunes. I backed him up on some of his Congolese tunes and he ended the evening singing Louis Armstrong’s "What a Wonderful World" - he was pretty good! The soundman was none other than the “wizard." At the end of the evening he came up to me and said, “That was ggggood!”

What I liked most about the evening was the two acoustic guitars playing together. It reminded me of those recordings made by Hugh Tracey, recordings of the earliest Congolese guitarist such as Dom Bosco. Kasheba said that he had known these musicians when he was growing up in the Congo, before he moved to Dar, and they had motivated him to become a guitarist. I loved that unamplified sound.

One evening while eating dinner at our place, he told us a story about crossing over the Tanzanian border near Zaire, sometime in eighties when the rebels and the government held different parts of the country under their authority. They had just crossed over from government territory on their way to Tanzania. A group of armed rebels stopped them and asked them who they were and what they were doing.

Kasheba told them that they were musicians and they were on their way to a gig in Kigoma town on the Tanzanian side of Lake Tanganyika. The rebels retorted that they must be spies and even if they were musicians they had been playing for Mobutu’s people and deserved to die. The rebel leader said, “Prove to us that you are truly musicians and we will let you go…sing and play for us.” Kasheba answered, “But we have no instruments we are on our way to Kigoma. “The rebel leader said, “Play or die.”

At that moment Kasheba started singing and motioning as if he was playing the guitar. He would sing the guitar part and mimic the hand movements and very soon the rest of the band were imitating sax sounds while they played invisible instruments and banged on invisible drums and congas, an entire ensemble lip sinking Congolese pop songs, without equipment, without instruments and within an inch of life or death. After a few songs the rebel leader asked them to stop. He said, “I think you really are musicians, you can go now.”

One evening at our house Kasheba said to me, “Geoffrois. I love the Congolese music. I am an African. It is African music. But I fear that it is limited. You know different styles, different repertoires. I need to expand my horizons, learn new pieces, experiment. “Au siyo ?” (is that not right, in Swahili). Can you help me?”

I answered, “Let me go through my CD collection and I will make a few CDs of forty or fifty songs that you may want to listen to.” Within a week I had made the CDs. They include everything from Robert Johnson, to Madagascar guitarists, Flamenco artists like Paco de Lucia and Camaron, and sixties folkies like Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. I included a fair amount of Irish melodies just for shock value.

Kasheba took the disks and listened to them. He came back the next week. We narrowed down the song list to twenty five distinct pieces and we got to work. We started playing Congolese versions of Yesterday by the Beatles, Congolese versions of the blues. I wrote a Tango for us and we worked on that. Once I convinced our teenage son to sit in with us. He was very excited and Kasheba told him he was good and should practice more. Somehow, I felt this was a historic occasion but I did not know why.

One evening as the sun lay on the horizon, after a I just had returned from swimming in the bay and watching the dhows go by I wrote a Congolese melody and lyric in Swahili and rehearsed it for our next practice. When we next got together I played it for him. He said it was very nice and asked which Tanzanian musician had written it. It told him I had. He was surprised and laughed, ”Not bad, not bad at all!” We played it a few more times and then went on to other material.

Very soon after,  work got the better of both of us. I had to spend many weeks in central Tanzania doing a project for the Swiss government and Kasheba was getting gigs in Arusha, Serengetti, Lake Victoria, Zanzibar. He was in demand and I was delighted. He even did a successful gig in England.

On numerous occasions we had been playing and his cell phone would beep. I would  listen to him saying to his various women, nieces, nephews, all who needed his help “I am sorry, desolee, no money, no …akuna pesa, kabeesa” (in Swahili no money, really!).

The one evening I got a call from my wife on my cell phone in central Tanzania. “Geoffrey" she said, “Kasheba is sick. He has heart problems. He is in the hospital. They won’t let him out until he pays his bill and he has to fly to Zanzibar to perform tonight.” I asked her to get whatever cash we had in the house and call up some friends and colleagues who liked his music to see if we could get some donations.  We managed to raise the money. My wife went to the hospital, we cleared the bills and the man made his gig in Zanzibar.

One evening at the house I told Kasheba that we were leaving Tanzania after having made it our home for more than six years. He was sad yet at the same time excited. He said, “Now you and Michel and Rosa can organize my tour. You will do the Canadian side and they will do the American side.” We discussed the logistics of it a number of times. We saw each other a few times more, played a little, visited him at other clubs. I got up on stage one last time and played an extended version of Kokolai. Then we packed our bags, put all our worldly belongings in a container and flew out of the country.

I was not at all happy to leave Tanzania. By that time it was the music that was keeping me there and the connection that I had made with Kasheba over the last two years. When I got back to Canada I called Michel and Rosa and we had a long chat about just how to arrange the tour for Kasheba and his colleagues.

I had not lived in Canada for over twenty years. I was back in my home town, welcomed by my family and childhood friends. Yet I felt like Rip van Winkle. I had woken up in my home town twenty years later and everything had changed. It sure kept me busy.

One evening I was called to the phone. It was Rosa, from her studio in Seattle.

“Geoffrey, I am afraid I have some bad news, Kasheba passed away.”

I was stunned. He was in his late fifties and although he had a heart condition he did not smoke and rarely drank. He lived a modest life and his mood was steady.

He could have gone to South Africa for better treatment or even Nairobi but there was always the question of money. When you rise in Africa, your extended family rises with you. The higher you rise the wider the set of people who demand your financial support. In the end, those who are most successful often end up as poor as they started, since the pressures and demands of the African extended family are almost impossible to avoid.

Rosa reminded me that the album that I had played on with Kasheba had been positively reviewed in the New York Times and the Village Voice. Some of the other cuts that we had done together would feature on the next CD. She said that with proper promotion she was sure that one day, Kasheba’s music would “breakout” in to the world of North American popular music.

I am sure that that day will arrive. It is a pity that Ndala Kasheba, the Maestro, will not be there to see it.


Geoffrey Clarfield is an Anthropologist at large.

About time someone looked in depth at that part of our history.  The Banks documentary taught me a million fascinating things I never knew, and I followed the events at Wounded Knee quite closely at the time.

Dramatic and absorbing.

Gripping...enthralling...wonderful.  This is a film we enthusiastically recommend.

Michel Tyabji's music featured in the Hollywood film "Eat Pray Love"

Music can reach beyond the whirring activity of our minds and stir the spirit within us. Films strive to fuse this musical pleasure with each scene and tug at our emotions. In a film like “Eat Pray Love,” our eyes feast on the rich scenery, while our ears are filled with the sounds and music of Italy, India, and Bali. 

Michel Tyabji is one of the artists that helped to bring such musical richness to the scenes of the film “Eat Pray Love.” Tyabji is a preformer, composer, sound engineer and co-owner of Limitless Sky Records.

“I learned from many others that by making music you can help stir the kind and generous spirit,” Tyabji says. Born in India, Tyabji’s story demonstrates how the combination of a humble spirit, a little luck, a great deal of skill, and a guiding family can intertwine to put you in a place where you never expected to be, but is wondrous when you look around.

Tyabji’s parents worked for UNICEF and as a result, he has lived in Bhutan, India, Yemen, Somalia, Tanzania, the UK, and currently the United States. “I can do other things, but I always end up back to the music. When everything went crazy in Somalia, it was the music that helped bring us together.” Tyabji draws from the sounds of these lands in the film scores he composes.

“Music in film can be a real mix-up, an ideal playground for a musical chameleon,” Tyabji says.

Tyabji shows his changeable colors in “Dali Lama Renaissance.” The film, produced and directed by Khashyar Darvich of the The Wakan Foundation for the Arts is a documentary with narration by Harrison Ford. The film shows what happened when His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet invited 40 Western leaders and thinkers to his home in the Himalyas.  Tyabji’s soundtrack dipped into a broad palate of world music, bringing together musicians of different cultures and styles to create a beautiful meditation on His Holiness’s message of peace.

Tyabji has family roots in music and community activism. His great grandfather was one of the lawyers who helped shape India’s constitution and his great-cousin Rehana Tyabji was a Muslim singer of Hindu Devotional Songs, favored by Bapu Gandhi.

Rehana’s influence has trickled down the generations to Michel Tyabji, whose quest to find recordings of his relative’s voice lead him to work on “Eat Pray Love”.

In 1933 Rehana’s voice was captured on wax cylinders by the great ethnomusicologist Arnold Bake. The Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv released a compilation of these recordings in 2000. Tyabji wanted to make a copy of the recordings to share with his family, but was unable to persuade the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv to give him access. After relegating the quest to a distant to-do list, Tyabji met Nazir Jairazbhoy and Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy, ethnomusicologists with “a list of accomplishments so long that it seems implausible to do so much in one lifetime.” Nazir Jairazbhoy had grown up next to the Tyabjis in India. His new friends were glad to show Tyabji the recordings of Rehana in their own library.

When Sony was searching for appropriate music to accompany the two ashram scenes in the movie “Eat Pray Love”, they consulted Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy, who directed them to Tyabji. The scenes had originally been recorded with singing from the ashram in New York, but without the rights to the music, Sony was in need of sound to accompany the chanting and swaying ashram devotees. Tyabji wrote twelve pieces, and six of these were used in the film.

“Actors move and sing along in these scenes,” Tyabji explains, “so all the music and lyrics had to work for picture.” For example, in the New York Ashram scene a close up of James Franco singing meant that his lip movements needed to plausibly match with the words of the bhajan.

The singers in Tyabji’s recordings are friends and family. “They better resemble a congregation of devotees than a group of professional singers” Tyabji says. Traditional instruments accompany the energetic voices: tabla, tanpura, harmonium, castanets, bells, and finger cymbals. Collaborators Hemant Ekbote played the tabla and Kito Rodriguez played acoustic guitar and sang.

Music creates moments where the world can be calm, and it is this spirit that Tyabji seeks. “The best times I can recall are when music is happening” Tyabji says, “In those moments, time itself is irrelevant. One becomes addicted to those moments.”

Press Release by Marissa Fessenden

"...Tyabji set out to accomplish the impossible: the creation of a score and soundtrack for a feature-length film worthy of the subject matter, without a budget. Yet this very hindrance proved to be the project’s strength. “The most affirming thing about this project was that it attracted certain types of people,” Tyabji notes, recalling how artists came out of the cyberspace woodwork wanting to advance the Dalai Lama’s message..."

Please visit the web site for full article.

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...Fortunately the Dalai Lama is disciplined enough to stay within his field and domain, which is the place of the individual- and his happiness… or not- in the world. His social message is fairly simple, similar to the Four Noble Truths themselves, and can be summarized as such: 1) change is constant, 2) man’s nature is essentially good, 3) bad things happen, 4) society can become corrupt, 5) change it.

Best of all, you can dance to it, or just listen in contented bliss. What Kasyar Darvich has accomplished cinematically, Michael Tyabji has seconded musically, pulling together a group as diverse as it is accomplished. This includes guitarist Larry Mitchell, composer Medicine Bear, The Yoginis, Heyraneh, and… the list goes on. Though incorporating many different instruments and sounds of Nature, too, the soundtrack leans heavily on classical sitar and the voice of the Dalai Lama himself, offering choice helpings of Buddhist wisdom mixed with good ol’ common sense. When the music starts to drift off into trance, the Dalai Lama’s voice brings it right back down to Earth. And if that’s not enough, you can hear Harrison Ford apparently teaching William Shatner how to rap in ‘Drops of Gold’: “words, words, words are mere bubbles of water… but deeds are drops of gold… you, yourself, must make the effort… the Buddhas are only teachers.” Cost of the soundtrack album: not so much; value of hearing Harrison Ford do Buddhist spoken word with the Dalai Lama: priceless. The release is timed to coincide with the Dalai Lama’s speaking tour of the US May 12-23. Is there Tibetan politics behind all this? Probably so, and that’s where it’ll stay. Hardie K says check it out.

Posted by Hardie K at

There's a sanctuary where the pulse of cumbia moves to Tibetan notions of eternal time, where Native American and Indian sonics transform the voice of a female Sufi from Iran. A retreat where one of the planet's most revered teachers' words become a melody, and the message dances in the medium.

This place, created in a cozy home studio in the L.A. hills, is the home of the striking soundtrack to the documentary film Dalai Lama Renaissance (White Swan; May 11, 2010). The film follows the journey of some of the world's most distinctive thinkers - from nuclear physicists to self-help experts, with narration by actor Harrison Ford - to see the Dalai Lama at his Indian home-in-exile and discuss a way to freedom for Tibet and humanity. The release is timed with the Dalai Lama's May 12-23 speaking tour of the United States. The soundtrack flows from the voluntary contribution of a diverse yet serendipitously harmonious group of musical fellow travelers brought together by percussionist and producer Michel Tyabji.

Tyabji set out to accomplish the impossible: the creation of a score and soundtrack for a feature-length film worthy of the subject matter, without a budget. Yet this very hindrance proved to be the project's strength. “The most affirming thing about this project was that it attracted certain types of people," Tyabji notes, recalling how artists came out of the cyberspace woodwork wanting to advance the Dalai Lama's message. “No one had any money but we didn't have a firm schedule, either. We had time."

With that time, musicians could come and linger in Tyabji's home studio over cup after cup of tea, letting their inspiration carry them. Or Tyabji could meet them wherever they happened to be in the L.A. area, as he did with Grammy-winning guitarist Larry Mitchell. They connected at a nearby hotel where, on the fly, Mitchell effortlessly laid down a solo on Tyabji's thumbdrive.

The musicians drawn to the project were a seemingly motley crew: Composer Medicine Bear, who provided large portions of original score; a group of brothers cum classical Indian musicians recruited by an American keyboard player (The Yoginis) and recorded at a rented New Delhi TV station; Heyraneh, a rare female Sufi vocalist from Tehran; and the multitalented Techung, a Tibetan born in exile and trained in traditional Tibetan lhamo opera.

Despite the great spread of sounds and cultures, as Tyabji worked on the tracks and unified them to support the film, he was pleasantly surprised. “I was actually shocked how easily things gelled: traditional Indian, underneath or on top of Afro-Cuban beats, blended with a Tibetan song on the computer," Tyabji reflects. “We didn't have to do any fancy stuff. It just came together in a perfect match up of tracks."

Pieces like “Yar," where the original plan to record Heyraneh singing a Zoroastrian prayer passed down through Tyabji's Parsi family turned a magical corner when the singer burst into a Sufi invocation, transforming the track. Or the unexpected “Om Cumbia Om," where Techungs expansive recitation of a Buddhist mantra with its own sense of time ended up meshing with an intense Afro-Latin rhythm whipped up by two Colombian percussionist friends.

Even older projects - like a recording Tyabji and his wife and frequent collaborator Rosa had made of the last living teacher of Tibetan chod chants - worked seamlessly with the material his new-found friends were laying down in the studio. “Rosa and I had recorded Lama Wangdu Rinpoche at an ashram near Portland, Oregon," recalls Tyabji. “It became an album for use by his students, with really limited distribution. But then it took on a new life as I brought it into the mix."

Yet the lucky accidents channeling the eclecticism of Dalai Lama Renaissance had deep roots: the calls for peace, freedom, and compassion of the Dalai Lama himself. Though of a different faith, Tyabji felt a profound resonance with His Holiness' teachings. Descended from a distinguished family including a vocalist favored by Gandhi and a dedicated politician who shaped India's constitution, Tyabji's elders instilled a love of wise teachers and the non-violent path to liberation.

He soon learned for himself how music could play a part in that liberation. Tyabji came of age traveling the world with his parents, UN workers who took on some of the world's most difficult assignments. One of these challenging postings took the family to Somalia, where a teenage Tyabji watched the desperately poor country slip into a devastating civil war.

“I saw that music and poetry held together whatever semblance of society was left," he muses. “Just having a battery-powered walkman saved us. There was something that made a little bit of sense. There was certainty in the beat, the lyrics. That's when I got into music, in Africa, and understood its power."

This power to move, encourage, and heal, Tyabji feels, also lies in the words and voice of the Dalai Lama, which he interwove throughout the soundtrack album. The task of picking and choosing the words seemed daunting at first - until he began to hear the music in His Holiness message. After spending years trying to find the right fit with the music, Tyabji discovered to his surprise that the passages that he felt most strongly were the ones where the tone and cadence meshed best.

“For me, his most powerful message, the one that repeats on the album like a mantra, is that each of us is personally responsible to think about humanity, other human beings," Tyabji states. “For someone who has lived in so many different countries, who's lived through wars, who was fortunate to be born into a family that cares, I know this is what we all need to think about: each other."

The accidental meetings and fortunate breaks involved in the making of the album are still bearing fruit. Tyabji has teamed up with Techung and their tours have taken them as far away as European Russia's oft-overlooked Buddhist region, Kalmykia. Heyraneh's participation in the project has moved her out of the margins, where she was relegated due to her gender, and into the local spotlight, as the L.A. Persian community embraces her artistry.

Tyabji senses that this joint effort based on a mutual love for the Dalai Lama's message is like one of the Tibetan songs Techung brought to the project, “Lhasang." The singer calls out to the mountains, hoping to hear what the echoes may bring. “That song embodies what we were doing with this album," Tyabji smiles. “We were singing out to a stone wall and just waiting to hear what happens."

We received the disk today and I've been listening to it on the big system. It sounds absolutely stunning. Flawless audio. And a beautiful production. It takes one through an entire journey via a series of upliftments, like gentle waves in the ocean but without any hint of the undercurrents of fear which arise from one's respect for the might and depth of the sea. Instead, the music, rhythms, sounds and voices wash over, around and through me like pleasant electromagnetic undulations. Michel, every minute devoted to the production of this album has been worth it. Adil, the jacket design and artwork are brilliant, perfectly complementing the treasure they enclose. Congratulations guys, you have a winner.

"Everyone wants to change humanity, but no one wants to change themselves." These are the first words of Dalai Lama Renaissance , the soundtrack of the film narrated by Harrison Ford. The CD is a holy trek through many shorter pieces of music, all of it captivating. Ancient and contemporary music of Tibet, India, Iran, and the Americas comprise the soundtrack, an enlightening journey ranging from Indian classical and Sufi poetry to jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms. The words of the Dalai Lama interspersed throughout are true pearls of wisdom. This is a high-quality, interesting project, connecting the listener to the Dalai Lama's deep humility and passion for understanding.

This is not just an audio CD, it is not only for listening, it is going on a journey that adds to your experience of life. It can inspire and calm you. It can take you to a meditative state. Be with not miss this rare journey..

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Febuary 15, 2010

This important album was assembled and produced by Michel Tyabji and Rosa Costanza Tyabji as part of a documentary titled Dalai Lama Renaissance. The soundtrack album consists of twenty-six tracks of Tibetan-influenced chants and pieces of music that work as a perfect audio accompaniment to the visual images of the Dalai Lama. Each offering on this album is part of a collective providing a narrative that is overwhelmingly beautiful, compassionate and enlightened. There are numerous amazing artists on this collection and if you are a devotee, or just a supporter of the Dalai Lama’s journey, this album is a must-have.

Producer, music director and performer on many pieces, Tyabji has appeared playing drums and percussion throughout the world and is known for his work with legendary African artists including Ndala Kasheba and Garikayi Trikoti. Tyabiji is only one of many exceptional artists here, in the company of Larry Mitchell, Ralph “Kito” Rodriguez and composer, keyboardist and arranger Henry Medicine Bear Reid, all of whom produce music worth a listen. Tibetan singer/songwriter Techung plays traditional Tibetan instruments and prayers for the Dalai Lama on instrumental tracks and Roop Verma offers an inspired “Alap,” along with other gorgeous tracks. In “Bassant Blue,” and “Jog Jazz,” the New Delhi-based ensemble called Yoginis’ deep thoughtful drones were produced by Seattle-based composer Yogi McCaw. Also noteworthy, Lama Tsering Wangdu Rinpoche had me in tears with his delivery of “Lady of Great Bliss.”

Along with many of the musical tracks offered on this special CD, the listener can also enjoy hearing the words of His Holiness which helps to bring his message of “hope” home. I highly recommend this album for anyone interested in world music and a follower of the Dalai Lama’s journey throughout the world and hopefully back into his homeland someday soon. .

The universal language of music is most beautifully presented in the soundtrack to the documentary film Dalai Lama Renaissance.

I love the way different genres of music have been brought together and flow from the soothing sounds of nature, to the words of the Dalai Lama and back into the music. Traditional instruments blend with modern and though each musical experience is unique on its own, together the Tibetan, Indian, Sufi, Jazz and Afro- Cuban take one on an introspective journey evoking a soothing, calming and wholly delightful listening experience.

I will be looking out for other productions by Limitless Sky Records.

A documentary film soundtrack, produced by Michel Tyabji and Rosa Costanza Tyabji. This is much more than a soundtrack of the film reviewed above. It is an eclectic remix of quotations by the Dalai Lama and narrations by Harrison Ford interspersed with a dynamic fusion of Tibetan, Indian, Sufi, Jazz and Afro- Cuban music. Featured musicians include Michel Tyabji, Tibetan recording artist Techung, Henry Medicine Bear Reid, Roop Verma, Persian vocalist Heyraneh, Lama Tsering Wangdu Rinpoche, Ralph “Kito” Rodriguez and several others. As with the film, this soundtrack is a unique journey that embodies the universal wisdom His Holiness personifies.

The theme of the DLR film "to open our hearts" is expanded upon with CD in the language of music that accompanies one on the single most important and personally difficult journey of our life experience... it creates an atmosphere of relaxation without and within the space that we occupy in time and encourages each heart to unfold at its own pace as gold nuggets of ancient wisdom are echoed in perfect placement and pitch. Music for hearts in search of insight and inner peace will absorb much from this CD and in turn will reflect the beauty of a peaceful heart to the world outside.
Some of the best mixture of transcendental Tibetan tracks with funky bass driven tunes and a soulful narration by Harrison Ford.

CD REVIEW: ‘Dalai Lama Renaissance’ captures cultural flavor, teachings of spiritual leader

The music is exotic but the words are universal on the soundtrack “Dalai Lama Renaissance.”

This collection of music by various Eastern artists, the words of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and narration by Harrison Ford is taken from the documentary film of the same name. It requires thoughtful listening and lasts about 66 minutes, so it seems well suited for a discussion group, road-trip or even an afternoon of casual contemplation.

It begins with a short prayer for the venerated patron saint of Tibet, sung by Techung, followed by the Ford’s rich voice saying, “Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” That simple, powerful statement leads into lovely, reflective instrumental music that evokes the exiled Dalai Lama’s Tibetan homeland.

“Each human being has the responsibility, or moral responsibility, to think about humanity and to think about the future of human beings,” he says, before the music continues.

News reports provide historical context for the life he has led after fleeing Chinese persecution in 1959 to live in India, where he can speak freely and teach his followers or anyone open to his messages of striving to live in harmony.

You certainly don’t have to be Buddhist to appreciate the teachings of this man, now 74, who at age 2, was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama. These teachers are believed to be enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvana to be reborn and serve humanity. (For more information, go to

The music that weaves through the spoken words is sometimes mysterious and often joyous. Styles vary from monastic chants to one track that sounds like an American country music instrumental.

Especially engaging is the longest track, “Snow Lion of Peace,” by Techung, which lasts 7 minutes and 33 seconds.

One quick blip in “Drops of Gold” even has a hip-hop flavor, when Ford speaks the ancient Chinese proverb, “Words are mere bubbles of water, but deeds are drops of gold.” He continues that thought saying, “But you, yourself, must make the effort. The Buddhas are only teachers.”

That leads into another passage in which the Dalai Lama, says: “Through the birth, we have every right to have happy life.”

This soundtrack vividly captures the rich culture and messages from this man who continues his tireless pursuits for peace in his homeland and beyond.

There he was at the front of the Vector Arena in Auckland, New Zealand. A small figure draped in marigold and burnished cardamom colored swaths of fabric. He laughed a bit before putting on a visor to shade his eyes, “It’s too bright! I cannot see anyone!” The crowd of thousands chuckled ever so softly, unsure if it was polite to laugh. For the two-hour speech that followed, a collective focus remained on this man, this icon, this symbol.

That was back in 2007; the last time I saw His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Three years later, I encounter his spirit and message again in Renaissance, the provocative soundtrack of the eponymous documentary about his humanitarian impact and inspirational affect.

Created in the intimate Los Angeles home studio of producer/percussionist Michel Tyabji, Renaissance is an original composition of compassion and respect; a collection of voluntary efforts propelled by the Dalai Lama’s message. “The most affirming thing about this project was that it attracted certain types of people,” Tyabji notes. “No one had any money but we didn’t have a firm schedule, either. We had time.”

Development of the soundtrack unfolded at a pace atypical of music production. With a bottomless tea kettle, musicians gathered at Tyabji’s home to steep in deep discussions about the project and the message. Contributors came from far flung corners: Heyraneh, a female Sufi vocalist from Tehran; The Yoginis, a group of brothers trained in classical Indian music; Techung, an exiled Tibetan trained in traditional Tibetan lhamo opera; and Grammy-award winning guitarist Larry Mitchell.

The results of this natural collaboration are 26 tracks that seamlessly flow from one to the next. Hypnotic vocals float a river of singing bowls, rhythm guitars, narrative snippets by Harrison Ford, and powerful percussions.”I was actually shocked how easily things gelled: traditional Indian, underneath or on top of Afro-Cuban beats, blended with a Tibetan song on the computer,” said Tyabji. “We didn’t have to do any fancy stuff. It just came together in a perfect match up of tracks.” Renaissance opens with the Dalai Lama’s contemplative words, repeated throughout the soundtrack, connecting each track like a cosmic string of prayer beads, “Every human activities whether in economy, whether in politics, or in medical science, or science, or any field, any activities; suppose all these different human activities helped humanity to achieve human desire. But some cases, human activities create more additional unnecessary problem. Why suffer? Why pain? Why unhealthy motivation? Why more unnecessary suffering?”

Meditative by nature, Renaissance the soundtrack is aural proof that there are shared elements within us, harmonious and true. Reflecting upon the lessons shared, Tyabji said, “For me, his most powerful message, the one that repeats on the album like a mantra, is that each of us is personally responsible to think about humanity, other human beings.”