Bringing the past back

Culture: The Third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck’s court – 1968’s Gramophone Recordings – was launched in Thimphu yesterday.

The Music of Bhutan Research Centre (MBRC) made the discovery in the spring of 2014. MBRC obtained a copy of one of the records, identified as 33PIX.1017, from a close attendant of the Third King, Dasho Sangay Tenzin.

MBRC Director, Kheng Sonam Dorji, said His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck set the country on the path to modernisation.

“At the same time, His Majesty understood the value of the country’s distinctive culture and tradition. In 1968, His Majesty commanded his finest singers to make a gramophone recording,” Kheng Sonam Dorji said. “They travelled to Dum Dum studios in Calcutta, India, as gramophone recording was not available in the country.”

Dasho Drupon, who played drangyen (Bhutanese lute,) led the group with Drimpon Sonam Dorji, a respected dance instructor and vocalist, as an assistant leader. In addition to Drimpon Sonam Dorji, male vocalists included Bumtap Tawla, Nija Kado and Gyen Tawchu. Female vocalists included Tshewang Lham, Aum Thinlem, Changzam Dagom and Ani Lham.

The group also included instrumentalists such as Khetu playing chiwang, Dawpay playing drangyen and flute, Tango Pem Namgay playing drangyen and Gyelwa Karamapas Drapa playing flute.

The group went twice to Kolkata that summer of 1968 with each trip lasting about 20 days.

The songs recorded at the studio were released on a long-playing vinyl records, which were distributed to various Bhutanese royals and officials, Kheng Sonam Dorji said.

“As the first gramophone records of Bhutanese vocal music, they were undeniably of lasting cultural importance,” he said. “However, with limited prints and no sale to the general public, the recordings were soon lost.”

In 2009, Kheng Sonam Dorji began the journey to rediscover these recordings. He started interviewing elder musicians who had served the Third Druk Gyalpo.

“Each artist had received copies but none had a copy since all had let out their discs or misplaced them,” he said. “I followed various leads in the hope of finding the records, but to no avail.”

Finally, Kheng Sonam Dorji obtained a copy from Dasho Sangay Tenzin. The copy was then hand-carried on flights from Thimphu to California, USA, where the worn out tracks were converted to digital format.

The audio restoration specialists meticulously re-mastered each song to a striking degree of clarity, Kheng Sonam Dorji said.

“The CD, featuring all 15 tracks reveals the quiet power and sublime beauty of Bhutanese musical tradition,” he said. “It not only showcases some of the most gifted artists of the era in their prime, but also captures an aesthetic sensibility that pre-dates the arrival to Bhutan of popular music and western influences.”

The CDs will be provided free of cost to schools and institutions.

A short documentary film 1968’s Gramophone Recording was also shown with the launch of the new website of the MBRC at the event.

Thinley Zangmo

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