Culture: At a time when traditional music is undergoing change in the country, it’s timely that Zhungdra, one of the oldest styles of traditional folk music, is properly documented and archived for future references.

The Royal Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA) is currently carrying out a six-day workshop towards the preservation of Zhungdra.

A lecturer at RAPA, Kunzang Dorji, who has undertaken the task to document Zhungdra, has collected more than 80 songs from across the country.

The collections of these songs are being scrutinised and discussed thoroughly during the workshop, Kunzang Dorji said.

“Through the discussions, we are going to compile a guidebook on Zhungdra clearly defining its characteristics such as its origin, the way it’s sung, the tune, musical instruments used, to the costume worn by the singers,” Kunzang Dorji said.

There are more than a hundred Zhungdra songs sung in different parts of the regions today, Kunzang Dorji said. “It’s challenging to document all the songs. After the guidebook is published, I hope many will contribute the Zhungdra songs that have not made its way to the book. The songs should fit all the characteristics before it’s documented.”

We will document not only the existing Zhungdra songs across the country but also the new ones if it fits the criteria, Kunzang Dorji said. “In this way, we are hoping not only to preserve the old Zhungdra songs but encourage young people to compose new ones as well.”

Zhungdra is the oldest style of traditional folk music and is sung using extended vocal tones in complex patterns. Singers and dancers form a long line and hold hands when they sing. They move in a slow synchronised order, following the lyrics of the music. Dancers always face towards the lama.

Zhungdra was first performed in the 17th century to commemorate the victories over Tibetan invaders. It was performed as a gesture of appreciation to the protective deities Yeshey Gonpo and Pelden Lhamo.

While many have an idea about what Zhungdra is today, there are not many well-researched documents or books compiled on its history and significance, Kunzang Dorji said.

“Older generation are always complaining that young people are not interested in Zhungdra and it’s fighting a lost battle but there are hardly any avenue for them to cultivate interest in,” he said. “Since Zhungdra is also passed down through oral transmissions, its real meaning and significance are lost through translation.”

Zhungdra forms an integral part of our culture and identity, and it’s highly important that it’s properly documented, Kunzang Dorji said. “Veteran Zhungdra singers like Aup Dawpey are few remaining ones who have an extensive knowledge on the subject and it’s sad to see Zhungdra fading with them. We must keep record of what they know.”

The guidebook will also serve as a course at the Royal Institute of Performing Arts for the younger generation to continue learning about Zhungdra. Similar guidebooks for Boedra and Rigsar will be compiled in the future.

About 83 people, academically and professionally well versed in Zhungdra, are participating in the workshop, out of which 33 are invited from other dzongkhags.

A veteran singer, Aum Nimchu Pem, 74, who have been singing Zhungdra since she was 10 years old, said such an initiative towards the preservation of Zhungdra is timely.

“People might say Zhungdra is fading away but it’s in our hands to sustain it for the future generations. I hope that Zhungdra will flourish in the future like it did in the old days,” Aum Nimchu Pem said.

The workshop that’s being held at RAPA will end on May 16.

Thinley Zangmo