Written by Dr. Dechen Tsewang, MK Santa Fe Host
The 4th Machik Khabda in Santa Fe took place in our back yard and the participants were my two daughters: Pema, age 8, Drukar, age 4 and their friend Norzom, age 7. I made a platter of treats and we looked at video of ANU’s song Fly with prompts to look at images that capture their eyes. The kids are familiar with the song as it has been played at home, various Tibetan community gatherings and in car-rides. Norzom liked the images of chortens that are very familiar. Children were able to relate to chortens they have seen in the past - in Santa Fe, Bir-India, Kathmandu etc. Pema pointed out that the masks of monkeys stood out to her as an animal symbol that come in dreams such as a crow or a raven, a concept she learned in school last year. She thought Phur is a very unique song, “I think Phur does not mean really flying but that it means…trying out and that just trying is good enough.”
Children read the lyrics of Phur and asked what "fate" meant. As a mother, I had to think carefully and felt a little nervous in trying to explain the concept of fate to a child without alluding any limitations attached to it. As usual, children always surprise us with their wild imagination and intelligence. Pema was quick to point, “so fate can be something that can be changed too”. She was able to relate to women fighting for voting rights - we had talked about it last year, in school and she said, “In a book that my aunty Amrita gave me, it showed that how women fought for voting rights and now, my Ama can vote, other women can vote”. An eight year old girl sees that fate is something that is not stagnant and can be changed.
Machik Khabda’s study guides that accompany each session is very well thought out and a pleasure to read and discuss. It is a treat to have such a solid curriculum that allows us to learn about our Tibetan sisters and brothers in Tibet and provide a space for discussion. I had heard about Pekar (featured for 2nd Khabda) years ago with her sculptural works but never knew about her poetry, essays and her struggles. I found her work very empowering as a Tibetan woman raising two daughters.
Written by Katie Cunningham
Machik Program Intern & Rising Senior at Sidwell Friends School
I’ve listened to ANU's “Phur” over 75 times throughout my summer internship at Machik, but I nonetheless felt the lively energy and buzz around last Saturday’s Khabda. Once again, I was stunned by ANU’s talent, resilience, and ability to transcend language barriers. All non-Tibetans in attendance noted their music’s ability to bring tears to one's eyes without even glancing at the lyrics, which only further enhanced the emotion. Over the past eight weeks, I’ve researched Anu Ranglug, translated articles from Chinese to English to provide context for the phenomena that is ANU, and gathered various data points for our ANU infographic (such as YouTube hits for their videos). At the end of the day, I learned the most about ANU's music and its social impact by sitting down with a diverse group of people who share a common interest and curiosity for Tibet.
Amidst my research, I didn’t fully comprehend what ANU’s role in the wider community of "hip-hop" meant. Although the genre originated in the Bronx, New York City, it has spread to nearly every corner of the globe, including Tibet. While global hip hop artists acknowledge and honor the African American and Latinx community that launched the movement, local culture and sound are often incorporated into their music. ANU is no exception; Gonpa and Payag brilliantly blend modern rap and hip hop with traditional Tibetan folk music.
Throughout the history of hip hop as a culture, people from diverse backgrounds utilize this medium to articulate their lived experiences and stories which may often be completely erased or forgotten. As our DC Khabda group dissected ANU’s music videos, lyrics, and clothing brand, I discovered a new meaning behind their creative production. “Fly”’s underlying sociocultural message and ANU’s conscious decision to perform a cover of “Apologize” in front of a majority Chinese audience were stunning to me. Another layer that was uncovered during our discussion was their creative use of double-speak. 1376, in their accent, sounds like the Tibetan phrase, “What you think, you can accomplish.”
While ANU’s music, dance, and dress are upbeat, catchy, and fun, it also provides extreme value to Tibet and beyond.
Written by Lekey Leidecker
As the Machik team scoured the internet in Tibetan, English, and Chinese for information about ANU, who captivated Tibetan audiences inside and outside Tibet with their song འཕུར་ (En: Fly) in 2017, I kept wondering to myself: how can we get the world to care about Tibet and hip hop, or to even put the two in the same sentence?
In our process of outreach for each Khabda, we try to spread the word in a number of ways: through social media, through our networks, and are fortunate to have started receiving outreach from new folks who are interested in the featured topics.
This time, I remembered that our friend and collaborator, Deon Ben of Diné (Navajo) Nation, had shared something wonderful with me when we last met in November 2018, a convening of the Colorado Plateau Intertribal Conversations Gathering, held on the lands of the Isleta Pueblo and convened by the Grand Canyon Trust.
Deon, his parents, and additional Diné community members Sunny Dooley and Tony Skrelunas had just participated in Machik’s largest gathering, the 12th Annual Machik Weekend in New York City, and Deon’s parents, Violet and DJ, had heard a Tibetan song there that they’d enjoyed. I realized that the song was none other than ANU’s sensational crossover global hit འཕུར་ (En: Fly), meaning that the Ben family had joined a global cohort of ANU fans, and that the Gonpa’s beautifully worded sentiment of “extending your wings of freedom” had, unsurprisingly, reached Navajo Nation!
As I wrote the discussion guide for this Khabda, it was Violet and DJ who I had in mind: two Diné elders who actually share many traditions with the Nangchen community in Tibet where Gonpa and Payag are from: farming and ranching, deep relationships to place and homeland. How could I share more about ANU to people who, like our Diné friends, respond to ANU’s music but may not have the same knowledge about contemporary Tibet that I do?
So, why should you, or anyone else care about Tibet, hip hop, and ANU’s music? My answer is this: In a time of rapid change for Tibet and for the world, ANU illustrates the power of music to connect, uplift, and inspire. Like all good music, ANU makes the listener feel something powerful. The name ANU, also known as ཨ་ནུ་རིང་ལུགས་ (En: Anu Ranglug), is a Tibetan phrase in English loosely meaning “youthfulness.” It also evokes a spirit of energetic hopefulness, of joy, of “believ[ing] in the wonders of life.” We are blessed with ANU’s joyous and youthful spirit, and, as evidenced by their fan base, Anu Ranglug can happen at any age, anywhere.
Written by Tenzin Dickyi
Machik Program Intern & Senior at Colgate University
The 4th Machik Khabda (MK4) was a really fun one to be part of. Not only did my parents get to be part of it, but I spent the last month listening to ANU’s music and learning so much about them prior to Khabda. While the Khabda in Washington, DC was held mainly in English, I am so grateful that my parents were there to experience it. They did not speak out during the conversation because they are very shy, but afterwards my parents could not stop talking about ANU. They wanted to know if my brothers knew who ANU were and had the song GAGA stuck in their heads for days. They were in awe of the Tibetan duo making waves through music. Neither of them listen to a lot of music nor do they think about the impact of Tibetan hip hop artists from Tibet, but this Khabda got them thinking about contemporary Tibetan artists. I enjoy Khabda so much because of the way it gets Tibetans and non-Tibetans of all ages thinking and talking about Tibetan creatives in Tibet.
During this Khabda, something that I couldn’t get out of my mind is the way that hip hop culture and Tibetan culture combine to make ANU’s music and clothing brand. Growing up as a Tibetan in the United States, I have watched my culture be appropriated. Even before I knew what cultural appropriation was, I remember feeling annoyed. I noticed that some people could profit from Tibetan culture without fully understanding or crediting the meaning and history. From this experience, I also learned to be sensitive to others’ feelings based on something I may have done. During Khabda, we talked about the the word “Tigga” and its use in Tibet. Someone at the Khabda brought up how a rapper who went by the name of “Rich Chigga” changed their name to “Rich Brian” after coming to the U.S. from Indonesia. They told us about how once the rapper learned about the history of the n-word, he felt uncomfortable keeping his former name. I think this is important to remember because it is possible that ANU and other rappers in Tibet may not have full access to the meaning and context of it all. ANU is clearly influenced by Black-American creativity, through clothes or music. Figuring out the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation is difficult, especially in this special context. It is still something that I am thinking about, beyond the conversation that occured during Khabda. I am thrilled that Khabda gave everyone a space to explore these dynamics as well as learn about these incredible creatives in Tibet!
Written by Katie Jarrett
Machik Program Intern & Senior at George Washington University
This past Saturday evening our Khabda room filled with the voices of 20+ people who enthusiastically discussed the music duo, ANU, and the social impact of their music. Here in Washington D.C., we listened to ANU's songs and viewed their music videos, interspersing these activities with lively discussion. The conscious decision to listen to some songs without visual cues and then later watch music videos created an audiovisual sensory experience that helped to provoke creative thinking. Our Khabda focused on ANU in the broader context of rap and hip-hop; music genres that act as avenues of cultural and social expression. We even discussed the historical and cultural significance of hip-hop; making sure to honor the birthplace of hip-hop at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx.
We followed the path of ANU's development into a global phenomenon and the sociocultural meaning of such development. Frequently mentioned was the fact that ANU has existed long before this year's performance on the Chinese show "Singer," which some view as having catapulted ANU to fame. The "Singer" performance was discussed at length, especially in consideration to ANU's use of Tibetan, English, and Chinese languages. The perception of ANU by mainstream Chinese audiences is something that a commenter noted as having drastically changed the quality of the duo's music. Creative ability was clearly stifled as can be seen in the dramatic differences between the most recent music video and earlier ones. Within the context of modern day censorship, ANU's ability to continue representing classic elements of Tibetan cultural identity is inspiration and uplifting. To me, ANU's ability to retain such elements reflects stark realities of the difficulties of preserving cultural traditions in the face of overwhelming pressures of globalization and cultural homogeny. ANU is a member of a larger phenomenon in which artists use music as both a tool to disseminate cultural expression as well as a preservation technique for cultural traditions.
Many felt strongly that the challenges facing ANU's ability to retain creative expression are also reflected in how little information can be found in English on these two young men. As one of the participants said, "a creative group in Tibet today can tell us a lot about what's going on in Tibet today." Hip-hop is an extremely important cultural phenomenon as a place of expression, especially within the context of complex social media. ANU, as representative of how influential hip-hop is, has been extremely influential on young people (within the Tibetan community and even outside of Tibet). I found ANU's decision to center on the hip-hop/rap genre extremely brave; as one of my friends in Beijing once mentioned, the majority of music and media in the PRC and regions is oversaturated in the love song/story genre, because this is the easiest way to fly under the censorship radars. Hip-hop, with its long history as a form of social expression, can be an especially provocative genre.
One person commented that Tibetan music coming out of Tibet, when compared to Tibetan music in diaspora, has much more depth and purpose. When you listen to ANU, you listen to it but your consciousness, mental space, and heart are all somewhere else. This became especially clear to me through our Khabda when we alternated between listening to songs and watching the music videos. This way of music consumption reveals distinct layers of ANU's music. On the surface level is of course the lyrics, but visual elements are just as packed with depth of meaning.
ANU is an avenue to reality underneath dominant narratives about Tibet. Looking at Tibet through the lens of hip-hop gives us a unique way to understand the complexity of contemporary Tibet. Subsequently, the representation of Tibet and Tibetan culture through ANU is extremely important in its implications. Language usage in ANU's music, as mentioned before, holds an extremely important message. They're (referring to ANU) trying to say something, and it's working to a great extent. Very clearly, ANU represents the importance of music in cultural identity. This is especially apparent in the song "Phur". "Phur" is THE anthem, showing how identity can be exerted in different cultural forms. As was discussed during our Khabda, many of the terms in "Phur" have roots in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy containing connotations that are not necessarily conveyed in other languages. Equally so, the language in the song , how the roots of words are formed, of how words come together to form longer sentences, and the context of Tibetan culture all demonstrate the many different aspects that come together to form Tibetan culture. The message of the song also conveys a distinctive experience that Tibetans listening to might relate.
In conclusion, our Khabda on ANU became extremely involved and the enthusiasm of speakers was palatable. The people within our Khabda room happily talked for hours about ANU and the messages they convey. It was a very lively discussion, far away from where ANU actually performs, demonstrating just how impactful their music is.