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.