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Filmmaker brings portrait of Tibetan musical icon to Saskatoon

November 19, 2010

The Sheaf
By Savhanna Wilson
17 November 2010

Ancient Tibetan teachings have long been preserved monastically through scripture and textual sources but the transmission of the encultured traditions of the lay community are threatened by the ever-present impact of the Chinese invasion.

The displacement of the Tibetan people has greatly challenged the traditional oral transmission of the socio-spiritual culture of Tibet and it is through the artistic medium of music and dance that this culture has survived and has been able to bridge both temporal and spatial gaps among dispersed communities.

Sonam Tashi, a Tibetan performing artist who has built a career around emphasizing the importance of the musical transmission of culture is bringing his film, Acho Namgyal, to the University of Saskatchewan campus for a premiere Saskatoon viewing on Nov. 25th.

This film is the dramatic retelling of the life of Acho Namgyal, a heroic Tibetan who rose to the status of one of Tibet’s most important musicians in the 1930s despite being born impoverished and blinded during infancy. Prior to the Chinese invasion of Tibet, he revitalized the Nagma and Toeshey genres of Tibetan music, providing the Tibetan people with the tremendous opportunity of eternalizing the capacity for cross-cultural — and cross-generational — transmission of Tibetan culture.

The most celebrated musician of 20th century Tibet, the docu-drama follows Namgyal from his early life in Dakpo to his emergence as a Tibetan musical idol. The dramatisation in this film is partnered with exclusive footage, interviews and performances from artists who have been heavily influenced by the work of Namgyal. This includes prominent artists studying at the prestigious Tibetan Institute of the Performing Arts, an exile institute set up in Dharamsala, India, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1959 — four months after he and some 80,000 Tibetans fled to India — as an immediate step towards preservation of the increasingly threatened cultural traditions.

Presenting the film at the Saskatoon premiere is Sonam Tashi, the writer, director, co-editor, composer and musician. Tashi attended TIBA from 1973 to 1982 and continued to refine his artistic skills upon immigration to North America, where he studied acting and theatre in Indiana and co-founded the Chaksampa Tibetan Music and Dance Company in 1989.

He has dedicated his work and his art to the important cause of not only perpetuating the transmission of the Tibetan culture to the emerging generations of refugees born outside of Tibet but also to educating those interested in Tibetan culture on an international level. He worked as assistant director on Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Seven Years in Tibet in 1996 and worked on the soundtrack, composing the musical theme for the 1997 Paul Wagner film Windhorse.

His dedicated passion for the Tibetan arts and the important cultural teachings that they offer to the world is effervescently present in this film.
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