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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Tibetan Rock, Politics Mix

November 6, 2009

By Maura Moynihan
Radio Free Asia (RFA)
November 5, 2009

DHARAMSALA, India, Nov. 3, 2009 -- In their
post-Olympic power surge, China has launched a
new Tibet offensive, pressuring heads of state,
including U.S. President Barack Obama, to forgo meetings the Dalai Lama.

Chinese Communist Party officials spare no
targets, threatening film festivals, art
galleries, rock stars, and poets who express
support for the people of Tibet, as they launch
virulent attacks on the exiled Tibetan leader
through Chinese state-run journals and Web sites.

But in the half-century the Dalai Lama has lived
on this hillside above the Kangra Valley,
Dharamsala has become an alternate Tibetan
universe where a new wave of pilgrims, and
practitioners of Buddhism and rock music, mingle
in the lanes of McLeod Ganj and pry open new
pathways to a Tibetan-Chinese dialogue beyond the reach of Beijing’s censors.

The Exile Brothers-- Jamyang, Jigme, and Ingsel
-- are Dharamsala’s resident rock stars, pioneers of a new kind of world music.

Born and raised in India, they are masters of
traditional Tibetan song and dance and harmonize
in perfect Hindi with their Indian neighbors. On
stage they incarnate Hendrix and Coltrane to the
rapture of their multinational fan base.

Café headquarters

The Exile Brothers are headquartered at the JJI
Cafe on Bhagsu Road, run by their mother Nyima, a
stylish beauty in a chuba who is also the band’s manager.

The walls are filled with photographs of the
Dalai Lama and his youngest sister Jetsun Pemala,
the beloved director of the Tibetan Children’s
Village, and with band posters and letters from friends.

Monks and backpackers stop by for tea as the
music of Miles Davis floats from the stereo. The
cafe is a requisite stop for music lovers; even
Madonna made a visit, flanked by bodyguards, a rarity in McLeod Ganj.

Every night the Exile Brothers can be found
jamming with musicians who wander into the cafe.
Last week a young traveler from Beijing, who had
come to Dharamsala for the Dalai Lama’s
teachings, saw a photo of the band in the window
and asked if he could join them.

The jam sessions led to a spirited
Chinese-Tibetan jazz-rock fusion concert at the
Common Ground Cafe, a project of Wen Oo, a
Taiwanese-American who traveled to Tibet and then resettled in Dharamsala.

Common Ground Cafe (www.commongroundsproject.org)
was created "to establish and promote innovative
forums to achieve common grounds of shared
understanding between Chinese and Tibetan people,
a step towards a conducive atmosphere for a
peaceful resolution to the Tibet issue.”

Wen’s initiative invites Chinese students in the
United States to participate in music and
photography projects in Dharamsala, as she
expands Common Ground’s Web outreach.

In recent years, thousands of Buddhists from the
Chinese diaspora have made the distant trek to
McLeod Ganj to study with Tibetan scholars and
receive teachings from the Dalai Lama.

Many of these classes are held at the Tibetan
Library, built with the support of the Indian
government, where teachings in Buddhist
philosophy are presented daily with multiple
languages in simultaneous translation.

Recently, Wen and a team of volunteers set up an
information table at teachings given by the Dalai
Lama, handing out flyers to Chinese Dharma
students from Beijing, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong.

Web-based campaign

"The Dalai Lama gives so many speeches asking
Tibetans to reach out to the Chinese people. But
there wasn’t a platform," said Wen, sitting in
the elegant dining space at Common Ground,
replete with periodicals, books, CDs, and posters.

"We don’t have any political agenda. We want to
use creative ways for people to connect by making
the space available. The best way to deconstruct
propaganda is by people meeting and sharing
information about what’s really going on inside China and Tibet."

Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) has already
triumphed with creative Web-based campaigns,
upstaging last year's Beijing Olympics Committee
with on-site demonstrations and worldwide advocacy mobilization.

Lhadon Tethong and Tendor, the new SFT executive
director, just arrived in Dharamsala, joined the
Exile Brothers for a full-moon party to discuss
the movement, and to sing in Tibetan, Hindi, and English.

"Ours is a nonviolent freedom struggle, so we
need to use every device available, words, music,
media," said activist-poet Tenzin Tsundue, based
at the Rangzen Ashram in lower Dharamsala, a
nexus of international writers, artists, and peace activists.

"China is so paranoid about the Dalai Lama and
us, 150,000 refugees. Now they recognize the power of Tibet."

Jigme, the Exile Brothers lead guitarist, said,
"We’re working for Tibet through our music.
That’s how our Chinese friend found us. He loved
India, [and] he said it felt like a second home.
We don’t hate the Chinese people. The politics interferes.”

At a concert at the Tibetan Institute of
Performing Arts, the Exile Brothers paid tribute
to Dharamsala’s poet laureate and iconic freedom
fighter, Lhasang Tsering, seated in the front row
with Lhamo Tso, wife of Dhondup Wangchen,
imprisoned by the Chinese government for his
documentary, “Leaving Fear Behind,” an expose of conditions inside Tibet.

"We hope that through the medium of music, we
will break through barriers to peace and bring
justice to Tibet," said Lhasang Tsering from the
stage. The band then performed an emotional
rendition of his song "If I Could Go Back to Tibet."
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