I rarely get an opportunity to listen to Bhutanese ‘Krantikari’ songs sung by Bhutanese singers. I must say they are my favorites and I am always looking. Today, we have a burgeoning crop of young and wonderful Bhutanese singers – each one of them is an embodiment of creation; and in some aspects, their creations are a reflection of the social evolution we have come across. We are proud of them all.
I recently got a chance to listen to a CD of songs sung by Manoj Rai. I was delighted as it had been quite a while that I had not heard new songs from Bhutanese artists. I am humbled to opine about something, that I feel unqualified to evaluate, but I could not stop myself at that.
There are six fantastic songs in the CD. Each song is very brilliant, cool and interesting to listen to and is strongly symbolic. They never bore you. They are also very touchy, good in style and tone. “Kulagangri himal le haami lai bolaucha, koili……….” (We are called by Kulagangri range, the birds whistle our tone………). The songs contain well thought out lyrics, straight to the point, and very insightful. Listening to the songs, we tend to surf our past and very often hear sounds of our own voices reverberating in those songs. You can also easily visualize the atrocities in your head and feel some sizzling nostalgia of the past. The lyrics are a testimony to the mind capturing thought process of the composers. Its delightful and descriptive lines allow you to capture the atmosphere and become part of the song as much as the singer. One of the pioneers of Bhutanese music in exile and an accommodative singer, Manoj does not fail to do justice to his composers.
These are not the songs of a loser. They succinctly bring out the rebel in the singer. Click here to listen to a clip of one of his songs. “jaaga na jaaga bhutani, anyaya sahera kam chaina…..”! “Bhutan ma kranti chalecha…….” (Awake Bhutanese, you don’t profit keeping silent in supression……! There is a movement in Bhutan now…..) Manoj’s songs are radical but full of patriotism. I think the songs are moving, warm and inspirational. They offer a reason to believe in the cause even when you are running through troubles of your own. I saw many similarities and areas of resonance.
Manoj’s songs reassuringly remind us of the uphill task ahead of us, in our fight against tyranny. He even warns us about the risk of losing what we have at stake. It helped me uplift myself and revive my belief for the struggle for democracy anywhere. In our mission to tell the world about the injustices we have gone through, probably our singers and their songs will be a potential resource in the future. True political leaders and devoted singers could make a winning combination. “Swodesh hami firna lai aauna pyara daju bhai.!” (To start a homeward move…….. let’s be together kith and kin)
Manoj devotes an entire song paying tribute to the fallen heroes of our movement beginning from Mahasur Chhetri to RK Budathoki. At the end of the song, he also mentions about martyr Man Bahadur Chhetri and a passionate activist of the Sarchhop community, Cheku Dukpa. Manoj dissects southern Bhutanese history and narrates the events in chronological timeline; with such simplicity and placidity that an entire history is revealed into your ears as music. No wonder, this is his ‘core’ song. The song offers glimpses of our society in historical perspective and is an example of the glaring pitfalls of a dysfunctional system that played pranks with the lives of its own citizens.
One of Bhutan’s paradoxes is that, in a compassionate Buddhist nation – power politics affect even those that are not rebelling. The songs portray how suppression remains persistent over time, affecting the life and interests of its ordinary citizens, including even the artists. I had assumed that political rulers can limit only the religious and political liberties of people, but Manoj has shown yet another profound political reality of Bhutan; of how the ambition hardened rulers can even shut down the perpetuation of art and culture. At one point of time, even singing modern Dzongkha songs, was illegal in Bhutan.
The emphasis on the struggle is understandable. In each song, there are some subtle points and some obscure information which leads to the topsy-turvy story that Bhutan is. A meditative listener will easily discover those hidden meanings in the songs.
The quality of recording is not satisfactory and it is understandable. Given the high cost of recording and the absolutely income-free refugee life, quality obviously is the first victim. Manoj however, refused to accept these limitations and worked his way to get the message across. We have to thank the singer for his efforts and persistence.
Manoj’s songs carry a simple message – resolution and courage. It ushers hope amidst despondency. He does a great job of not giving away to the forces of oppression. What follows is a series of exhibitions before one begins to appreciate his work. He is also trying to convey that a change in a singer’s location does not necessarily affect his motivation to work for the cause. His songs quite readily offer valid reasons to keep the seeds of our motivation continuously growing; a message less-frequently conveyed in similar creations. “futera hoina jutera, hami le yekata hunu chha” (Not being fragmented, we ought to stand one).
It is quite unlikely that these songs will enjoy the same popularity as other regular songs, but they do provide sufficient reasons for a general positive review and appreciation. Manoj did a great job of walking into the minds of the oppressed Bhutanese people and singing their hearts out; and it must serve as an anecdote to the rest of our artists. Above all, his songs are a real tribute to the fighters of democracy and human rights in Bhutan; they are also a clarion call to the others to wake up in the struggle against injustice. I would recommend his CD to everyone.