Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 11th 2013 Contents A30
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, June 11, 2013
With several albums and a
series of concerts around the
globe under her belt, the singing
nun of Kathmandu is taking the
Nepalese and international
music industry by the storm.
Draped in a maroon robe,
serene-faced Ani Choying Drolma
hardly looks like a pop icon---but
her music videos show that she
is as comfortable singing and per-
forming as she is meditating with
her prayer beads.
This is a woman who stands
out from the crowd, a woman
who by her own admission loves
to do things "which nuns are not
supposed to do."
She goes out with friends to
watch Hindi films "like a regular
person", and is not averse to the
idea of kicking a football to inau-
gurate a charity tournament.
Choying has developed a
unique style of chanting Tibetan
hymns in which she lets the last
notes linger for a long period
before they ultimately melt into
thin air. She says that while she
is not a trained musician in any
technical sense, her singing comes
from deep within.
"The voice I m able to bring
out to the world is (inspired by)
my deep spiritual devotion and
my faith in the wisdom of Lord
Buddha," she says.
Like scores of other Tibetan
refugees, her father came to Nepal
in the 1950s. Campaigners say
that at least 20,000 fled south
across the Himalayas following
the 1959 Tibetan uprising against
Chinese rule in Lhasa, the capital
Growing up in abject poverty
in the refugee quarters of Kath-
mandu, Choying had a troubled
She says her short-tempered
father would beat her and her
mother for no apparent reason.
She has recorded these traumas
in her autobiography, Singing for
Freedom, in which she narrates
how she decided at an early age
not to marry after witnessing her
mother s suffering.
"My father was someone who
exhibited some unpleasant qual-
ities of men," she told the BBC.
"He made me feel that getting
married would be the worst thing
to do in life.
"Somehow he was able
to...develop a lot of my negative
qualities which led to a lot of
anger, frustration and bitterness."
Choying says that when she
told her mother about her deci-
sion not to marry she received
an ultimatum---join a Buddhist
monastery and become a nun or
stay in the secular world and find
The singing nun of Kathmandu
Desperate to break free, she decided
to join a monastery near Kathmandu
when she was barely 13 years old.
But she says even there she faced
bias against women.
"In monasteries it is thought that
women don t have the capability to
development themselves spiritually,"
"There I would dream of going for
higher studies and develop myself
spiritually but it did not happen."
Because she could not complete her
studies in the monastery she found
solace in music---without realising her
potential as a singer.
"Singing and dancing were things
I enjoyed since childhood," she said,
"while playing with my kid brother
or cooking, washing or even when I
was very sad, I would sing."
In the monastery she would meet
a lot of devotees from abroad who
encouraged her to find her voice.
One of the first music cassettes
Choying received as a present made
a lasting impact on her---it was by
American blues singer and guitarist
Bonnie Raitt who rapidly became
Choying s favourite.
But the man who really identified
Choying s potential as a singer was
American guitarist Steve Tibbetts,
who was a regular visitor to the
He introduced her to the interna-
tional music scene. Her first exposure
to a global audience came in 1998
when she travelled to the US to per-
form in various cities.
It was during one such tour that
Choying noticed in the audience "a
red-haired woman" who resembled
her childhood idol Bonnie Raitt.
"I shrugged off the thought thinking
why would a celebrity singer come to
my concert," says Choying. But at the
end of the concert, the "red-haired
woman" walked up to her and said:
"I am Bonnie Raitt and I am a big fan
It was a memorable moment.
"I looked at her in total bewilder-
ment," Choying recalled, and said,
are you kidding me, actually I am a
big fan of yours! "
"Then she introduced me to her
musicians," Choying remembers with
a glint in her eyes.
Since then Choying has travelled
far and wide without losing sight of
her lifelong aim to educate girls, espe-
cially from poorer backgrounds.
As the money started pouring in
with the sale of her albums, in 2000
she founded Arya Tara school for
novice nuns near Kathmandu.
Preparing to record her latest devo-
tional hymns in an ordinary-looking
studio, Choying says she is waiting
for travel documents to go on a musi-
cal tour to China---a tough choice for
someone born as a refugee to visit the
country perceived as an oppressor.
But then Ani Choying Drolma has
learnt to manage her anger through
music and meditation.
She says she has forgiven her father
and everything else pales in compar-
Ani Choying Drolma is determined not to let her commercial success get in the
way of her efforts to alleviate poverty.
Choying has developed
a unique style of
hymns in which she
lets the last notes
linger for a long period
before they ultimately
melt into thin air.
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