In our picturesque country, a rich canvas of music has woven itself into the cultural fabric of the nation. Traditionally rooted in spiritual and folk melodies, the Bhutanese music scene has undergone a transformative journey since the 1960s, embracing change while staying true to its cultural roots.
Folk singer Tshering Dorji and Yeshi reminisce about the historical significance of Bhutanese music, which was once the soulful medium to honor ceremonies and celebrate milestones. “Samyeki Salang,” a song composed to commemorate the construction of Talo Sa-nga Choling, exemplifies the deep connection between music and cultural milestones, revealing the essence of Bhutanese identity.
Tshering Dorji emphasizes the enduring relevance of folk music, attributing its meaning to purposes ranging from entertainment to divine respect. “What gives meaning to folk music is their purpose, all the way from entertainment and offering respect to divinities,” he explains.
As the winds of change swept through Bhutan, the musical landscape evolved. In the 1960s, electronic instruments marked a shift from the dominance of spiritual and folk tunes. Indian pop music initially held sway, but the 1981 hit “Jalam Jalam Gi Azhi” by Shera Lhendup marked the advent of rigsar, becoming a cornerstone for the modern Bhutanese music scene.
The contemporary Bhutanese music scene has seen exponential growth, with initiatives like the B-Pop show by M-Studio in 2018 promoting creativity. Choeying Jamtsho, the organizer behind B-Pop, highlights its role in promoting the Dzongkha language and contributing to the preservation of Bhutanese culture.
According to Palden Dorji, a filmmaker, the modern Bhutanese music industry is rapidly advancing, creating a unique cultural identity. He notes that while the music has crossed borders, its Bhutanese origin and identity must remain unquestionable.
The hit song of 2022, “Nyingthuenma” by Sonam Wangchen and Chogo, garnered 1.7 million views in a year, reflecting the global appeal of Bhutanese music. The advent of social media has further fueled the growth of Bhutanese music, with songs like “Sha Dha Thra” by Sonam Choki receiving international acclaim and being played at events like the Tawang Festival in India.
The evolving sounds of modern Bhutanese music are not just a departure from tradition; they are a harmonious blend of the old and the new. Young Bhutanese artists are infusing traditional elements into funky modern rhythms, creating a musical fusion that resonates with both national and international audiences.
In dancing to these contemporary tunes, the youth proudly wear ghos and kiras, the national dress, showcasing a seamless integration of traditional and modern styles. The modern Bhutanese music scene is not just shaping contemporary culture; it is also serving as a guardian of the country’s rich cultural heritage.
As Bhutanese melodies continue to echo through the valleys and mountains, the music of this serene nation stands as a testament to the harmonious coexistence of tradition and modernity, a bridge connecting the past with an ever-evolving future.