Notes 60.1 (2003) 184-185
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Echos from Dharamsala: Music in the Life of a Tibetan Refugee Community. By Keila Diehl. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. [xxv, 312 p. ISBN 0-520-23043-4. $57.50 (hbk.); ISBN 0-520-23044-2. $19.95 (pbk.).] Illustrations, bibliography, index.
This book is born out of fieldwork done among Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala, a small town in northern India, the site of the Dalai Lama's Tibetan government in exile. This is a place where the core of Tibetan refugees that came out of the country after the Chinese takeover of 1959 curiously mingle with their descendants (many of whom were born in India, have no firsthand knowledge of their country, and still carry refugee papers), the so-called "new arrivals" who have trickled in throughout the years after the end of the Cultural Revolution, a number of mostly European and American do-gooders, hangers-on, religious devotees, as well as opportunists and an endless and motley stream of visitors of all ranks and shades.
Through the peripeties and the music of the Yak Band—a rather short-lived rock band, marginalized at times by the Tibetan establishment—the author (who participated in the group) shows us how the exile Tibetan identity is being built and reorganized, how it adapts to new circumstances in India, and how musicmaking of different kinds not only contributes to this process but may be central to it.
An introduction sets the theoretical basis of the book and presents its goals: (1) to describe Dharamsala as a place and as a main setting for the book; (2) to deal with Tibetan culture in exile and with the ideas of independence, modernity, and musical expression prevalent among refugee youth; (3) to dwell on tradition and modernity and on the ambiguous ties that Tibetans have with India and Indians; (4) to discuss the relationship of refugees with the West and the projections of Westerners onto Tibet and Tibetan culture; (5) to examine the ascendance that Hindi songs have gained among Tibetan refugees and the significance of the emergence of modern Tibetan music; (6) to address the question of Tibetan music and identity as reflected in the lyrics of modern songs; and (7) to focus on the new venues for modern Tibetan music and the Yak Band. The book concludes with an interpretative construction on the idea of cycles and an extended metaphor of echos between the various social forces that influence the experiences of refugees.
The author's work is critical but sympathetic of the plight of the Tibetan refugees in India; it brings to the fore and clearly voices many of the criticisms made to the Tibetan government in exile and some of the attitudes it fosters among refugees. With its particular approach, this study questions the notion of culture as something fixed, bound by time and place, as opposed to more classical, static methods adopted in the social sciences. The fluid cultural environment in which refugees live, subjected as they are to influences of different sorts and struggling to find out who they really are after more then forty years in India, tends to prove her point. We see Tibetans in exile creating a new identity, setting up new devices for the invention of a new self and of a renovated culture. Among the tools and mechanisms they use, musicmaking of the modern kind plays an important role. But how can Tibetans in exile and elsewhere reinvent themselves if it is not by using elements existing around them and fashioning them in their own way? Appropriation of cultural traits is a way to construct that identity out of the bounds of time and place. The efforts of these young people are part of their "Tibetanness," and their loyalty to their own culture is not in question. They are reevaluating their changing social environment and recreating a refugee identity that is new, modern, functional, and above all, viable in their new milieu.
Seeing themselves as refugees after two generations, many find the notion of exile...