About The Project
For many years, Bhutan remained isolated and untouched by the outside world, keeping its unique identity and culture intact. As early as the 1920s, during the reign of the First and the Second Kings of Bhutan, the majority of the Bhutanese people experienced very little or no exposure to foreign culture. Life in ancient Bhutan was simple and rich in cultural and traditional practices. All this was possible as a result of the undying allegiance of the forefathers and the benevolent leadership of the kings. Today, in modern democratic Bhutan, one of the greatest qualities that unites all Bhutanese is the country’s unique cultural identity.
The Importance of Traditional Songs in Bhutan
There are many important aspects of Bhutanese identity and culture, but traditional songs and their accompanying dances play a special role in shaping and sustaining a distinctly Bhutanese way of life and outlook. As Bhutanese culture is an oral one, songs have long been a primary way to pass on knowledge and values from generation to generation. It is through song and dance that the Bhutanese have kept alive accounts of their great leaders, saints and heroes, as well as related stories of the lives and struggles of ordinary people. It is through song and dance that the Bhutanese have passed on local histories, conveyed spiritual values, and acknowledged the profound beauty and importance of nature. And it is through the emotional moments of shared singing and dancing that members of communities have bonded together, whether while working in fields or rejoicing at festivals.
Although these types of traditional songs are still widely appreciated and practiced in rural areas, with modernization and rural-to-urban migration, they are at dire risk of disappearing. It is tremendously important that we act now to ensure that this great body of accumulated cultural knowledge is not lost.
Research is needed to rediscover original song lyrics, melodies, and dance movements, to observe natural settings and contexts of performance, and to understand the meanings and full significance of these art forms. Our partner and the implementing organization on this project, the Music of Bhutan Research Centre (MBRC), will be conducting fieldwork on as many music traditions throughout the country as possible. They will reach out to 14 dzongkhags (districts) all across Bhutan, to include several villages in each district.
Documentation and Preservation
His Majesty the Third King of Bhutan, Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, also known as the father of modern Bhutan, held traditional Bhutanese songs and dances in high regard. His Majesty was a highly respected patron of these traditional arts. In fact, upon the command of His Majesty, the finest singers in Bhutan traveled to Kolkata, India, in the 1960s to record songs for the first time in Bhutanese history. MBRC continues to be inspired by the foresight of the Third King in his efforts to preserve and support Bhutan’s traditional music.
For every research topic, MBRC conducts in-depth interviews with key elder tradition bearers and master musicians, and fully documents practices through high quality audio recording, videography and still photography. Artists and communities are compensated for their participation in the project. MBRC maintains an archive for all materials in Thimphu, which to date includes over 20,000 hours of audio and video recordings, transcriptions of songs and interviews, field notes, photographs, musical instruments and dance costumes. Archival holdings are indexed and accessible to researchers and the public upon request.
Through careful research and documentation, the project aims to save threatened forms of knowledge and beauty, create a cultural resource bank for scholars to study and future generations to draw from, strengthen and re-invigorate traditions through active relations with artists and communities, and expand public awareness and understanding. Materials generated by the project will serve as a resource for development of future educational tools (film, web, print, CDs etc.), some of which will be distributed to high schools, colleges, and libraries throughout Bhutan. The research will also provide a valuable foundation for developing and promoting cultural tourism for the benefit of source communities.
August 4, 2017
The Music of Bhutan Research Centre (MBRC) successfully researched, filmed, and recorded 10 different cultural songs and dances from six different districts in the country. Ranging from Thimphu to Zhemgang, the MBRC team worked to preserve and archive the traditional songs that are at risk of being forgotten. In the next phase of the project, the team will travel to eight different districts to document eight more traditional songs and dances.
February 2, 2017
The Music of Bhutan Research Centre (MBRC) researched and filmed the dance associated with the song Chilik-pa. The song originates from Kheng in southern Zhemgang district, where it is sung by the community members during events and especially when they are working in the fields. Apart from motivating the workers in the field, the song is also a way for the community to pray for a good harvest. Dancers and the villagers of Tsarimgang, in Ngangla gewog in Southern Bhutan, were the direct beneficiaries of the project.
January 22, 2017
The Music of Bhutan Research Centre (MBRC) researched, recorded, and filmed shamanic ceremonies performed by 52 year old Shaman Tshedrup of Goshing Mewangang from Zhemgang in Southern Bhutan. Shaman Tshedrup has been performing shamanic ceremonies for the past 34 years. A shaman’s primary duty is to generate harmony for an individual, family, or community by performing ceremonies that benefit the community with agricultural prosperity and success in breeding livestock, and to provide healing to ill people by exorcising the evil spirits that harm them.
November 18, 2016
The Bhutan Foundation formally signed a three-year project agreement with the Music of Bhutan Research Centre (MBRC). The project will research, document, preserve, and promote traditional songs, dances and local festivals unique to Bhutan. During the project period, MBRC team will travel across the country interviewing elderly artists to record and archive the full geographic, historic, linguistic and ethnic range of unique musical traditions.
The Bhutan Foundation is working with the Music of Bhutan Research Centre (MBRC), a civil society organization, on this three-year project to document, preserve, and promote age-old songs and endangered musical traditions all across Bhutan. MBRC was founded in 2008 by renowned local musician Kheng Sonam Dorji to research, document, preserve, and promote the traditional music of Bhutan. MBRC aims to break new ground by professionally researching, recording, and archiving the full geographic, historic, linguistic, and ethnic range of musical traditions in the country. The organization also interviews and records Bhutan's finest living master musicians. Since November 2016, the Bhutan Foundation has been supporting MBRC to conduct fieldwork on as many music traditions throughout the country as possible.
How You Can Help
Comprehensive archiving is needed to preserve major folk songs and dances across the country that are central to Bhutanese cultural identity and at risk of disappearing. Please consider making a gift to help us to preserve and promote the traditional music of Bhutan.