(Chinese name: Xizang Autonomous Region).

An administrative region of the People's Republic of China, bordering on Kashmir, India, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Burma. A high plateau, it is surrounded by mountains, including the Himalayas and the Kunlun mountains. Most agriculture and the country's cities are in the river valleys, while nomads herd such animals as yaks on the plateau. The area is rich in minerals, not mined until after the advent of the Chinese occupation because of religious proscription.

History: Buddhism, introduced inthe 7th Century AD,has exerted a profound influence on Tibetan history. The lamas (priests) of Tibetan Buddhism attained political power in the 13th Century, when Kublai Khan gave the government of his conquests in East Tibet to the Sakya lama. Subsequent disunity was brought to an end in 1642, when the fifth Dalai Lama (or "Great Fifth") became the ruler of all Tibet. In 1720 the Chinese Qing dynast established control over Tibet that lasted until the Qing's overthrow in 1911. Independence was subsequently reaffirmed and declared, but in 1950 Tibet again fell to the Chinese. An uprising was brutally suppressed in 1959, and the Dalai Lama, together with 9,000 refugees, fled to asylum in India. Tibet was subsequently subjected to Chinese rule. Since 1965, it has been an autonomous region of China, with its own People's Government and People's Congress. Nevertheless, the controlling force in China is the Communist Party of China, represented locally by First Secretary Wu Jinghua.

Area: 1,221,601 km2 (471,660 square miles). Population (1987, est.): 2,030,000. Capital: Lhasa.

I bought Waterbone's album Tibet while staying in Ohio as an exchange student. I had gone to Borders with my host family. It was shortly before Christmas, and I suppose the main reason for going there was to hint to each other what each of us wanted for Christmas. Being as I am of the opinion that you can never get enough music, I thought that even if I bought a couple of CDs, I still had at least a dozen CDs I wanted in that store, despite the fact that I am hardly their target audience. This clearly offended them. It was worth it.

The CD was actually up for preview in the store. I grabbed a pair of headphones and flew away.

Thought that trip hop was dead? Thought that chanting monks were for your parents? Thought that the long-haired guys from Los Angeles in ugly sunglasses traveling the world and making weird electronic music were finally an extinct species? Well, think again.

Pressed in 1997 and released by World Disc in 1998, the album is the result of the travels of D. Kendall Jones and Jimmy Waldo to the Tibetan and Nepali Himalayas. Scratch that. Most of the album is. Track six, Snow Palace, was composed by the former half of the duo prior to their expedition, and became the theme for the rest of the songs, which, though each one of them has its own qualities, tie together as a single entity.

The music has been likened to that of Deep Forest and Enigma. I am bound to agree, but while the recipes may look alike, Tibet features unique and prodigious harmonies of its own while taking its main ingredient from a largely unexplored cultural tradition and incorporating it fully in a peaceful convergence of east and west in what can only be expressed as a reverberation of an emotive reconciliation with the world in all its states.

Most of the sounds and vocals were sampled on-site in various locations in the region, including everything from a close co-operation with the local Rolyang Group as well as what seems to be spur-of-the-moment recordings in villages, airports and noisy hotel rooms. The underlying trip hop rhythms are periodically somewhat upbeat for the genre, but with little emphasis on the bass drum, instead using the rich harmonies of the pewong, the mang, other traditional instruments, the chanting of Buddhist monks and the singing of children, soaring freely over deep synthesized bass lines, the whole make for a soothing experience. As much as this is an album to listen to carefully and analyze, it is a collection of songs to which one can comfortably fall asleep.

1. Eastern Girl

Gorgeous female voices fill the air in the opening song, accompanied by spectral synthesized ditto, the different elements of the song interact to form a dialogue between its components, each expressing different nuances of harmony.

2. River of Souls

A deep, sustained synthesized bass takes shape and is gradually accompanied by a rhythmical chanting, a celebration of the dead, in the first part of this song, and then turns to a much brighter tone, dominated again by female vocals. The track is circularly composed, and wraps up the same way it began with the chanting village people.

3. Tantra

The chanting of fifty Buddhist monks should say it all. This is a powerful song, even despite the fact that the melodies do not tie together as well as in most of the album's other songs. The shifting trip hop grooves work well with the chanting, but the sheer power of the chanting is not as easily backed by harmonies, and instead the track comes out as a compromise with rather weak synthesized sounds that tend to detract from what is the core of the composition.

4. Song for the Mountain

This piece was written prior to the journey, but is nonetheless heavily influenced by the same culture as the rest of the album, and is, alongside Waldo's masterful flute line, carried by mystic female vocals. As the song has a slightly more downbeat feel to it than most of the album and is of a slightly more simplistic nature, it provides an excellent atmosphere for sonic relaxation.

5. August Moon

The rhythm section, rather slow and soothing as in the preceding song, borrows more heavily from the local range of instruments than most of the album, and this is a welcome element. The Nepali female vocals were recorded during primitive conditions, but little of this is revealed in the final product, which also features a male Tibetan folk singer.

6. Snow Palace

The song that marks the beginning of the project, written before the Himalayan expedition, and one can almost tell. The song is slightly more simplistic, perhaps with a shade of contrived exoticism, though there is really nothing negative to say of the result per se.

7. Pujari Vision

The chanting monks aside, this is probably the most powerful display of male vocalists on the album, provided by the Rolyang Group of Tibet and recorded during horrid circumstances described in the liner notes. Again, skillful editing ties the piece together, with some female vocals thrown in as well, alongside the usual trip hop grooves, a catchy lead and stereo-echoing bass lines.

8. Waterdance

This is really the only disappointment of the album. The bass is all too cheesy, the drum loops all too intrusive, and, most detrimental of all, an important spoken voice sampling contains a high-pitched noise that has not been filtered out. Perhaps my hearing is too attentive, but this sort of thing gives me a headache, and that is a shame with a track that contains some lovely choir samples as well as mystic male vocals that could easily have been a more exciting track.

9. Bridge to Manaslu

Warm synthetic harmonies back up the atmospheric flute-playing of a humble Nepali in this song, which serves as an intro to the next song.

10. Tantra II

The harmony deepens and grows richer, and we are reacquainted with the chanting monks from Tantra I, this time in a much more fulfilling sonic teleportation. There is little more to say of the song, except that it is, with Bridge to Manaslu as its intro, probably the most heartwarming and accomplished composition of the album, serving as the quintessence of this cultural unification.

11. A Child's Prayer

Concluding the journey is this song, featuring solo vocals of a young child. The last syllable of the melody is rather low for the child's voice and turns into a mere whisper, enough to melt your heart. By far the album's most upbeat song, it takes on a corybantic beat backing the voices of three hundred schoolchildren singing the Tibetan National Anthem. Magic.

The generously informative liner notes of the album, detailing much of the thoughts and backgrounds behind the songs (and from which most of the facts in this writeup have been extracted), conclude with a simple plea. I shall repeat it here. Heed it well.

Please support all efforts to Free Tibet and stop the brutality against the Tibetan people by the militant Chinese government.

On practically no other issue is the gulf in understanding between China and the West greater than it is over Tibet. Where we see a people occupied, they see one liberated; where we see independence crushed, they see secessionism tamed; and where we see one of the world's foremost men of peace, they see a violent rebel.

This could only come about through our very different historical experiences of Tibet. The Chinese have lived next to the Tibetans for thousands of years, and have exercised one form of rule or another over them for most of this time. The Chinese date the incorporation of Tibet into China to 1246 and argue that their legal suzerainty has lasted since this time, despite various lapses in actual control. China's 1912 Provisional Constitution declared Tibet to be a province of China, but China promptly descended into civil war and this control was not actually re-established until 1949.

The Chinese have long memories of their nation being carved and occupied by outside powers, firstly by the West during the humiliating nineteenth century and then by the Japanese during what we call World War II, which really started when the Japanese invaded Chinese Manchuria in 1931. It was hence a matter of considerable pride for the Chinese Communists that after the formation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, they were able to apparently put paid to these historic weaknesses and re-establish control of outlying regions like Tibet. This consolidation of power, which was carried out not just in Tibet but in other border areas, hedged against the invasion of China by outside powers such as India or the Soviet Union. But it also represented the extension of the Chinese revolution.

To westerners, the story of Tibet is often seen as one of a small, peaceful people brutally subdued by their larger neighbour. It's a story we're all too familiar with in European history, with the exception of the fact that it is happening today and not yesterday. But in the Chinese view, the story is very different. Beijing sees itself as the saviour of the Tibetan people because of its extension of the Chinese revolution into Tibet. Whereas before the Tibetans lived under a religious and feudal political system, the Chinese argument goes, they now enjoy the benefits of Communist social and economic policy. Freed from superstition and the tyranny of their old masters, they can march bravely forward into the new world as part of a united, strong, rich China. And for all that, Beijing rather thinks, they ought to be jolly grateful.

And yet they do not appear grateful. The Chinese occupation of Tibet was carried out during the Mao era. These guys weren't kidding around. We've been free of their kind for a long time now, mostly, but these were the sort of Communists who would kill anyone who stood in their way because standing in their way was proof enough that you were an enemy of the revolution and deserved to be swept aside by history. And the Tibetan response to this brutality has been rebellion - first in 1959, and then on the anniversary of the initial uprising in 1989 and 2008. The Chinese have encouraged the relocation of large numbers of ethnic Han Chinese to Tibet until they eventually outnumbered the Tibetans - as well as having a higher standard of living - and this has hardly sat well with the Tibetans either.

But the Chinese cannot help but regard Tibetan discontent with suspicion, hostility, and indignation at what they consider the ungrateful nature of Tibetan protestors. All of this is encapsulated in the Chinese opinion on the Dalai Lama, who is feted throughout the West and seen as a peaceful saint. To the Chinese, he represents the old, feudal order of Tibet - he stands for the vested interests of the upper classes against the needs of the Tibetan people, which are ably served by the Chinese economic system.

This is why they insist on referring to the "Dalai clique", as the word "clique" conjures up an image of a small, self-interested band; it is also the term frequently used by Communists throughout history to describe supposed conspiracies by their class enemies. The democratization of the Tibetan "government in exile", carried out in an attempt to shed this image, has done nothing for the Dalai Lama in this regard; and the Chinese can never deal with a man who represents the old, feudal order of Tibet. To do so would be tantamount to admitting that the old socio-economic system still had relevance, hence undermining the Chinese claim to the superiority of their own system.

The international dimension to the Tibetan question only increases Chinese scepticism about the aims of the Dalai Lama. Whatever the rhetoric of "Free Tibet", the Dalai Lama does not seek the independence of Tibet, and he really has no recourse in international law to do so. No-one recognizes the Tibetan "government in exile" as the true rulers of Tibet, and it only aspires to autonomy. Yet it must appear strange to Chinese eyes that this small group of people excite so much attention in the outside world, and they cannot help but suspect dark plots are afoot to undo the gains of the Chinese revolution or to threaten China's territorial integrity. For if they grant autonomy to the Tibetans, then the other ethnic minorities will want the same. In the background lurks the ghost of China's former fragmentation.

All of this cultural and historical baggage that Beijing carries explains why a mild-mannered monk came to be one of China's most hated and feared enemies. The degree of hatred is difficult to comprehend to the outside world because we do not realize that Tibet is a symbol of success to the Chinese, who are pouring billions of dollars into what they see as modernizing and developing an impoverished region. But where they feel pride at their economic advances, Tibetans feel shame and anger at the loss of their culture, their religion, and their autonomy.

As Beijing attempts to rule over one-sixth of humanity spread over nearly 7% of the world's surface amid dramatic internal change, the eyes of the world rest on whether economic growth will truly prove to be a salve to these political problems. Perhaps the ultimate cause of our interest in the future of Tibet is that we know that faced with the rise of the irresistible behemoth of China, we may soon have much in common with this embattled people. Like them, we will be intimately affected by the rise of a polity over which we have little hope of influence. It is unlikely our encounter with Chinese power will be so brutal; yet it may well prove to be just as transformative.

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