In conversation with Tsering Stanzin

By Reach Ladakh Correspondent Leh, May 20, 2013
Leh :

Tsering Stanzin (folk singer) hails from Skurbuchan (Nyirma pa). He was awarded for his lifelong contribution in keeping alive the age-old folk songs with historic and traditional significance in its pristine form. He is worthy of getting the credit of a saviour of traditional music and lyrics at a time when all forms of the age-old customs of celebrations based on folk song and music were on the verge of extinction and being replaced by contemporary songs. Tsering Stanzin is one of the prominent folk singers ever since the inception of All India Radio, Leh and has recorded 262 different folk songs. Besides this, he has on tip of his tongue a minimum of 300 memorized songs. He has rendered incredible services in the promotion of folk singing tradition particularly in the lower part of the region. He is 70 years old now but still, his voice mesmerize many. His song (Ju Ju Leh) has been recorded by MTV Sound Trippin. And recently he did his recording with J&K Culture Academy so that it can be preserved for the coming generations. He says, “Singing that’s where I’m rooted”.

Q. When did you first start writing and singing songs and what prompted you to do so? Do you have a musical background?

I have loved singing for as long as I can remember. My father used to sing many folk songs, and in my early teens, he taught me 110 folk songs and I followed him. I was seriously drawn to a number of folk songs in those days. Singing was in my blood. I have had no formal musical training. I took my lessons from the radio and my father. At that time, I used to listen to the radio and write all the folk songs in a notebook that I heard. I had always loved singing and found it easy to integrate a melody with folk songs. In 1973, I was selected in All India Radio and I had my first record contract with AIR in the '70s. I have recorded many songs, producing 262 folk songs over the past 70 years. My teacher also inspires me to sing as he let me sing on every function at school saying my voice is good. We have the tradition to sing at every occasion and this also contributes to my early learning.

Q. How did you become interested in the singer-songwriter thing? Do you consider yourself a folk singer? 

My family is besotted with singing: I grew up in a house that was constantly filled with music. It was never really a conscious decision, rather a natural flow of things. From my childhood, I was very interested in singing as both my parents loved to sing. With the genetic trait, I also follow them. But unfortunately, at that time there was no recorder and all this goes in vain. But luckily my father left the biggest gift ever ‘Folksong’ which is still alive with me even after his death. To be selected in AIR was another reason for me to draw my attention towards folksong as I have to sing different songs at a different time. After that, I started collecting all the songs from everyone including friends, relatives, and even radio.

Q. How many types of folk songs are there in Ladakh? Which are the famous songs which are sung by many?

There are many types of folk songs but some of the well known are:
Zung-Lu -which includes stot lu which is sung to praise someone in the same manner
Chos-Lu -is a song to praise Rinpoches (Religious head) and Monks (lama) 
Gyin –Lu - is sung for bravery e.g. Gyalam Kesar
Rog-Lu - when someone falls in love for the first time they sing ‘rog lu’
Skyo-Lu - is a sad song when the wife and husband relation is disturbed
Dha –Lu - when people are gathered sing they are known as Dhal u.
Tsigs-Lu - are satirical songs 

Tho Lu, Gyo Lu, Chang Lu, Laam Lu, Bangri Lu and there are many more to name. But these are mostly sung by people and most of the songs are used on auspicious occasions. 

Q. Of all your songs that have been remade, do you have a favourite or is that like asking which one of your children is your favourite?

When I was a kid I love all the folk songs but with time my likes also changed. And now I am old enough and my likes automatically shifted towards more meaningful songs. I consider "Mistakpa(Impermanence) to be the most favourite song I have sung, for several reasons. First, it defines the impermanence of life. It says, life is like a rainbow in the sky which comes for a while and goes back and it talks about the impermanence of wealth. The wealth is like dew on the green grass which is blown by the wind at one blow. Secondly, it sums up the reality of human life and wealth and it has a deep meaning.

Q. What do you think about the importance of folk music?

The folksongs of Ladakh has a distinct quality as the songs belong to different categories that vary from social life to the songs of the workmen to religious songs and that of the historical figures. In some songs, we can find the history that goes back thousands of years. You can think yourself how important it is. The glories of the dynasty and of Ladakh's history were celebrated with song, music, and dance in presence of the nobility of Ladakh on the spacious roof of Leh Palace on special occasions.

Q. Did you write new songs specifically for the record that you recorded with Culture Academy? Or was it more like choosing from what you've sung earlier?

No, I haven’t written any new songs. What I did was I collected all the Ladakhi folksongs that were composed and sung by other singers.
Q. Okay back to your upcoming record. Anything on this record you want to talk about? 

Yes, the recent record with Culture Academy is a great initiative. I am so happy that they realise the importance of folk song and folk music. Now it can be saved for generations to come. Earlier we had many folksongs but due to lack of technology and modern equipment we couldn’t preserve them and today we are reaping the fruit and it’s on the verge of extinction. Even Tsewang Paljor, Cultural Academy Officer was very satisfied with what I did when he said, “I am very happy as this is one of my life’s biggest achievements.”

Q. We know that folk songs are gradually on the verge of extinction. How can we preserve them and what is your contribution to the preservation of folk songs?

Yes very true! These days the modern songs and music have taken the front seat and folk songs have lost its identity and people’s interest. Nobody wants to listen to old songs nowadays. But a few people understand that there is a treasure in it. Some folk songs date back to 2000 years old. You can find the whole history in it.

At one time it was on the verge of extinction but recently it has regained its glory with the starting of Ladakh Festival because it gives emphasis on the ancient old culture and tradition and Culture Academy has also contributed towards preserving it. Now this record which I did with Culture Academy is a great work to preserve all the folk songs and it will be released on India’s Independence Day parade, 15th August 2013.
From my side all I can say is I welcome all those who wanted to learn folk songs. Many years back I trained 80 students at SECMOL where students from different places of Ladakh like Wakha-Mulbekh, Durbuk participated. The training lasted for nine days. What I did was I taught my younger son Padma Dorjey whatever I know. Today my younger son sings better than me. I thought it is the best way to preserve the old age folksongs. And I hope he will do better than me. That is my contribution to preserve it in the same manner what my father did.

Q. Did anyone invite you to train individual students? How can we learn folksong?

Yes, few did but not many.  People, who are selected in the AIR they come to me and insist me to teach them. Interest and enthusiasm is the key to learning folksong if you don’t have any interest than you will not learn it.

Q. Do you have any advice for aspirant folk singers or songwriters who may feel disillusioned or discouraged at times?
I am one with them, and so I feel their pain! Whether you are an aspiring singer or working towards any other dream, there is no substitute for hard work, a belief in what you are doing, and a strong network of caring people. Your people will pull you through when you lose your footing. I have the best peeps ever!

Q. In your opinion, how is it that the folksongs are being robbed these days? Is there any way, do you think, to prevent it?

Well, I'm afraid I've seen many decades go by since then and I find it very strange; there is no facility to preserve the folksongs. If it continues, sadly, in time, the folksong will suffer. It will take many years to regain its glory. The irony is that the people from western countries realise the importance and take the recording from Ladakh but Ladakhi people are not aware of how precious it is. People should change their attitude towards folksong and try to preserve them. Otherwise, you will lose a great treasure.