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New York University

Publication Date

Fall 2005

Program Name

Tibet/Bhutan: Tibetan and Himalayan Studies


“Aku Pema,” a widely popular song in both Tibet and exile, is a useful vehicle for camparing the agency of Tibetan musicians and audiences, as they interact with dominating cultures (Chinese, Hindi, and Western) and official paradigms (espoused by the Chinese government and the Tibetan government-in-exile). After examining the role and implications of “Aku Pema” as a “political” song in both locales, I will look at notions of modernity and tradition, especially in the context of the growing sinocization of Tibetan culture in Tibet and the resulting exile views of pure versus impure Tibetan music.

At the heart of this complex issus lies the question of what constitutes a truly Tibetan identity in this modern era, and for some, the very stakes of the freedom struggle. These questions of agency and identity are wraught with contradictions, misconceptions and complexities too intricate to be fully examined here, but answers will continue to unfold as future generations of Tibetans in exile and Tibet define for themselves what is truly traditional and modern Tibetan music—and by extension, a modern Tibetan identity.


Community Psychology | Music


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