Aug 12

Tibetan Chinese singer, Kelsang Metok (格桑梅朵): “Falling in love with Jiuzhaigou”

Written by dewang on Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 at 7:29 am
Filed under:-mini-posts, culture, Environment, media, music, video |
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Few years ago I visited Chengdu and drove all the way to Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟).  I got a chance to see the pristine side of Sichuan province and a number of local performances.  I stumbled upon this music video by Tibetan Chinese singer, Kelsang Metok (格桑梅朵), “Falling in Love with Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟).”  It gives a great intro to that region and reminded me of many things I saw during that trip.

Anyways, Kelsang Metok was featured on CCTV-3 couple of years ago.  Not knowing much about her, I’d say she is an example success story of an ethnic minority who has “made it.”  There is a tinge in her accent when singing in Mandarin Chinese which makes her voice so beautiful and mesmorizing.

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26 Responses to “Tibetan Chinese singer, Kelsang Metok (格桑梅朵): “Falling in love with Jiuzhaigou””

  1. Charles Liu Says:

    Thanks, this is a refreshing blogpost sorely needed in FM. BTW looked up Jiuzhaigou, here’s their travel site:


    Looks like a wonderful place. Old Chinese style motel for USD$10 a night? Wow!

  2. Sonia Says:

    Very beautiful. By the way Huaren, I don’t really want to disagree with you, but by nature, sometimes I can’t resist “taigang” 抬杠, to argue for the sake of arguing (and it annoys my mom to no end). So with that disclaimer ^_^ :

    1) It may just be that entertainers are naturally easier to spot, but I think a lot of people think of minorities very simply as “good at singing and dancing”…and maybe “causing trouble”. I think it would be unfortunate if that’s ALL they become known for, just like how African-Americans get portrayed in media mainly as athletes, entertainers and criminals.

    2) Much of “folk music” in China is heavily sinicized and institutionalized. It doesn’t mean that the music is bad or not good to listen to, just that it may or may not be actual folk music. This song is pretty, and you’re not claiming it to be folk, I know, but the dramatics of costume and performance will probably convince a majority of the audience that this is what “Tibetan folk music” is. I don’t know, I’ll need to do more research to find out if it is, but it’s the automatic association that will likely happen, which bothers me a little.

    3) I can’t immediately recall where I read it, but if I did [Edit: dig] up the link I’ll post. It’s too easy to use “exceptional examples” to show that discrimination [Edit: ok, discrimination is too strong and controversial, i guess I mean general imbalance of opportunities] does not happen. It’s essentially selective sampling, and it’s great to use as an example for, as you say, “an ethnic minority who has “made it””, but it’s not representative of the overall living standards of minorities.

    As a youtube video, as something entertaining and pretty to hear, I wouldn’t really think twice about this-and-that implications. However, since it has been posted on a pretty political forum, I’m going to venture into more toxic grounds. It’s important, if we’re seriously discussing such things, to address all facets of an argument and to consider the subtleties of an issue.

    Anyway, sorry for being such a pain, but I’m just in a fighting mood today.

  3. Steve Says:

    @ Sonia: I changed one word of your post so I wouldn’t have to delete it. You might not be familiar with the site rules which were listed on this previous post.

    Sonia, in the past we’ve typically kept politics out of the cultural posts. It’s like a welcome break where everyone can go and just talk about music, art or whatever the topic covers. Since this is huaren’s thread, he can make that decision himself. Thanks!

  4. Sonia Says:


    In that case, super sorry then. Wasn’t aware. 😛

  5. Allen Says:

    Since Sonia is in a “fighting mood” – let’s make a challenge.

    If there are any people familiar with the local customs in various regions of Tibet – please send us some youtube links of examples of good traditional Tibetan music / performances. To the extent that we can make this purely about culture, that would be great.

  6. huaren Says:

    Hi Steve, #3,

    Thx for sharing that. I think there is a lot of wisdom in that policy on FM. However, I did put some political spin on it – i.e. an example of a minority having “made it,” I’d prefer to entertain Sonia’s sincere comments. Perhaps we do “half half” in this particular thread.

  7. Steve Says:

    @ Charles: I’ve had three Chinese friends send me pix from their trips to Jiuzhaigou, so it’s definitely popular with the younger crowd as a tourist destination. Some of the photos are just spectacular!

    @ Sonia: I agree with your assessment that this isn’t a folk song. I think it’s a very nice song but once past the introduction, it sounded to me like it was off a movie soundtrack. I did some research and found that Kelsang Metok is known for combining her traditional sound with Chinese and western pop. I think this song is more in the Chinese ballad style. I’d say Sa Dingding is more traditional in terms of her style.

    But I also think it’s a good idea for Kelsang Metok to take her traditional style and make it more accessible to the larger public. People like “different” as long as it isn’t too “different” so it’s not only a good career move, but can bring people towards traditional Tibetan folk music as an intermediate step as she also moves Tibetans towards the Chinese style. It’s no different from Paul Simon combining South African and Brasilian rhythms with American folk rock. If done successfully, the results can be very rewarding.

    I found a few more of her songs on YouTube and other sites. They had a more “Tibetan” sound to my ear though I’m no expert in Tibetan music so I could be wrong about this. I’m sure we can get better commentary from our Tibetan bloggers. 😛

    This song is called Tashi Nyima. It’s also in a more “pop” vein but the vocal inflections seem Tibetan:

    Not sure of this song’s name, but the singing has more of a traditional sound to me though the arrangement isn’t traditional at all:

    This song is called Joyful Gerbarians. It also seems to have more of a traditional sound to me:

    This song, Chia Ruer, has a nice combination of the traditional and the new:

    As a comparison, this is Sa Dingding (萨顶顶) singing her song Alive (万物生):

    @ huaren: Sounds good to me. Sonia, have at it!! 😛

    @ Sonia: No need to apologize. In fact, I really enjoy all your comments and always look forward to them.

  8. Steve Says:

    Here are a few more popular Tibetan singers…

    This is Tseten Dolma singing Jampa Dolma Yo:

    Sherten singing Shide Lhacha Karpo:

    and Yadon singing Makye Ama:

    Here is a traditional Khampa Tibetan folk song:

    As a comparison, you can stream small snippets from traditional Tibetan folk music here.

  9. huaren Says:

    Hi Sonia, #2, #4,

    No problem, and actually, I really appreciate your comments. You are sincere and I learn a lot from your perspectives.

    I agree with what you say. FM readers should not “extrapolate” beyond this one specific example.

    Since I live in the USA, and I speak with friends who are social workers for Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, the thing I have learned from them is the minorities in the USA desperately need examples of successes. They need to see that they can be singers, lawyers, business people, politicians, etc.. This aspiration and having seen their “own kind” succeed and getting “there” demystified is crucial.

    I think the bottom line is the *problem* has to be tackled from both directions. The individual at the bottom needs to has aspirations. The society and government needs to ensure equal opportunity and fairness.

    Sonia, you mentioned about Chinese Americans or Asian Americans are not political in one of your comments in another thread. To me, Locke and others serve as great examples of becoming Americans for Asians to get involved with that particular aspect of American live.

    I’d say too, FM is serving as an excellent example for the Chinese Americans who wish to offer a much needed perspective in the English language.

  10. huaren Says:

    Hi Charles #1, Steve #7,

    If you ever visit, I’d avoid peak travel seasons.

  11. Steve Says:

    @ huaren: Outside of the Spring and Moon festivals, are there any other peak travel seasons to avoid?

  12. Wukailong Says:

    @Steve: This was addressed to huaren, but I think he’ll agree when I say that you ought to avoid National Day too. That’s one of the worst times for travel in general.

  13. Ben Says:

    Reminds me of the joke about the manager of the Irish restaurant who asks one of his employees to dress up as a leprechaun to attract the English tourists.

    “Feck off,” says Seamus. “I am not going to pander to those stupid and degrading Brit stereotypes about little ginger haired people doing a jig and say ‘top of the mornin ..’. That is contrary to all my principles as a citizen of the modern Ireland”

    “Fair enough Seamus, but there was fifty quid in it for you.”

    “To be sure, what time do I start and do you want me to bring my own leprechaun suit?”

  14. Steve Says:

    @ Ben: Ahh… that’s the reason I included the video of Tashi Nyima; it was the only one I could find where she was dressed normally. However, I suspect that her record company forced her to “go native” for the videos. They’re big on that in China. I’ve seen Wang Fei videos where I’m sure she was embarrassed wearing the costume provided, or jumping up and down when all she really wanted to do is sing. Record companies all over the world are copycats; whatever worked once gets repeated over and over, and unfortunately for Tibetan singers the “native angle” seems to be prominent.

    In the end, it’s all about moving merchandise.

  15. Anna Says:

    Jiuzhaigou is awful – lakes full or rubbish, ugly hotels and tour guides with loud speakers. Utterly ruined.

  16. Charles Liu Says:

    Anna, hence the “avoid peak travel seasons” advise in 10…

  17. real name Says:

    ad 2: Much of “folk music” in China is heavily sinicized and institutionalized.
    isn’t present chinese music (also folk) already pretty modernized = westernized?
    btw. do you feel connection to folk roots here?

  18. Steve Says:

    @ real name #17: I remember years ago I bought my wife a Deng Lijun CD of Chinese folk songs. Of all her CDs, it was my favorite. Outside of that one CD, I haven’t really heard any other Chinese folk songs so I don’t have much to compare with.

    I can understand why Tibetan singers would “sinicize” their music. After all, the market they are trying to penetrate is composed of mostly non-Tibetans so the music producers will try to imitate the more popular arrangements. I’ll hear certain sounds that are continually repeated on many Chinese recordings, almost like they are boilerplate arrangements.

    I wouldn’t say Chinese music is westernized, though I think it tries to be in some respects. It has its own formula. Too many strings, a certain type of electric guitar style that would never work in the west, endless ballads… it’s a pretty typical Chinese style. If it compares to anything, it’d be Japanese production.

    I didn’t hear any folk roots in the song you linked to, so I’m curious if others did.

  19. Sonia Says:

    @ Steve. Thanks for the youtube shares. Really great stuff.

    @ Steve & real name.

    1) I guess it would depend on what you call “folk music”. There’s what the Chinese music industry calls “folk music”; there’s what the American music industry calls “folk music”; in the west, there was “folk-inspired” revivals in the 60’s and 70’s with the likes of Pete and Peggy Seeger; there’s “folk-styled” composition, and then there’s what academics call “folk music”. Since I just happened to have taken some classes (albeit introductory) on folk music, I sometimes get a bit snotty about definitions. Technically, the composition of folk music is a more communal and anonymous matter, mutable, possibly with many versions, constantly evolving…anyway, it’s kind of a broad subject. Anyway, often when we think of “folk music”, it encompasses all the above, which is fine, and good music is good music if it sounds good. I just think, that if we get really interested it, it might be nice to learn the difference between “folk-styled” music and traditional folk music.

    2) Theoretically, I don’t actually care if parts of cultures become sinicized, or westernized, or whatever-ized. The thing about culture, especially folk culture, is that it’s not static and is not meant to be static. However, sometimes I am selfishly sad when traditional things evolve to something less “exotic” and “sacred” and become more familiar and in-the-present. But that’s kind of a ridiculous sentiment, because true folk culture is exactly what is current (ie. internet memes and all that). But I think, out of respect for history and traditional culture, we should at least acknowledge the differences between past and present traditions, and not try to lump them all together as one thing…I’m not sure if that made sense.

    3) About the actual music. I guess it’d be hard for any folk artist to preserve the raw feeling of an acoustic, traditional performance. This is especially true in Asia where “live music” and the feeling it carries is often deemed to be second class to pristinely-arranged music and classical music (of both Asian and European traditions) The truth is, unless very cleverly engineered, these simple, and often unaccompanied pieces don’t sound very interesting recorded, especially next to the exciting and varied modern music selections we have today. I’m no expert in Tibetan Folk Music, but I’ve seen a fair share of Folk performances ranging from renowned ballad-singers and fiddlers from the British isles to old Chinese men with er-hu’s in the San Francisco subway. The thing is, regardless of whether the music is sad, celebratory, tragic, fast, or slow, the power comes from the community, from the environment, which is always casual and participatory. Much of the power comes from hushed silence of the audience during a ballad and the raucous laughing/dancing during a jig, but that’s not something you can convey through the television screens. Which is why, produced “folk music” is either not very popular, or dressed up to be dramatic and stunning and synthesized, rather than matter-of-fact and unaccompanied in traditional performances. So I guess what I’m saying is that these “folk-inspired” music sound great, and I really do love them, but it would be so sad to see the disappearance of traditional venues, which also.

    Here are some videos of somewhat more traditional performances (at least, I think so):

    Shane MacGowan of the Pogues:

    Mongolian Long Song in Chicago:

    A Tibetan song, no accompaniment.

    I don’t know if it’s actually a Tibetan Folk Song, but on a bus! And the clapping along!

    Another Tibetan Song by a young woman learning to sing folk songs. It’s not polished, produced, or accompanied. But it’s still endearing, no?

    And because I happen to love throat singing, here’s some love for Tuva:

    And because I love throat singing, and not just in Tuva, and this is hilarious, a Mongolian Beer ad:

  20. Sonia Says:

    @ real-name: Yes I can hear some folk-influence. Especially at the beginning. It’s got a bit of the whole silk-road feel.

  21. Steve Says:

    Hi Sonia, hope you don’t mind my adding the videos rather than the links. I think they’ll get more hits that way. 😛

    I agree with everything you wrote. The definition of “folk music” can mean all sorts of things. Back when Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie were writing their songs, they were also recording “traditional” folk music such as “Comin’ Round the Mountain” which just meant they learned the songs in rural areas. These days, the songs they wrote are considered “traditional” folk music. For instance, Guthrie wrote “This Land is Your Land”, yet most people today would think that was a very old and traditional song. When I think of “folk styled music”, I tend to think more of bands such as The Strawbs with Sandy Denny, Fairport Convention, Richard & Linda Thompson, Simon & Garfunkel, Lindisfarne, Ralph McTell, the Limeliters, etc. I’d also throw claw hammer bluegrass in there.

    Fortunately, I worked in the music business back in the ’70s and was able to see many of the great ’60s folk singers. Folk is best heard in a live, intimate setting, as is jazz. Rock is better in larger venues when there’s more air volume to dampen the sound, or on a CD when multiple tracking can be used that is not possible in live performances.

    Many of the great “classical music” compositions were based on peasant folk music, especially Slavic folk songs used by the great Russian composers. Sometimes the simplest tunes can be the most fun to vary. I’d like to hear more Chinese folk music if I could find it and knew it was traditional.

    There is an old Taiwan folk song called Lüdao Xiaoyequ, composed by Yao Di and Chen Chang-shou. When I saw Vienna Teng in concert, she sang it as an encore. I mentioned it to the head Buddhist nun at our local temple during a dinner and she immediately started singing it a capella. Right away a bunch of other women joined in. It was very cool! If you’re not familiar with the song or with Vienna Teng, here’s her version:

  22. real name Says:

    “a bit of the whole silk-road feel”
    can understand you listen it in music color, but no, this melody is not from that area

    “especially Slavic folk songs used by the great Russian composers”
    not just russian, also czechoslovak school of musical nationalism was perfectly reusing folk motives (personaly i recommend dvorak’s slavic dances – having label of any british artrock star it would be bestseller)
    but folk themes are not case for classic music only, looking f.e. at

    energy (no connection to other cases here) than idea that like-this

    slavic ‘simplest tune’ is candidate also for chinese version is nice

    “if I could find it and knew it was traditional”
    if i understand it well first filter is you have problem to interpret traditional music with piano or also with (some) present chinese music instruments, so you need something like violin because of different tuning systems
    unfortunately wikipedia is here too short

  23. Steve Says:

    @ real name: Absolutely! I should have mentioned other Eastern European countries, especially since my father’s side was from Czechoslovakia and I have relatives there.

    X.T.X was a great choice. I should have featured Cold Blooded Animal in earlier music posts but it slipped my mind. I put up the actual videos rather than links to make it easier for everyone to access.

  24. Piyali Says:

    Hi ,
    I am seeing this term being increasingly used by some of us “Tibetan Chinese”.
    Tibet is a different culture altogether, different language, different script and
    different history. Chinese people please spare Tibet from being stamped with
    your “Made in China” trademark.

    Thanks in advance.

  25. tanjin Says:


    You may please limit that scope to some oversea Tibetans, most likely, these people are not born inside Tibet region and they are not even Chinese citizen anyway 🙂 LoL

  26. huaren Says:

    If you have a identity crisis, I wouldn’t pin it on a supposedly bad “Made in China” trademark either. Check out what the China Law Blog has to say about it recently:

    “China Quality. It’s Getting Better All The Time.”
    Posted by Dan on January 23, 2010 at 06:48 PM

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