Among the world's great singers, a rare few become the voice of their nation. After years of international touring with the blessing of the Dalai Lama, Yungchen Lhamo has truly become the voice of Tibet. This third album for Real World (the first in 8 years) is infused with the quiet spiritual power of Tibetan Buddhism but now features Yungchen's own original songs with the striking production of Jamshied Sharifi and pan-global instrumentation to make a much more modern and indeed much more personal record than before. Ama means "mother" and Yungchen dedicates this album to her own mother who suffered greatly and raised her daughter amidst the violence and persecution of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Themes of struggle, loss, peace and forgiveness run through this magical recording. The icing on the cake are the guest appearances from two incredible, incomparable singers Joy Askew and Annie Lennox.
Yungchen Lhamo is a new kind of Tibetan, one who was not only forced out into the world at large, but who embraces all its possibilities. Born and raised in Lhasa, she never knew a Tibet that wasn't under Chinese rule. She fled the country in 1989 and now resides in New York City. It's at this cultural crossroads that Ama
is born. Except for a raucous version of "Om Mani Padme Hung," this isn't a chant album, but original songs sung in Lhamo's native tongue. Produced by Jamshied Sharifi, an Iranian-American musician who is a master of global sounds and voices, Ama
has a transcultural aesthetic, mixing traditional Tibetan chanting and singing with Middle Eastern percussion, fuzzed guitar, Chinese erhu, and African kora, among other instruments. Sharifi has probably listened to Steve Tibbetts's productions with the Tibetan nun Choying Drolma. Although he doesn't have Tibbetts's penchant for abstraction, their approach shares a certain austerity and atmosphere that makes the voice the central focus. "9/11" sets Lhamo in a multitracked choir, echoing distant chants with a simple mournful cello reflecting her sadness. Other tracks are more richly designed, like "Ranzen", which features growling fuzzed-guitar ambiences and Jon Hassell-like trumpet from Norway's Arve Henriksen. Much will be made of Annie Lennox's appearance on "Fade Away," but her performance seems overwrought next to Lhamo's restrained spiritualism. --John Diliberto