It was 28 years ago that we lay beneath the starlight in Botanic Park carried into a reverie as an ethereal voice rang through the gentle night.
It was a landmark WOMADelaide moment which people have called “indescribably beautiful”.
Now, this veritable lifetime later, it will need no efforts of description. It is to happen again. Live.
Yungchen Lhamo is coming back.
She is the acclaimed Tibetan singer of spiritual melodies, the bringer of peace and love, of beauty and calm.
Yungchen was, in fact, the special WOMAD choice of the music festival’s founder, Peter Gabriel and thus became the first ever Tibetan singer to perform at a WOMAD.
It set her on a life of touring, performing, and recording - from Carnegie Hall to the Lilith Festival. Living in Australia for a few years in the late 1990s was a further springboard for her career, she says, and brought her to WOMADelaide in 1995 and to recording Tibetan Prayer, which was to win an ARIA Award for Best World Music.
“So WOMADelaide has great memories for me,” she says.
She now resides in upstate New York and has been focusing on touring the USA while she works with the homeless and mentally ill with her One Drop of Kindness Foundation. After the release of her sixth album, Awakening, she has returned to the road - and WOMADelaide. Here she also will perform some of her forthcoming Real World Records album, One Drop of Kindness, and she will sing solo acapella and also with her band.
Critics have described her singing as “unearthly”, and “exquisite”. "Her voice has the power to stop time and makes everything else in the world fall away. Her voice transports you,” declared one reviewer.
Yungchen is innately modest.
“I am thankful to be able in some small way to increase awareness of Tibetan culture and the Buddhist teachings on awakening among many people around the world,” she says.
On the Sunday between her Saturday and Monday performances, she will be sharing with the people some culinary secrets In WOMADelaide's Taste the World session. “I will be cooking Tibetan vegetable momos along with tsampa and butter tea,” she confides.
Like most performers, Yungchen’s musical momentum took a blow from the Covid pandemic.
“Also my weekly visits to the homeless shelter,” she says. “I viewed the time as a two-year retreat at home, albeit learning to do Zoom meetings and one or two online concerts.
“I started making Tibetan jewellery while saying my prayers and put them up for sale on the One Drop of Kindness Foundation’s website, with profits from sales donated to Hunger Free America.”
Pondering the pandemic she reflects that in one way it brought a positive change.
"So many people came to understand that everyone and everything in this world is interdependent. In no time at all, one small outbreak of the virus in China spread to every country in the world and affected millions of people.”
Among her creative pleasure in recent years has been in writing a musical called You are Beautiful, I am Beautiful which she produced with a cast of people from her homeless shelter residents. It was even reviewed in Newsweek.
Her days are quietly busy, starting at 5am with prayers and meditation. Thereafter, writing, recording, liaising with musicians, agents, promoters, lawyers, and the media.
She does not do voice exercises but keeps to a good diet with lots of water toward maintaining a healthy body.
“Whereas many artists do vocal warm up exercises before they perform, I say prayers for everyone present: my fellow musicians, the stage crew, and audience. I and ask the higher beings to come and bless us all with their presence.”
Interestingly, she uses a mala, a kind of Tibetan rosary with 108 beads.
“Sometimes people mistake this for worry beads and tell me not to be nervous,” she says.
“I always just say ’thankyou’ because if I tried to explain what I was actually doing, they might think I was mad."
The happiness in her world is simply, she says, in waking up each and every morning and feeling joyful in having such a precious human life.
“And to reconfirm my motivation to do whatever I can during the day to bring health and happiness to all sentient beings."
When: 10 to 13 Mar
Where: Botanic Park