Vajara Band’s Lhabu Darpo

Namchak Roltsog, commonly known as Vajara Band is a rock group of six Tibetan men in Lhasa. They are one of the first Tibetan contemporary musicians to provide social commentary through its songs. Over the years, Tibetan music has become a creative medium of expression for hidden and suppressed desires, hopes and feelings of people living in a highly repressive environment and those displaced. Tibet scholar Tsetan Wangchuk says that unlike traditional nangma and toesheys or songs up until the early 1980s, there is a social and political shift apparent in contemporary Tibetan song lyrics. With its new social, cultural and political undertones, perhaps representing a consciousness shift among Tibetans, the present day songs from Tibet are very bold. For today’s contemporary Tibetan songs openly call for the unity of Tibetans, reunification of Tibetan brothers and sisters and return of the nation’s father among many. At the same time, subtle messages and beautiful metaphors such as metok karpo (white flower), nyima (sun), shede lhaja karpo (white dove of peace) and agu pema (uncle lotus) for Tibet’s exiled leader the Dalai Lama are budding at its best from a nation where sincere articulation of honesty comes at a price.

In my conversation with Wangchuk-la, he also had an interesting idea about how contemporary Tibetan music is creating a pan-Tibetan identity across borders. Truly, like Buddhism, Tibetan music today seems to form a strong identity among Tibetans. I hope to write more about these later, but ngae semkyul (ངའི་སེམས་སྐུལ།) or my inspiration to start this blog today comes after reading an article about two rock bands in Lhasa by Stacey Vleet and of course after listening to the song Lhabu Darpo.

Vajara Band

Namchak Roltsog (Vajara Band)

So going back to Namchak Roltsog, a band of good-looking Tibetan phosas, I was struck by the originality of their song called Lhabu Darpo. With kids singing the chorus, at first listen, Lhabu Darpo might sound like children’s song. But the song is not in any way related to, for or about a child. The song in fact critiques the modern Tibetan society by narrating a story of a pathetic alcoholic Tibetan named Lhabu Darpo. Timid and narrow-minded, Lhabu Darpo gambles, loses all his possessions by playing mahjong and engages in extramarital sexual relationships. “Lhabu Darpo tells a story. A story about losing at Mahjong.. A story about drinking beer… A story about loving women. ” Lhabu Darpo represents the moral downfall of a person immersed in a materialistic world. According to Vleet, the song epitomizes the then-new problems of mahjong culture, gambling, prostitution and alcoholism prevalent in the modern Tibetan society.

And the irony of the song comes from the origin of the name of the song’s protagonist, Lhabu Darpo, a character from a popular Tibetan opera based on revered dakini Nangsa Obum. The opera tells of the many hardships Nangsa endures on her path to enlightenment. Lhabu is Nangsa’s virtuous and religious son. It appears that the Vajara band, a band named after a Buddhist diamond-like ritual object that is symbolic of firmness of spirit, could be portraying the transformation of character, values and spirit of the Tibetan society by suggesting a comparison of Nangsa’s honorable son Lhabu Darpo and the present day deplorable Lhabu Darpo.

The song ends with lyrics, “Lhabu Darpo who are you? Look a bit to your right. Look a bit to your left.” To me, the six Lhasa-ians are saying,  the new Lhabu Darpo is everywhere; he is our friend; he is you and me; he is us; he is our every acquaintances and he is the transformed modern Tibetan society.

I believe a great music video can be produced based on the story of Lhabu Darpo. But for now, below is the only Lhabu Darpo song I found on YouTube.

 Lhabu Darpo (Rough translation)

Chorus: Here’s a story, a story
 A boy was born at Dorje (Vajra) cave
What was the name of the boy?
He was called Lhabu Darpo
Very big and very arrogant
A slave of new luxuries
He polishes his shoes
Puts a brass ring on his finger
Lhabu Darpo la Lhabu Darpo la
Lhabu Darpo Lhabu Darpo Labhu Darpo la

Here’s a story, a story
A boy was born at Dorje (Vajra) cave
What was the name of the boy?
He was called Lhabu Darpo
Very big and very arrogant
Cheaply paid and newly bought
He wears his new shoes; polishes his shoes
And puts a brass ring on his finger

The other morning he visits a cafe
All in the cafe sits around Lhabu Darpo
Lhabu Darpo tells a story
A story about losing at Mahjong
Lhabu Darpo tells a story
A story about drinking beer
Lhabu Darpo tells a story
A story about loving women
Lhabu Darpo tells a story
A story about outside, inside and everything
Because of Lhabu Darpo’s oral power
None drinks beer and laughs

Then he begs for money at home
And goes outside to play
He plays Mahjong with three other gamblers
Probably loses everything down to his inner wears

Then he goes home and with his wife
Exchanges angry and harsh words
And not staying mad, he goes with his friends

Then Lhabu Darpo goes to drink beer at a bar
His friends gives praises when Lhabu Darpo drinks his beer
The beerhouse owner Dolma eyed Lhabu Darpo
Then sends a service girl
With whom Lhabu Darpo tangles

Then a crash sound of a beer bottle
The bar is now loud
Lhabu Darpo fights
And returns home with wounds
Stays for two weeks without work at home
Morning after morning
Sun shone on his ass

Fortune is coming, came an immediate phone-call
Lhabu Darpo faced his leader
Body shook, appealed for forgiveness
Bowed his head and showed his tongue
And brought his two palms together

All sadder than him
Stayed arrogant and proud
Loud and showing off grandiose
Having no compassion but great greed

Lhabu Darpo laughed

Who is Lhabu Darpo?
Look a bit to your right
Look a bit to your left