When most of the Bhutanese have less interest in singing our traditional songs, Johan Westman from Sweden working in Samtse College of Education as music lecturer could sing Zhungdra beautifully, more than Bhutanese on National Day. He was looking for opportunity to present song in the morning but due tight program, he was given to sing in the evening where members from Film Association of Bhutan presented songs and dances.
A Bhutanese comedian anchor during the program, Gyem Dorji invited Johan on the stage and asked which song you will sing. He replied, “I will sing a Zhungdra- Drukpai Pungthang Dechen.” After his song, an anchor radicalized Johan as an example that Bhutanese should learn from. He warned about possibility situation that Bhutanese may need to learn our culture from other country. Hundreds of audience applauded the foreign Zhungdra singer who sang with violin.
In an interview with Bhutan Today, Johan said, “I felt very happy. It was a blessing to get chance to perform in your National Day. I think the Samtse Dzongkhag did a wonderful job in arranging the celebration.” He sang on Samtse Tshechu too.
When it comes to singing, he believes it is mostly Boedra songs sung widely Bhutanese should learn from since students in Samtse are learning a lot of them. “I have been playing violin with modern musicians so I know many Rigsar songs too. There are not many Zhungdras and it takes long time to learn them, so it is more rare,” he said.
A Bhutanese singer, Jigme Drukpa was inspiration for Johan. “We used to study together in Norway. He has always been my idol in the Bhutanese music. The way he gets the flow in his songs and his sense of timing always amazes me.” Tshering Dorji, musician of Druk Star and Kalapingka, taught him zhungdra which he sang on National Day program. Johan used to play violin mostly when he worked for Jigme Drukpa and Aa-Yang Music School in Thimphu. In 2014 he went on tour with Ugyen Panday and sang “Ngan Tso Ja lu Dro Man Yo La” in that tour. “It was really the first Bhutanese song I had learned all the stanzas of. So you can say since 2014.”
Johan give his musical analysis on Bhutanese songs, “Zhungdra is by far the most difficult. Whereas Boedra and Rigsar – and 99% of the world’s music – follows a beat, Zhungdra does not follow a beat. It is rather the opposite. The beat has to follow the zhungdra! In zhungdra you need to know the text and find the flow of the song. That is why almost nobody can “jam up” on zhungdra. It is cleverly constructed so you have to know the text. Also since I am a foreigner I have to consider my pronunciation. Another fact is that zhungdra is songs are in choekey. I have to study the lyrics word by word and then I have to know the meaning.”
He like all kinds of music really and think it is fantastic that there are so many different music styles in the world, each of them being a micro cosmos. “I would say I prefer live music over tracks when possible. “Johan has picked up the dramnyen last year. In fact, he brought the dramnyen to the program as well but most asked for violin.
The President of Samtse College of Education, Dr. Rinchen Dorji said that Johan Westman is source of inspiration to the students. He does research in all kinds of music. “I can say Johan is better than Bhutanese,” the President said.
Johan Westman is currently doing research on Bhutanese folk songs and instruments. He started ‘LuRig Centre (Music Research and Education)
By Sangay Rabten