Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Tibetan Freedom Concert: Rock Guitar’s Watershed Moment?

Casual rockers will probably see the event as political activism taking over music, but is the Tibetan Freedom Concert a watershed moment that would send rock guitar into the 21st Century?

By: Ringo Bones

Remember the September 1997 Guitar Player magazine cover story “Who Killed Rock Guitar?” At that moment in time, rock guitar was fast becoming staid and hackneyed when record labels were busy signing copycat acts of leading alternative rock trendsetters like they were going out of fashion. Thus diluting the impact of alternative rock where a few years before record label execs and the music buying public seems to have reached a consensus during the first half of the 1990s. So rock guitar became bland and boring during the dying days of the 20th Century and most rock guitar enthusiasts were wondering whether it too would pass away along with the 20th Century.

Then came the Tibetan Freedom Concert where a new generation of creative guitarists made a collective voice that rock guitar won’t go away as passively as the 20th Century – so to speak. Or more accurately, the concert’s popularity around June 1998 where even the most casual MTV viewer eventually got aware of the politics surrounding the Free Tibet movement – in a musical way during its duration between 1996 to 2001. This concert organized by the Beastie Boys and the Milarepa fund eventually made the cause of Tibetan independence no longer a mere trivial matter to America’s MTV generation.

On the rock guitar front, one of the guitarists that pointed the way of the guitar’s future in the 21st Century was Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. Whose unique playing style had served as a very creative backdrop in their efforts of spreading an idealized version of Marxist-Leninist socialism like Eisenstein’s Potemkin did decades before. They are one loud rocking version of Revolutionary Idealism.

Fortunately for a generation of kids weaned on David Geffen’s brand of alternative rock, the Tibetan Freedom Concert served as a surprisingly popular introduction to Tibetan culture. And more importantly to their spiritual leader – His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet - into exile after the country was unlawfully annexed by the People’s Republic of China back in 1959.

The on-going popularity of the world music movement during the latter half of the 1990s eventually allowed traditional Tibetan musicians acquire a young American fanbase via the Tibetan Freedom concert. Like Yungchen Lhamo famed as the female voice of Tibet and Nawang Khechog, a famed Tibetan meditation music and world music composer and Grammy nominee. Chaksam-pa a non-profit traditional Tibetan dance and opera company based in the San Francisco Bay Area, California whose name means Bridge-Builder. And Dadon a three-member band being lead by Dadon Dawadolma – another female Tibetan singer who won the hearts of post-Cobain grunge. At least its better than that dog-and-pony show recently put forth by Beijing extolling how Tibet got better after they unlawfully annexed it back in 1959. Is the Tibetan Freedom concert music beyond rock guitar? At least it works like it says on the tin.


  1. Putting David Geffen style alt-rock and Tibetan traditional music on one CD - best concept album of 1998 ever. Maybe they should do a Tiananmen Square benefit album.

  2. Will there be a Tibetan Freedom Concert in the Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China?

  3. A Tibetan Freedom Concert in the Shanghai Expo 2010? The traditional Tibetan dance and opera company Chaksam-pa would probably steal the show. But the likelihood of it ever happening seems as unlike as Spoilt the Musical or the Dalai Lama giving a commencement speech on the Shanghai Expo 2010. Maybe a Rage Against the Machine headlining a Tibetan Freedom Concert in Shanghai Expo 2010.

  4. Fortunately, I'm not ashamed to admit that i'm old enough to have been a fan of the progressive guitar stylings of Tom Morello even before he joined Rage Against The Machine. Tom Morello - a Harvard graduate and a guitarist with a dexterous bag of tricks - first gained fame as a guitarist for Lock Up with Brian grillo on vocals.

  5. Yes, I remember Lock Up - this was Tom Morello's first band before he joined Rage Against The Machine. Lock Up is a heady mix of funk, hip-hop and soul with virtuoso guitar playing thrown in. I think this band is where Tom Morello developed his unique guitar playing style that made the whole world notice when he joined Rage Against The Machine. Sadly, their brand of Marxist-Leninist socialism is not exactly the Revolutionary Idealism that should have guided the Beijing government.

  6. Yungchen Lhamo is the female voice of Free Tibet. She should play in the Shanghai Expo 2010.