AMA YUNGCHEN LHAMO Real World Records, 2006 $18.99 (CD)

TIBETAN VOCALIST Yungchen Lhamo grew up in Chinese-occupied Lhasa, where singing ritual music was punishable by beating or death. Despite the danger, her grandmother insisted on teaching her the devotional songs of Tibet in clandestine music lessons. Now, three decades removed and exiled from her homeland after a tortuous one-thousand-mile trek across the Himalayas to India in 1989, she has become the world’s most renowned interpreter of Tibetan folk music. This reputation is sure to be upheld by this year’s Ama, her third release on Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records.

A consummate musician who performs only a cappella in concert, Lhamo’s voice penetrates the listener. Her melodies are simply heartbreaking, and though most of Ama is recorded with instruments, it is the two a capella songs that demand the most attention. In “Someday,” dedicated to the current Dalai Lama and those of the past, Lhamo sings of returning to her homeland. By framing the song as an ode to refuge in Buddhism’s Triple Jewel—the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha—Lhamo makes it clear that home, or refuge, is already inside each of us.

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The other a cappella track, “9/11,” is the record’s highlight. By the time of the 9/11 attacks, Lhamo was living in America, having moved to Queens, New York, the year before. In just under five minutes the emotions of that day are recalled with layer after layer of heartfelt vocal perfection. Her mastery of breath and pitch is astonishing, and the focused power of her creative energy is felt in every note.

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