Traditional folk music in Bhutan uses three main instruments: the lingm, the dramyen, and the chiwang. The lingm is a type of six-holed flute that actually has two varieties: dong lingm (which is played in front like a clarinet and about as long as one too) and the zur lingm (which is played to the side). The lingm is native to Bhutan.
The dramyen is a type of seven-stringed lute with a long fretless neck. It’s used a lot in religious music and ceremonial music, as well as in folk music. It’s played by plucking and strumming the strings. Although it may be strummed, it’s mostly played one note at a time as a melody line.
The chiwang is a type of two-stringed fiddle that more than likely was brought over from neighboring Tibet. In folk music, the chiwang is often associated with the horse.
There are several types of folk music, but the two main types are zhungdra and boedra. Zhungdra is often considered secular, but often the subject matter has Buddhist overtones to it. Boedra often includes the chiwang, and developed from Tibetan court music. A lot of religious music is chanted and not heard much by the general public. The lyrics tend to be stories about the lives of religious figures in Buddhism.
In the late 1960s, the genre known as rigsar became very popular. It has a more upbeat tempo, more local and vernacular language styles, and utilizes electronic instruments and synthesizers. And actually, they created what became the 15-string rigsar dranyen which has two bridges. The first rigsar songs grew out of the Bollywood songs of neighboring India, and the first actual rigsar star was Shera Lhindup with the top song “Jyalam Jyalam Gi Ashi” in 1981. However, popularity began to wane in the late 1980s. After some ups and downs, rigsar music had a transformation and expanded itself to use its influences of English-language pop, Indian pop, and Nepalese music.
Music and dance go hand in hand. A set of dances called zhey and zhem are often danced at tsuchus (festivals). It’s actually considered a choreographed vocal performance, utilizing both styles of folk music mentioned earlier (zhungdra and boedra). The zhey dance is performed by men and is a little quicker of a dance, while the women dance the zhem with more flowing and fluid moves. Originally, dancers would dance barefoot without any particular costume, but only in the past 40 years or so did the dancers start wearing long gowns, headgear and the traditional boots. During the royal wedding last year, several dance troops danced traditional zheys, representing various regions of the country.
[And congrats to myself: this is my 100th post! Thanks for reading; it only gets better.]
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