Chöying Drolma & Steve Tibbetts :: Selwa
What has been most interesting about the Asianization of Western philosophy is the mis- and under-representation of yang; that is, we envision serene Buddhas and visions of peace, yet Eastern literature uncoils a different serpent. So when Tibetan nun Chöying Drolma sings "Powerful blood drinker, glorious vitality - Kali, the Blood Dripper, I praise you," you would expect a pulsing, heavy musical backdrop behind a powerfully intense, if now downright satanic, voice. Instead, Drolma's sublime elegance is a soothing cavalcade. Selwa - translating as "luminous" or "awake" - is an understatement.
So it goes throughout this record, an eerily intimate travel within Drolma's devotional ritualism. Her minimalist poetics are matched by guitarist Steve Tibbetts, whose Steve Reich/Philip Glass/Brian Eno expressionism has garnered his ECM records high acclaim. This cross-cultural/musical fusion is not new to either party - in 1997 the pair recorded Drolma's chants, Tibbettts returning to Minnesota to create Chö alongside percussionist Marc Anderson. Returning to Boudhanath in Nepal, they took the ethnomusicological route by recording Drolma solo before laying down the score back home (she never heard either final product until released).
Drolma herself is no "performer" (as in "entertainer"): Selwa is the root of bhakti (devotion), her life real-time testament to the sound she produces. Discouraged by her homeland's incessant focus on male-dominated education, she founded the Arya Tara school in 2000 to offer women equal opportunities. Her focus is compassion; music is the beautiful by-product.
Let's not forget the exquisite tinkering of her collaborator. Selwa is a heartbreakingly stunning record, credited equally to Tibbetts' knowing fingertips. The light guitar flushes and electronic solitude woven into Drolma's voice is bafflingly mythical. The album sounds of no place or time, and that's not to call it "transcendent." No, their work roots one deeply before uplifting occurs; like the coiled kundalini of the yogi, it begins at the base and slowly unfurls before exploding through Shiva's eye. "Song of Realization" is a nine-minute meditation sparsely decorated with acoustic guitar and light percussion; the gorgeous "Palden Rangjung" (quoted earlier) followed by "Vakritunda" prove technology's well-earned place within sacred music, as the soft digitialism induces the same transparencies as Drolma's poetry. If two worlds have ever met without cliché, Selwa is the language they will speak.