Sounds of Liberation
Sounds of Liberation

Ani Choying Drolma

Ani Choying Drolma

For more than a decade, Ani Choying Drolma — a most unlikely of rock stars — has shared Buddhism's sacred chants with a growing number of fans worldwide.

But she found this path almost by accident.

Ani Choying Drolma can't remember when she started singing, but she does know that her formal training began at 13 when she joined the Nagi Gompa monastery near Kathmandu.

Soon after her arrival, the Rinpoche, or head Lama, recognized her talent. He and his wife began teaching her sacred chants, following a tradition that has been passed down from teacher to student for generations in the Himalayas.

"They often made me sing on whatever occasion took place," she says. "I used to be entertainer for everyone. But somehow my teacher and his wife were really, really enthusiastic about my singing. I used to enjoy it, but without thoughts or ideas of what they were up to. But now I really, really see it clearly. They knew it — what my future was."

So far, Drolma has recorded 10 albums, including her latest, Inner Peace II. Some monks have made it big with their chanting, but few, if any, nuns have. Drolma's music combines Tibetan melodies with traditional and contemporary instruments, like singing bowls and synthesizers.

Drolma's voice may sound like a mountain stream, but underneath, her passions are like a storm on top of Mt. Everest. Her vocal power comes from a complicated mixture of devotion, confidence, and anger. She confesses that she didn't become a nun out of faith, but rather to escape from her father, who beat her almost every day.

"At the very beginning of my stay at the monastery, I was still very wild, with a lot of negativity in my heart, in my mind," she says. "I was always ready to protect myself. That means to be angry or to fight. But that slowly, slowly transformed. ... Once when my mother visited, and she asked [a monk], 'so how is she doing?' This monk said, 'Oh Ani-La, she is now like a Bodhisattva (female Buddha) before she was like a devil!'"

Drolma's journey to the world stage started in 1994 when musician Steve Tibbetts first heard her sing. Amazed by her voice, he taped her and sent the recording to legendary music producer Joe Boyd.

Boyd gave her a thumbs up, and Tibbetts returned to Kathmandu in 1997 to record the album Cho with her. A year later, he brought Drolma and two other nuns to tour in the U.S.

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