J.J.I. café, the tiny, Tibetan restaurant in North India was filled with travelers and tourists alike, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and drinking a wide assortment of hot drinks. I sat with friends by the window, listening to the obscure French music playing overhead, glancing out the window every so often at the mountains that rose high above the sea of prayer flags that flew atop every home, hostel, and shop in McLeod Ganj. This particular morning we were trying to plan a trip to Nepal when Nima, the owner of the J.J.I. came up to our table and told us her son's band, known as the J.J.I. Exile Brothers (named for the members: Jigme, Jamyang, and Ingsel), would be playing that night at the café. Having been away from music as we knew it for quite some time, it felt like a godsend: I couldn't pass up a free concert and a $5 dinner, could you?

A power-trio rock and roll band by definition influenced by an eclectic mix of music and politics, the J.J.I. Exile Brothers draw from 1960's counterculture rock (a la CCR, The Doors, & Pink Floyd) as well as traditional Tibetan Buddhist music. Now I know this kind of "fusion" or "world music" is for eccentric dads and hippies, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the Exile Brothers style and political message. Having grown up in India as refugees, away from their home country of Tibet, The Exile Brothers sing about the freedom of their people and their homeland from Chinese occupation and oppression...like Asian punk rock, only good. Their style isn't what I imagined (politically saturated, punk rock know-it-all lyrics similar to Propaghandi), nor is it too vague to get the picture. At the show I attended, they hung a Tibetan flag and were more than open to speak on behalf of their people.

One thing I forgot to mention before I hit the "publish post" button a few days ago, J.J.I. Exile Brothers sing mostly in their native Tibetan, which is largely different than Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi, Nepali, or any other language in a thousand mile radius. It's a language developed by the Tibetan people thousands of years ago when Buddhism spread northward. I only learned two or three words such as "Tashi Delek" for "Hello", or "Toujeshe" for "Thank you". So, if you have trouble understanding the songs on their Myspace, you're not alone.

Website (under development)
Students for a Free Tibet

Photos courtesy of Chevstar Records

No comments: