XINING, Nov. 4 (Xinhua) -- Soinan Omtse dedicated his first album to his grandmother Tashi.
"You are a bright full moon and I'm bathed in your love no matter where I am," the 28-year-old Tibetan sings as he strums his mandolin at a Tibetan-style bar in Xining, capital of northwest China's Qinghai Province.
Tashi was Soinan Omtse's sole caregiver after his parents divorced 20 years ago.
One of four children born into a poor family, by seven years old he had learned to carve mantras on Mani stones, as his village in Qinghai's Yushu Prefecture is close to the world's largest pile of Mani stones, which are a holy Buddhists artifact.
For 14 years he chipped away at stone, until one day on the radio he heard the unique sound created by a mandolin.
"It moistened my heart like a stream of thawing snow water," he recalled. "I could never concentrate on my work again."
One of his uncles bought him his first mandolin and Soinan Omtse threw himself into learning the instrument. He was soon good enough that he secured a regular gig at a restaurant for about a year. When an earthquake shook Yushu in 2010, he left for the neighboring Gansu Province, and made a living by singing in bars and cafeterias.
His songs moved Jamyang Lodro, a Tibetan song writer from Qinghai's Golog, who wrote lyrics for several songs that were later included on Soinan Omtse's first album, released in 2013. Soinan Omtse composed the music.
"Most of the songs are nostalgic and convey love and prayers for my family," he said.
"When I'm home, I always join the pilgrims to pray for my grandmother's health and long life," he said. "She is 88 and in perfect health."
Soinan Omtse has a tattoo on his forehead in the shape of a flame. "It symbolizes a Tibetan ghee lamp. I hope it will light up my path as I pursue my music dream, and keep Tibetan culture alive."
LUST FOR LIFE
As the "roof of the world" opens to outsiders, traditional Tibetan songs and dances have gone beyond the confines of plateau monasteries and concert halls to big cities including Chengdu and Beijing, and even international stages.
This summer, a Tibetan version of the popular Chinese song "I love you," went viral. The song, sung by Pempa Degyi, a Tibetan actress in Lhasa, combined elements of Tibetan drama. "I hope traditional Tibetan music will tune in with modern society," she said.
Many other Tibetan artists have performed in China's interior regions, injecting new vitality into China's music industry. One of them, Yangjain Lhanze, even played at Sydney Opera House this year.
Tibetans are known for their love of music, said Lung Rinchen, an executive council member of the Chinese Music Literature Association. "Behind the melodies is strong faith, a lust for life and respect for mother nature, which often resonate with the audience."
Song writer Legpa Tsering Oma has traveled to Tibet, Beijing and Chengdu frequently since the 1990s. One of his most popular pieces, "Sky Burial," is among the few Tibetan songs that openly discusses life and death.
"Our attitude toward death often reflects our attitude toward life," Oma said in an interview with Xinhua. "Tibetans believe life goes on in an endless circle and the soul is reincarnated after someone dies."
"Sky Burial" conveys the Tibetans' praise and yearning for life, he said. "As its lyrics go: 'Quietly I bid farewell to the present life. Let the holy vultures take away my glories. Quietly I bid farewell to my former abode, keeping in mind my promises that remain unchanged for 1,000 years. Let the holy vultures open up for me a heavenly path paved with golden sunshine'."
Despite his enthusiasm for writing lyrics, Oma said he is often careful about the composition. "Tibetan music is far more complicated than most people think. I don't want them to make up shoddy pieces out of mere segments of Tibetan music, as if any song is Tibetan as long as it sings 'Tashi Delek'".
Real Tibetan music, Oma said, is all about life, nature and religion.
PROMOTING TIBETAN BUDDHISM
Rigzin Drolma is from a devout Buddhist family in Qinghai. Her grandfather and his six siblings are all living Buddhas. When she was a child, her lullabies featured the blowing of conch shells and chanting of sutras. "Their rhythms are music to my ears and unforgettable."
After she graduated from Central Nationalities University in Beijing in 2013, she concentrated on sutra studies and monastic music creation. Sutra and prayers make up most of her songs.
"Tibetan music has always promoted Tibetan Buddhism, and many high monks used to teach the commandments through music and poetry," said Lung Rinchen.
Lung said he was delighted to see young musicians passionate about promoting Buddhism.
Degyitso, a Tibetan woman from Gansu Province, graduated from Central Nationalities University's school of art two years ago, but her research on the original plateau music began in 2007.
She has traveled to the Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai. "I want to take down every Tibetan song I hear, very often I take video and audio clips."
She said she was moved to tears when an old woman hummed an ancient tune to a newly enthroned living Buddha at a monastery in Sichuan Province earlier this year. "Her voice seemed to carry the very essence of Tibetan music. She was singing with her soul."
Degyitso believes good music should be simple and natural. "These are also among the most important factors for Tibetan music to tune in with the world."