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The 26th Annual Tibet House Benefit Concert

Christine Connallon By

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The 26th Annual Tibet House Benefit Concert
Carnegie Hall
New York, NY
February 22, 2016

The grand stage at Carnegie Hall created the proper ambiance, as it does each year, for the Tibet House benefit concert. The perfect mix of musicians representing a vast array of genres from around the world, hand-picked by composer and vice president of Tibet House, Philip Glass, filled the venue with their talents, culminating in a musical celebration that echoed under the vaulted ceiling. Tibetan Mantras, rambunctious Gypsy punk, a Mandingo griot playing a kora, the next vibrant UK import, a dash of pure soul and the godfather of punk joined forces to raise awareness for Tibet House and the plight of the people of Tibet who fled when their country was invaded by the Chinese in the 1950s.

Dedicated to preserving Tibet's rich and unique culture here in the US is the mission of Tibet House—especially since up to 95% of Tibet's material culture on its home soil has been lost or destroyed. Tibet House US was founded in 1987 by the Dalai Lama. Each year at Carnegie Hall, a diverse and fantastic concert is curated by Glass, who serves as creative director for the event. Past performers include a who's who of musical royalty from David Bowie and Lou Reed to Debbie Harry and The Roots.

The 26th Annual Tibet House benefit concert was a wonderful mélange of musicians including the likes of Canadian folk singer Basia Bulat, gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello, punk master Iggy Pop, soul singer Sharon Jones, rising star FKA twigs, Gambian kora player Foday Musa Suso, Swiss / Tibetan Dechen Shak-Dagsay, Dutch harpist Lavinia Meijer and the Patti Smith Band. A beautiful and hypnotic traditional chant by six Tibetan Monks resplendent in customary attire caught the attention of the nearly full house and the fantastic content of the evening kept the audience transfixed.

Following speeches by Robert Thurman, President of Tibet House US and Glass, the sweet voice of folk singer Bulat and her charango filled the room with "It Can't Be You" plus "Someday Soon" accompanied by Meijer on harp. Internationally acclaimed musician and Mandingo griot from Gambia, Musa Suso treated the rapt audience to three songs on the kora, at times accompanied by Glass and Meijer. He sheepishly apologized when he left the stage after the second song, returning immediately and declaring that he had another song. Meijer positively sparkled on her solo "Metamorphosis #2," playing the harp with joy that was palpable.

The energy level kicked up a notch as force of nature Jones hit the stage. All five foot one inch of this powerhouse in a metallic mod dress commanded Carnegie Hall as she strutted and danced, bringing out her hits, "She Ain't a Child No More," "Tell Me," and "100 Days, 100 Nights." Never standing still for long, Jones is a musician who is completely at home on stage and she engages the audience, connecting to those who already love her and picking up new fans along the way. Her set was pure magic.

Shak-Dagsay, who is the eldest daughter of Dagsay Rinpoche, a Tibetan Lama, brought an incredible fusion to the stage with the help of Helge Van Dyk, a composer and producer of her latest albums. Her Mantras are intertwined with van Dyk's electric guitars and cello, producing a natural and exciting blend of tradition and modern with "Everest" and "Black Tara."

Hailing from Gloucestershire, FKA twigs melded music and movement fluidly with three band members backing her. Barefoot and all in white and sparkles, twigs brought at innocence on "Hide" as well as her new song that debuted last week "Good to Love," alternating between ethereally flowing yoga like moves and remaining still and holding poses.

Gogol Bordello brought an unparalleled sense of whimsy, intensity and elation to the stage. First appearing at a Tibet House benefit concert four years ago, front man Eugene Hutz and his raucous band are not strangers to the cause. They started out playing on tall stools but before long, Hutz and company were kicking, twirling and Gypsy punk rocking their way across the stage on "My Companjera," "When the Universes Collide," and "Pala Tute."

The pop rock icon Iggy Pop wrangled the final four slots of the evening. Shaking things up by performing two spoken word poems to kick off his set, Pop cut a slim figure in a blue suit. With his signature straight hair framing his face and pacing the length of the stage, both poems, resulting from musical collaborations with Glass, dealt with ambition and their spiritual consequences, the first being "I Talked to a Smart Guy." The internal dialogue was a cautionary tale and had the narrator opting not to get involved with poison, thus resolving the moral dilemma. Vulnerable in a way that most Pop fans have never witnessed, the second poem "Mom and Dad are Gone" was poignant and more raw. Forlorn, Pop spoke of his parents who suffered through the Great Depression and moved to Michigan. He brayed, "I have their pictures, I have their tchotchkes, I have their ashes and I have my memories...Mom! Dad! I love you! Are you still somewhere? Thank you! I'm sorry!" apologizing and putting words to his regrets of wishing he had done more and loved them more, looking up and saluting above, cathartically, before a pause and moving into the next segment of his set.

Honoring his late friend and fellow musician David Bowie by selecting two of his songs. Pop recalled to the crowd that "David Bowie touched a lot of people, a lot of people's lives."

"The Jean Genie" came next, and with it the first time that the entire crowd got to its feet, with a few zealous fans doing their best to dodge security guards to get to the front row. Next up was "Tonight" a song that he shared with Bowie, explaining, "I was lucky enough to record it first but with his help and guidance. He did it himself with Tina Turner...it is the right lyric for right now and for tonight." Jones re-emerged halfway through the song to sing Turner's part of the song, hand in hand with Pop. In a truly fitting end to a magical evening, nearly all the musicians gathered again to join in, belting out "Everything will be alright tonight." If indeed an audience from above was looking down, you can be sure the Thin White Duke was smiling.

Additional contributions by Mike Perciaccante

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