Sonam Tashi's Biography
Sonam Tashi is an internationally acclaimed Tibetan performing artist, composer, and co-founder of Chaksampa Tibetan Dance and Opera Company based in San Francisco. He is also the co-founder of Nangma Boekyi Solgyun Rolyang Tsokpa, a traditional Tibetan music ensemble that toured North America in 2006. Born in the Ngari region of western Tibet near Mount Kailash to a nomad family, Sonam Tashi left Tibet at the age of four to take refuge in India. He studied traditional Tibetan opera, music and dance with classical masters at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala, India, and took important roles in Tibetan operas and dramas. He came to the United States in 1982, a time when he was the only Tibetan performing artist in North America. Sonam Tashi studied acting at the Northwest Educational Acting Theater in Seattle, where he made his Western acting debut portraying a Japanese businessman for Telemation productions. In 1989, Sonam Tashi co-founded Chaksampa. Throughout Chaksampa’s 20 years of performing in the West, Sonam Tashi has been a leading pioneer in introducing the rich traditions of Tibetan lay performing arts to Western audiences. Of the Tibetan artists in the West, he is the most actively engaged in performing and promoting traditional Tibetan music and dance to the younger Tibetan generation. Recently he has embarked on a solo mission to present Tibetan traditional performing arts to the youth in Tibetan communities in the West and to the members of Western dharma centers. From the small stages of American high school auditoriums to Carnegie Hall, from the Seattle Tibet Fest to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, from freedom concerts in local Tibetan communities to the Milarepa Tibetan Freedom Concerts in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and the RFK stadium in Washington, D.C., and from the American National Folk Festival in Bangor, Maine, to the Tibetan Music Festival in Bylekuppe, India, Sonam Tashi, in his black chupa and black hat, has inspired both Tibetan and Western audiences with his music of hope, love, and compassion.
In the genre of traditional Tibetan music, Sonam Tashi has written the lyrics and music for many songs. His most recent are available on his solo album, “My Dranyen,” and on his albums with Chaksampa, “Pha-yul.” “Renewal,” and “Rainbow Tibet,” and his first recording, “An Introduction to Tibetan Music.” His first composition, “Mount Kailash” (“Gangkar Tisi”), served as the theme for the soundtrack of Paul Wagner’s acclaimed film “Windhorse.” Sonam Tashi was an assistant director for the film “Seven Years in Tibet.” He has lectured and conducted workshops on Tibetan theatre at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Washington, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne, and the University of Northern Arizona. He has taught master classes in Tibetan music and dance to students at the University of Northern Arizona, and held several mask-making workshops for children. He has also given television, radio, and newspaper interviews on the subject of the Tibetan performing arts. In 2007, Sonam Tashi co-founded Nangma Boekyi Solgyun Rolyang Tsokpa (Tibetan Nangma Band), based in Dharamsala, and toured seven US cities.
In 2007, Sonam Tashi received a grant from the Galen and Barbara Rowell Fund for Tibet, which provided seed money to begin work on his dream project – making a film about the life of the legendary blind musician, Acho Namgyal, who revitalized Nangma and Toeshey during the first half of the 20th century. The result is the documentary, Acho Namgyal, made by Sonam Tashi and film maker Eric Henningsen. Sonam Tashi has also been engaged in directing traditional Tibetan wedding ceremonies in North America and Europe, reciting Tibetan auspicious wedding verses, and performing traditional Tibetan wedding music and dances. Sonam Tashi is currently engaged in exploring fusions between classical Tibetan music and classical music from other genres. Along with a classical jazz pianist and a master percussionist, he co-founded the band Northern Thunderbird (Kyungjang). Sonam Tashi has also recorded one of his compositions as a duet with virtuoso sitarist, Prosad. Sonam Tashi resides in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada