An international team of anthropologists have embarked on a project to save Tibetan folk songs from extinction.
Led by anthropology professor Gerald Roche, the volunteer-run Tibetan Endangered Music Project (TEMP) aims at digitalizing and archiving all the songs collected online, and return them back to the community.
"The goal is to digitalize the songs we record and return them to our communities. We want to record as many songs as possible," said Dawa Drolma, a 20-year-old student from Qinghai Normal University, China, who is involved in the project.
So far the students have recorded more than 250 songs, including melodies for herding, harvesting, singing babies to sleep, and coaxing yaks into giving more milk.
"It is quite remarkable how much they have been able to accomplish from such a remote place, thanks to the Internet and digital recording technology," said Jonathan C. Kramer, a professor of music at North Carolina State University, US, who has worked on the project.
"It is hard to imagine such a project even 20 years ago," he said.
Tibetan music first went on the decline during the Cultural Revolution, a campaign between 1966 and 1976 during which the Chinese government sought to wipe out all "feudal" practices and "make art serve politics."
The biggest threat today, however, is modernization.
"After we got electricity ten years ago, people began buying tape recorders, radios, and TVs, and then they began losing interest in traditional things," Drolma said of her remote village in Gansu province.
She said another problem has been the influx of modern Chinese pop music.
"People hear this music all the time on the radio, on [video CDs], and cassette tapes. It comes in and basically takes over," she said, adding, that mechanization has also had an impact on traditional Tibetan music.
"Butter-churning songs are disappearing, because there are now electric machines to do this and so no need to have a song to provide rhythm," she said.
According to Prof. Kramer, upon completion, the project will be helpful in training folk singers and teachers to continue their traditions.
"Educational curricula can be developed to teach children the songs of their ancestors, and from these songs, learn about the ways of life that were once practiced by their parents and grandparents," National Geographic quoted him as saying.