The musician strummed his dragon-headed lute, launching a nervous young woman into a high-pitched, ululating song broadcast live across Bhutan.
The judges’ were unsparing. She was out of synch with the music, one said. The other consulted historical scriptures and discovered she got the lyrics wrong.
It’s clear Bhutan Star is not just another low-budget knockoff of the American Idol juggernaut. This wildly popular show, which forces contestants to sing the nation’s fading traditional songs, is Bhutan’s most promising weapon in its fight to save its culture from being overrun by globalisation.
In 1999, with the TV, internet came what education minister Thakur Powdyel calls “the onslaught of global culture.”
Nidup Dorji, a popular 37-year-old writer, actor, composer and singer, wondered whether Bhutanese were ready to embrace their culture again, but with a modern twist.
He appropriated the format of Idol, which he had seen on satellite TV. He then used Bhutan’s pop genre known as rigsar to lure kids into watching the folk music called boedra and the more complex zhungdra, classical, high-pitched religious songs composed by Buddhist lamas and reminiscent of Chinese opera.