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Sonam Dorji

Thimphu, BT   

Sonam Dorji, Executive Director of the Music of Bhutan Research Centre, is a master musician, vocalist, and composer who plays several instruments native to Bhutan and India. Originally from the village of Kaktong, Zhemgang district, Mr. Dorji moved to Thimphu as a child and studied drangyen under the primary elders of Bhutanese folk tradition, including Dasho Aku Tongmi and Ap Dawpey. At 15 he began composing his own songs and he soon gained fame on national radio. After high school he spent ten years in India studying Indian music and graduated first in his class in the master’s degree music program at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. He also released a string of well-received lu-saar albums and composed the first-ever nationally broadcast song in Khengpa, his native language, which earned him the name “Kheng” Sonam Dorji.


International audiences know Sonam Dorji through his soundtrack contributions to the acclaimed Bhutanese film, Travellers and Magicians (2004), his 2014 CD release, [Music from the Mountains of Bhutan] on Smithsonian Folkways, and his appearances at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. (2008) and in the pan-Asian ensemble led by Arun Ghosh at the London BT River of Music Festival for the Summer Olympic Games (2012).


As Director of MBRC Mr. Dorji identifies research topics, plans and oversees all projects, and manages field crews and archives staff. He brings to bear not only his deep musical knowledge and skill, but also his firsthand experience of Bhutanese ethnic and regional diversity, his facility in nine languages of the region, his background as intercultural interperter, and his longstanding relationships with key tradition bearers. He has led documenting expeditions to Paro, Thimphu, Dagana, Punakha, Trongsa, Bumthang, Kheng Zhemgang, Mongar, Tashigang and Lhuntse.

Traditional Music Matters in Bhutan: Sonam Dorji at TEDxThimphu

Published by TEDx Talks, Apr 27, 2012: “Sonam Dorji is the Director for the Music of Bhutan Research Center. Sonam is a master musician, vocalist, and composer who plays several instruments native to Bhutan and India.”

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Kheng Sonam Dorji, Director of MBRC

Published by Sonam Chophel, Aug 23, 2014: “…Bhutan is unique, and so are the ways of life that have existed there for generations. Historically, the people of Bhutan have shared a distinctive oral culture, creating remarkable songs and dances to observe their most important rituals, to celebrate and socialize, and to express and transmit core knowledge, experiences and values. Yet with the the recent influx of development, globalization, and technology, Bhutan is on the cusp of dramatic change….”

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Kheng Sonam Dorji, Bhutanese Singer and Lute Player

Published by SmithsonianFolklife, Jun 21, 2011. Catalog No. – CFV10145; Copyright – 2008 Smithsonian Institution.

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