The Tibetan Shapale Goes Viral!

April 28, 2011 *IMPORTANT UPDATE*

Sorry to have somehow missed this before but a friend who follows China blogs closely just told me that the PRC State Council Information Office BANNED the Shapale Video on April 2, 2011, according to China Digital Times! Here is what CDT wrote below:

I wish I’d known this yesterday when I was writing my post but anyway, it’s good to have noted! It doesn’t really explain how come the Shapale video is still easily accessible on the Chinese language video hosting sites but who really understands Chinese internet!?

OK I have left the original posting from yesterday unchanged below.


The Tibetan Shapale Goes Viral!

It’s been incredible following the journey of a YouTube video made by young Tibetans in Switzerland spreading like wildfire through the interwebs. I might be going out on a limb but I’d go as far as to call the “Shapale Song” the first truly viral Tibetan video!

I remember seeing it come out of nowhere, it was literally all over my Facebook from one moment to the next back in March, Tibetans everywhere posting it all over each other’s walls with smileys and <3s and expressions of enthusiasm. For those of you who haven’t seen the video, here it is on YouTube, at the last count it had racked up over 29,542 views!

I don’t know how to measure what a huge sum almost getting 30,000 views in a month is… I tried to look on YouTube for an equivalent but couldn’t really come up with anything. So just to compare really roughly, a song that I think is pretty popular and well known amongst Tibetans in exile is Chag Sum Tsel by Phurbu T Namgyal, arguably the most popular singer around (very generally!). His Chag Sum Tsel video on the super popular YouTube channel kept by Jigdo has had 28,563 views – but it has been online 4 years to amass that figure!

Back to the song… along with momo, shapale is THE favourite food of Tibetans, particularly kids love it as it’s oily and yummy. When grown-ups hit naughty kids on the bum, that’s also called giving a shapale, so this song is super fun and funny for Tibetans (yes, it’s Tibetan humour!). Amongst the wordplay, fun visuals and fun lyrics in the Shapale Song, there is an underlying important message in the rap: “Even if you live in the west / Don’t forget that Tibet is where you come from / speak Tibetan and write Tibetan / Be proud to be Tibetan.”

The whole rap is delivered in impeccable Lhasa Tibetan complete with honourifics! The overall message of the rap picks up on the pride in Tibetanness that upsurged last year in all sorts of ways, we wrote about it on High Peaks Pure Earth but I feel that the Shapale Rap has most in common with the pride and confidence displayed by Yudrug in their rap video New Generation.

The interesting thing for me was to then see the Shapale Rap suddenly appear on Chinese language video-hosting sites (YouTube is banned in China), shared amongst Tibetan netizens within PRC, the Shapale video had found its way to sites such as Tudou, and also the MicroBlog site by Sina called Weibo. On Tudou, at last count the video was at 35,333 views. In Chinese the song has an extra Chinese title 肉饼 (roubing, literally meat bread, like in Tibetan!). The screenshot below shows a Baidu search for the video and all the video-hosting sites it’s on:

The comments on the Chinese language sites have been very enthusiastic, praising the video for its originality and fun side! The small update on Weibo below encourages Tibetan rap and wonders about the ethnicity of the singer, speculating he is half-Tibetan!

Tibetan language blogs have also picked up the video! On March 27, 2011, the Tudou video was embedded into a blog in Tibet for a Tibetan reading audience:

It’s been just over a month now that the video has been online and it’s already a classic. I really can’t think of any other video that has done that. The shapale theme also fits in well with the idea of Tibetan identity assertion taking place through food at the moment that we wrote also wrote about on High Peaks Pure Earth but maybe now I’m reading too much into it. I’m just happy to see a smart, clever and funny video made by young Tibetans strike a chord with Tibetans all over the world!

31 thoughts on “The Tibetan Shapale Goes Viral!

  1. I have been noticing our Tibetan youth progressing in the social media section from the Mind of a Monk (MOAMENT CREW), California boys music videos of Tibetan music and dooba dooba Tibetan style, UK Pema & Tashi, and several other consistent youtubers. Now this, part of the youtube Tibetan video series. I was blown when I saw this, not just because of the catchy hip hop beat but by the lyrics that is so much conditionally deep within us from early childhood of our parents and foster parents from the boarding school days receiving shapale for being naughty. The message is very positive and uplifting, also very relevant to Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet to never forget our culture and our core values. Otherwise be dealt with “shapale”.

  2. Thanks for this comment, I also love how positive and uplifting the message is! I remember organising a cultural event in Berlin several years ago where we had Pema & Tsedor from Switzerland performing a great RnB type Tibetan song, wish I could find that again online… will try. Anyway, with Yudrug’s Merab Sarpa, MOAMENT and now the Shapale crew, let’s hope for great things in the future from Tibetan hip-hop!

  3. Phayul Drenlu ( by Tenzin Kunsel, uploaded by Vajradog on YouTube, as of right now, April 27, 2011 has 254,124 views. It’s been up for three years though. Just thought I’d share this with you. I totally agree about ‘Shapale’ going viral though – and enjoying the music video very much. Kudos to the young Tibetan artist from Switzerland.

  4. Thanks for your comments! It could well be that in 3 or 4 years time, this video will be the most viewed Tibetan video ever 🙂 Actually I think I didn’t really do a good comparison, what I meant by going viral is that Shapale came out of nowhere, Phurbu Namgyal and Tenzin Kunsel are well-established artists but Shapale became huge in a very short space of time solely through its own merit and word of mouth – that’s what makes it so exciting! Tibetan Justin Bieber ?!?! (Joke!!!)

  5. Great article! I love your detailed analysis and smart commentary. And the search grid you did, too, really adds dimension to the story. You’re the Shabale scholar! : ) Very enjoyable. Thanks! Tibetan youth are moving the culture into the future in really smart and creative ways that are a joy to see.

  6. hi,
    well when i frst heard the song i felt awesome struck on the way the music and video is made of..the lyrics and the gestures with shaphalep maala…But neva eva i amagined this song will create that much fuss in tibet…
    hats off to all the young guns evry corner of world and wish to see many more of this kind of videos in future

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  9. This video is so great, I can’t stop watching it!

    Would anyone have time to type out the Tibetan lyrics? There are a few I can’t figure out…. I’m sure a lot of other people would like to see them too!

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  14. This is a great song/video. I posted it on my Facebook page. Even my non-Tibetan friends liked it. We should promote it as wide as possible.

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