Thunder in the Temple

Refugee rockers JJI Exile Brothers give Tibetan youth a new attitude

Ben Bleiman

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MIX POLITICAL DISCONTENT with generational unrest, and rock and roll is sure to follow—whether it’s Woodstock, New York, circa 1969, or Dharmsala, India, right about now. In Tibetan refugee communities across northern India, the sounds of traditional Himalayan life are mixing with the wailing guitars of the JJI Exile Brothers, three siblings whose incendiary rock provides the soundtrack for a new, less equanimous dissident movement among Tibetan young people.

Like a quarter of the country’s 100,000 stateless Tibetans, the brothers—bassist/frontman Jamyang, 28, guitarist Jigme, 26, and drummer Ingsel, 25—were born in India and retain their parents’ refugee status. Their music, a mix of Doorsy grooves and Rage Against the Machine–like lyrics, reflects the listlessness and un-Buddhist anger of this lost generation—raised among drugs and AIDS in Dharmsala. “Monks are with the gun/Eagle in the black cloud/Rats are on the run,” Jamyang screams in “Thunder in the Temple.”

“Our band is a revolution,” says Jigme. “Before, Tibetan songs were too poetic. No one understood them. But everyone understands our music.” Last year, JJI launched an India-wide tour to promote their self-titled debut, selling out shows and headlining the Dalai Lama’s 70th birthday celebration. In May they’ll hit the road in India again to promote their second album. Though their stateless status—no passports—pretty much ensures you won’t see them at Bonnaroo, free downloads of their music are available online. To hear them, visit