Shangri-La does exist, but it's about 2,500 miles east of the Himalayas, in of all places, Taiwan. In the year 2000, accomplished cellist David Darling visited the Bunun people, "a tribe of Taiwanese aborigines...best known for their sophisticated polyphonic vocal music" (Wikipedia). The result was an album so exquisitely beautiful it simply must be heard to be believed.
At the forefront of Mudanin Kata (Journey Home) is the joyful communal singing of the men, women, and children of the Wulu Bunun. Beneath their gorgeous indigenous harmonies, David Darling provides just the right amount of accompaniment, generally remaining delicate and understated, never competitive. Sometimes he plays as little as a single bowed note, or nothing at all; elsewhere he multitracks his playing, creating a chamber orchestra effect that splendidly complements the gladsome voices. He lays down some bluesy pizzicato on "Malas Tapag" (Celebration), and in the call-and-response singing one can actually hear the smiles on the faces of the Bunun.
Then there's "Pasibutbut" (Prayer For A Rich Millet Harvest), a harrowing hymn for 8 male voices which harmonically blend in ways that were unknown to the Western world until 1943, when a Japanese scholar brought a recording of the piece to Paris, causing quite a sensation. According to the album's liner notes, "‘Pasibutbut’, which has been called the ‘sound of nature’, is said to have been created by a member of the Bunun who was inspired by the sound of humming bees, a rushing waterfall or the sounds made when crossing through a pine or bamboo forest".
On "Wulu Dream", "Wulu Mist", and "Wulu Sky", Darling takes some solo time, but half of the effectiveness of these interludes stems from the lush ambience of the thriving jungle they were recorded in, thick with the chatter of local birds and frogs. One really feels transported to another place. While David Darling is guilty of having produced some fairly drab new age music, this album is anything but, and he should be applauded for bringing the Bunun to a wider audience.