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Resham firiri on a high – the rise of Nepali music

Any reason is good reason to make merry

Music has an undeniable role in the life of every Nepali. It throbs in every vein, beats in every heart. Till recent music was confined to soul-less belting out of tried and tested western numbers. And to raunchy renditions from the neighbouring Indian film industry. Not anymore. Here, there is a song for every occasion. Music is associated with all events in life – birth, death, marriage, festivals and feasts. Even office promotions are celebrated by the middleclass with much aplomb. Probably taking cue from this, foreigners in Nepal too shake a leg to a successful ascension or a miraculous escape. Going by the popularity it enjoys, Nepal music can be classified into four main categories – rock, pop, folk and classical. While pop and rock are usually inspired by its western counterparts, there is an earnest effort to revive fading music genres and preserve forgotten instruments.

Different castes, different festivals, different music

The music museum of Nepal is a noble step in that direction. This was established by Ram Prasad Kadel in 1995 as a tribute to his guru. “Here in this museum, we have over 400 instruments,” he tells me as we sip scalding tea from a disposable cup sitting on the stone steps of the museum building. Conservation as most of us know is not an easy task. One has to visit the most obscure places searching for forgotten instruments. This requires an extensive knowledge of the geography, culture and history of the places. In a society with a complicated caste structure this can be a tall order – with different instruments for different occasions even for the same caste. In a nation with over 60 ethnicities, the museum has an unenviable task.

“With more than 115 ethnic groups, it is very difficult to collect instruments from every nook and corner of the country,” he says of the practical difficulties. Now, the biggest daunt for Ram Prasad is updating his conservation techniques for which he needs more money. “I have been requesting the government for funds the last 16 years…or since I started the museum. Till now friends have been helping me out but now we have grown too big for a group of individuals to help.” Callous governments, the story is same everywhere. There is always something more urgent, of course.

The revivalists - Kutumba band

Preservation takes wings when practised. After looking and asking around on who would be the right guys – the revivalists, those responsible for a new surge of the indigenous, the torch-bearers of heritage, the proud notes of a new Nepal – I zeroed in on the Kutumba band. The band defines themselves as a ‘folk instrumental ensemble’. Their self-professed aim is to bring together traditional and oft-forgotten tunes and musical instruments with new, experimental sounds and tracks that appeal to a wider audience. Hailing from different family backgrounds, bringing with them diverse tastes and talents there is one thing that binds them – the love for music in general and Nepali music in particular. Arun Manandhar, Kiran Nepali, Rubin Kumar Shrestha, Siddharthan Maharjan and Pavit Maharjan started the band which is a household name today. They travel the length and breadth of the country giving shows which play to packed audiences. Everybody loves them as their music has the vibrancy of Nepali culture, the dynamism of the heritage and brims with new hopes that rise from whiffs of melancholy.

Life is definitely brighter - Ani Drolma

From tracking the revival of the forgotten music of Nepal, I moved to rejuvenating the rich traditions with richer influences. And reached the house of Ani Choying Drolma. Ani Choying Drolma. The accidental nun. The celebrated chanter. The singer with a cause. Born in 1971 to Tibetans in exile in Nepal, Ani Choying decided to become a nun to escape a physically abusive father. She was accepted to a nunnery at the tender age of 13 and soon began her training under the resident chant master. The head lama, the Rinpoche, recognised her talent and started to train her personally in the sacred chants of Buddhism. Having brought out 10 albums so far, the monies she gets from the sales help her support the dozen and more causes close to her heart. The flagship project of her foundation is The Arya Tara School, a free boarding school for nuns, where modern education goes hand in hand with traditional Buddhist studies. Along with the fruition of her dreams to uplift the Tibetan girl child from the biased clutches of society, Ani Drolma also brought a fresh nativity and an uplifting spirituality to local music.

“Singing songs doesn’t have to be necessarily about sadness as there are brighter aspects to life,” she told me. As testimony to her belief, Ani Drolma’s eyes twinkle all the time.

Music motifs are everywhere

The origins of the rich music tradition of Nepal can be traced back to the times of the powerful kings of the country who were all patrons of music and art. The Mallas were particularly fond of performing arts which were accompanied by music. The Newari brand of music is believed to have flourished during this era. Along with Newari, there are others too which enjoyed a flourishing patronage by the lords of the land. Gurung, Kirant, Deuda and Tamang are the important ones among them. The Dohori, meaning folksong in Nepali, is also seeing a slow revival in recent years.

Along with worthy efforts at preservation of a rich musical heritage, there are also defining influences which can only complement the ever-growing tradition that is Nepali music. The music of the hippy days, the 60s, was copycat rock and roll aped from the west. Later on Indian film music wielded the baton with cabaret and disco. Several trials and errors later, there is more or less a unanimity that the future of Nepal lies within Nepal. Precisely the reason why bands like Kutumba are very much in demand today.

One Comment »

  • Satheesh Kumar said:

    Cant tell you what precisely, but something is missing in the column.
    Please find it out and add it. I miss your flow.

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