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Saarc 2014

Music of the times


KATHMANDU, JUL 27 -

It was two decades ago that Nepathya had come together for the first time. Deepak Jung Rana, Bhim Poon and Amrit Gurung, the founding members, had been something of pioneers, plating up a unique blend of folk melodies and youth-friendly pop-rock. Besides achieving what was to become their signature sound, the band was also active in advocating social causes, using their numerous cross-country tours—most notably the Shanti Sangeet Yatra which lasted from 2002 to 2008—to put forth ideas of peace and human rights. Beginning with the self-titled Nepathya in 1991, the band has released nine full-length albums, all of them well-received. Frontman Amrit Gurung, now an art director at nepa~laya, talks to Anup Ojha about his personal and professional experiences.

How would you describe your younger self?

 

I was born to a middle-class family of farmers in western Nepal, Kalabang at Pumdi Bhumdi VDC. There was no one with an interest in music in the family; my father never liked music and it never occurred to me back then that I would become a singer one day. And besides, I was pretty reserved when I was young, I mean, I had a lot of friends and we’d go to musical shows in Pokhara and all, but when it came to actually participating in one, I was very passive.

What led to Nepathya then?

All of us had known each other for a long time. Deepak and I were school friends at Gandaki Boarding School, and we’d come to Kathmandu to study, and some time later Bhim joined us in the city. We would have classes in the morning, and we’d be free the rest of the day, so we’d get together to play, nothing serious. It was only later that we thought it’d be great to take it to the next level. Deepak came up with the name Nepathya, and we became an official “band” in 1990. We even made a contract on paper, which said that we’d never sing English songs.

You’ve done a lot of concerts, how has your experience with live shows changed over time?

Of course, like any other band, we started out singing songs about love and heartbreak. But the more we grew aware of the state of politics within the country, the more we came to realise that music shouldn’t be superficial. The decade-long Maoist insurgency was a particular point of contention for us. It was a repressive time, people dying, schools turning into camps, everything was so uncertain. So the band, with the support of nepa~laya, came up with the idea of letting our concerts speak for us, to use them to speak out against war and violence. I guess, in that respect, our later live shows were a lot more about particular messages that we wanted to give the audiences.

The album Ghatana created a lot of buzz in the industry, particularly the 22-minute song. Can you tell us a bit about that time?

Ghatana was an outcome of the Maina-Pokhari incident of May 2004. I’d gone to the field to talk to people who had seen the blast themselves, and after listening to their accounts, the album sort of naturally took shape, and we decided to try to incorporate elements of Gandharva music to make for a more distinctive sound. The length of the song was commented on a lot, but the reason for it being as long as it was, was that it wouldn’t have had the same impact in terms of fully conveying the story had we cut it down.

You’ve already been to 71 districts so far, what do you love most about travelling?

 

I think travelling is an important way to broaden one’s mind and it’s not necessarily about spending a lot of money like people assume. I’ve made trips where I’ve had practically nothing to spend; I once went to Gosainkunda from Kathmandu with just Rs 300 in my pocket. And artistically, it’s always been very productive because it’s given me a chance to photograph places and people, as well as fuelled my music.

When you visit a place, how do you go about picking up their particular lok bhaka (folk tunes)? 

What generally happens is, I try to meet with the locals and interact with them as far as possible. A good time to do this is during pujas and festivals. And I’ve also discovered that communities where these festivals and melas are common—and have a rich culture—are subsequently rich in terms of their lok bhaka. So I just go around during festivals, talking to people and recording their voices. Personally, I’ve found the Gandaki Zone to have the most interesting and the most diverse folk tunes in all the country.

 

What do you think about the role of music in contemporary society? How fruitful have Nepathya’s tours been, do you think, in this regard?

Music can have incredible impact on the masses; if used sensitively, it can tell stories that haven’t been told and change people’s attitudes. It can be, and has been—as we’ve seen many times in the past—used to promote certain political ideologies or even incite revolution. With Nepathya, we’ve been fortunate in that we’ve always enjoyed great support from people, and that’s made it so much easier to put forth our message of peace. Even in a period of political turmoil where large gatherings were discouraged, thousands would come for our concerts, which was very encouraging.

Any future plans?

We don’t have any concrete ideas at the moment, but we’re planning on a Nepal tour for our new album, Aina Jhyal, after Tihar.

Posted on: 2011-07-27 09:09