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- Bhim Tuladhar and his band The Influence could be said to be the first popular Nepali pop musicians, in the sense that they produced and performed songs in Nepali as early as 1983. Much of their early output was Nepali-styled reworkings of familiar Beatles hits. As Bhim described it, the Influence derived its name from the band’s embrace of Western pop music in Nepali-language songs (Tuladhar). Bhim’s singing style, and the instruments his band used were based on Western pop, but they also tried to integrate a few elements—or at least the “feeling”—of Nepali folk and modern melodies into Western-styled melodies based on the Beatles and Pink Floyd. Before them, some Nepali musicians covered Western music in English, but no one played Western-style music in Nepali. The Influence became a symbol of a new, inescapable Western influence which many Nepalis, especially young people, were increasingly experiencing every day. Around the same time, a few other musicians and bands were also beginning to produce Western-influenced songs in Nepali, notably Crossroads, Sparsha (featuring Yubakar Raj Rajkarnikar), Indu Syangbo (“Jaagen Sara Raat”), and The Elegance (“Meri Meri Mayalou”).
The first album which was not only in Nepali but that also featured original
and distinctively Nepali music was Sunsaan Raatma, by a group called
the Classical Guitar Society, released by Music Nepal in 1985. Lead singer
Sunil Parajuli, together with guitar virtuoso Kishor Gurung (son of Amber Gurung,
former head of Music at the Royal Nepal Academy), composed the songs. The album
was a collection of philosophical songs, showcasing Kishor’s guitar solos.
[Listen to an excerpt from the song “Kahile
After making the album, Sunil pursued his music career at the Berklee College
He later returned to Nepal to produce another album, called Aau, with
Kishor (“Sunil Parajuli”). Following Sunsaan Raatma, The
Influence returned to the spotlight. They produced several new albums over
the next few years, from Sapanima in 1985, to Jaa, Again, Jijibisha,
and finally Sphattik in 1994, when the group disbanded. In the 1990s
they, and Nepali pop in general, began to make appreciable sales: a successful
album sold up to five thousand units.
Figure 1: The Sunsaan
- Starting in 1992, singer Sanjay Shrestha found great success with a new, distinctive musical fusion by bringing a sentimental singing style into Nepali pop music (Shrestha). Shrestha formed a pop band called Crossroads with fellow students, playing a combination of Western and Nepali instruments. Their first album, Crossroads, concerned the condition of Nepali young people in the 1990s. In the 1990s, young Nepalis could come together and enjoy close friendships for a time in school, but then often found they must go in separate ways after graduation. The band members actually lived out this condition: following completion of the album, the other members of Crossroads left Nepal for study abroad. Sanjay persevered alone, and found great success with Crossroads II, III, and IV, which he produced without the help of his original fellow band members. A note on the sleeve of Crossroads IV reads, “I regret the absence of my group members Sarad, Binayak, Bhusan & Nimbu.” Part of Sanjay’s success was not only due to his singing style, but also his ability to touch on real-life issues many young listeners experienced in the 1990s as a result of heightened mobility.
- Starting in 1993, a band called Nepathya began to rise in popularity, and
ushered in lok pop, “folk pop,” which came to dominate
Nepali pop by 2000. Nepathya was formed in 1990, while its original members
were in college, and they initially covered Beatles, Credence Clearwater
Revival, Eagles, and Pink Floyd songs in English. Gradually band members
began writing their own music in Nepali. Nepali listeners heard in Nepathya’s
music a “tastier flavor, for their compositions are a fusion of Western
music and our folk music” (“Nepathya”). Perhaps this audible
folk music “flavor” was partly due to the band’s roots
in Pokhara, a city that has kept some distance from the fast-paced, Westernizing,
modernizing trends of Kathmandu. Nepathya was the first nationally popular
band that was not based in the Kathmandu Valley. Although lok pop retained
few entire melodies from traditional folksongs, they generally constructed
a sense of the Nepali folk through scalar forms and melodic figures from
folk music, words from Nepal’s ethnic languages borrowed into the Nepali-language
song texts, and narratives based on themes from village life. Song texts
typically concerned journeys through the mountains, memories of mountains
and rural culture, village festivals, love for a village girl, and village
families (for more on lok pop, see Greene, “Nepal’s Lok
Pop”). Nepathya came to be known as the “Village Pop Singers.” Initial
sales of their first album, Nepathya, were sluggish, but with increasing
promotion and the production of subsequent albums (such as Himal Chu-Churae from
1995, which included the song “Nakkali
sales picked up and Nepathya became the first Nepali pop band to sell 100,000
wake of Nepathya’s success are a wave of Pokhara-based lok pop bands,
including the folk/pop/reggae Peace Hankey Band, Kandara, Madhyana, Deurali,
Nizzer, Pokhareli, Bro-Sis, Manoj Shrestha, and Vagabond, as well as others,
such as Mongolian Hearts, who are not Pokhara based.
- Although the best selling and most popular Nepali pop music of 2000 was lok pop, other musical styles also reverberated. One of these was heavy metal. Western heavy metal and hard rock have been popular in Kathmandu since the early 1980s. Metallica, AC/DC, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and Guns ‘N’ Roses sold well. In the late 1980s, a number of bands covered Western heavy metal songs in English, notably Wrathchild. In 1998, Yubakar, then editor of Wave, began to witness an emerging heavy metal subculture in the Kathmandu Valley. He found that a growing number of young people were writing in to the magazine office, asking for specific biographical and musical information on Western heavy metal musicians. A Nepali heavy metal subculture solidified in the early 2000s; this subculture is not examined here because it is beyond the historical scope of this article.6
- Early bands to combine heavy metal with Nepali musical elements and Nepali words included Heartbreaker and Cobweb. In 1993, musicians from several bands came together to form Cobweb, and released their first album, Anjaan (Cobweb). Inspired by Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, and UFO, they incorporated the hallmark heavy metal sounds of distorted, overdriven electric guitars—both as a rhythm instrument and as a fast-moving solo instrument—into Nepali pop, forming a musical fusion that, in some ways, remained more Nepali than Western heavy metal in style.To be sure, they incorporated the loudness, the dynamic stage antics, and the virtuosity of 1980s Western heavy metal. But, as can be heard in, for example, “Yo Mutu” from the album Cobweb, they did not always adopt Western heavy metal singing styles. They often retained the sweet, polished vocal style common in almost all Nepali vocal genres. Moreover, although the musicians proved themselves quite adept and talented performers, their recordings rarely included Western classical arpeggiation, an important feature of Western heavy metal (Walser).
- Other Nepali pop musicians also incorporated the distorted electric guitar into their music (such as Deepak Bajracharya in “Behoshima”). In 1997, a band called Stash emerged with the stated intent to “prove … that it is possible to record an album with Nepali heavy metal songs” with the “shrieking, hard-hitting styles” of Anthrax, Iron Maiden, and Metallica (“Stash”). Their songs found some popularity but did not chart in Wave magazine’s monthly Top Ten. As the Pokhara scene expanded in the wake of Nepathya, other bands also emerged with influences from Western heavy metal, including Mile Stone, and metal/grunge/punk band Grease. In 1996, in Omaha, Nebraska, a heavy metal band called Dristhy formed, comprised of Iman. B. Shah, Manohar Gyawali, and Noor. B. Shah, three Nepali musicians who were living in the United States (“Dristhy”). The stated goal of their forthcoming album was to present excerpts from the Bhagavad Gita, combining Sanskrit slokas concerning war with heavy metal music. Unlike Cobweb, Dristhy began to offer a vocal part that was distorted, even difficult to understand—an influence from thrash metal. This led to the emergence of a Kathmandu-based thrash metal scene in the 2000s.
- In Nepali pop one could also hear some especially strong reverberations of other Western musics. The popular band 1974 AD, formed in 1993, took its name from the era of Western pop that particularly inspired its music. The Matrix featured a Western, heavy rock sound in their 1994 album Matrix in Swapna. Also reverberating in Nepali pop were the very Western sounds of blues guitar, from the popular band Robin ‘n’ Looza. Their 1999 album Nepal combined Western and Nepali elements, and included four songs in English and four in Nepali. Vocalist Robin, a Nepali, grew up in Canada, and his band was said to have a very Western, “Thamel sound.”7 In Thamel, cultural and musical exchanges took place in both directions, as foreign tourists and Nepalis continuously heard Indian, Nepali, and Western musics resounding from countless places at once, layering and mixing in the many streets, restaurants, and hotels.
- In the late 1990s, “remixes” of older pop songs began to rise in popularity. Remixes often featured new singers before hip, high-tech musical backdrops. A remix set a familiar song to a shifting accompanimental montage of musical styles—usually Western styles—often with a prominent, danceable beat. The accompaniment of a typical remix shifted between a disco beat, rap, a heavy metal-styled guitar solo, reggae, and Nepali folk music.The technology to record at least eight tracks of sound was key to making remix production feasible and practical. Starting in 1993 there was an explosion of multi-track technology in the Kathmandu Valley, facilitated in part by the 1992 global release of the Alesis ADAT. Many remixes were longer, faster in tempo, and were designed for pop dance culture, which was on the rise in the mid to late 1990s. Pop dance, whether based on Western pop, Nepali pop, or film songs, was known collectively as “disco,” in distinction from folk dance traditions such as rodi. Young people danced at parties, picnics, and Kathmandu’s new discotheques. Proponents said remixes kept traditional musics alive while updating them to a more contemporary sound. Critics said remixes detracted from the celebrated original songs, and the whirlwind of sonic montage brought an element of chaos and disorganization to Nepali soundscapes. (For more on remixes, see Greene, “Mixed Messages”).
The practice of reworking earlier famous songs for a contemporary market was
not new. At Music Nepal’s sound studios, famous lok geet singer
Kumar Basnet had been reworking folk tunes from all over Nepal for popular
consumption for decades, frequently incorporating elements of Western rock
and pop. Indian remixes, chiefly of Indian film songs, began to enter the Nepali
music market around 1995. In 1998 the first Nepali album of remixes, Mega
Mix, was compiled by Brazesh Khanal and produced by New Media (which then
became Unlimited NuMedia Pvt. Ltd.), featuring the voices of Kumar Basnet,
Brazesh Khanal, and others (listen to the opening and
a folksong excerpt
from their “Deusee rey extended mix”). This was
by several other remix albums, including Master
Film Hits Vols. 1 and 2 (remixes
of Nepali film songs); His Song, My Voice; 31 Non Stop
and Mega Mix 2. Most remix albums were created by record companies,
although a few pop groups, like the Rock Yogis, 1974 AD, and Robin ‘n’ Looza
also made them.
Figure 2: Cover art for New
Media's Mega Mix remix album (1998)
- The band Mongolian Hearts typified the threefold concerns common among
pop listeners around 2000 in several respects: embracing Western cultural
influences, encountering Nepal’s many cultures, and holding on to Nepalipan, “Nepaliness.” The
opening track of their 1998 album Mongolian Heart, “Unbho
with Tibetan Buddhist devotional sounds. The song is about passage from Nepal
to Tibet, in which a Nepali boy meets a Sherpa girl. The song also incorporates
Sherpa words, and melodies are reminiscent of Nepali folk tunes.
young Tibetan listeners in Kathmandu said that the incorporation of Tibetan
and Sherpa words and instruments in the song helped to make them “feel
included” in the Nepali pop scene. Following this opening is bluesy guitar
and a pop musical texture. The song also alludes to the remix trend in its
shifts from one musical texture to another: shifts which bring to mind the
dynamic, high tech, multicultural world in which young people found themselves
in 2000. In different ways, the music of Robin ‘n’ Looza, the
Rock Yogis, Jems Pradhan, and the Namaste Band also reflected the concerns
people. At the same time, a very popular, Western-pop-based middle-of-the-road
sound was emerging from musicians including Nabin K. Bhattarai, Babin Pradhan,
Sanjeep Pradhan, and Nima Rumba: a sound that avoided the expressive extremes
of both Western pop and lok pop.
Figure 3: Mongolian Heart CD,
by Mongolian Hearts (1998)
For more on post-2000 developments in Nepali heavy metal, see Greene, “Electronic and Affective Overdrive.”
Thamel was from 1985 to 2000 the leading tourist district of Kathmandu, where Western shoppers met Nepali merchants.
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