The Himalayan nation of Nepal is home to over fifty ethnic groups, and this diversity is reflected in the country’s rich musical output. Some of Nepal’s most popular genres today include folk, classical music, Ratna, pop, rock and Nep-hop (Nepali hip-hop); indigenous musical genres span Newar, Gurung, Kirat, Tamang, Magar, Tharu, Sherpa music and many more. In recent years, Nepal’s musical heritage has enjoyed a revival as young musicians fuse the sounds of traditional instruments, which include a leaf from a native tree that is played like a harmonica, once at risk of disappearing, with lyrics that explore the contemporary challenges facing the country. Examining Nepal’s varied sonic output, Something Curated takes a closer look at five Nepali musicians currently shaping the country’s unique sound.
When Jerusha Rai first began writing music in 2011, Nepal’s independent music scene was a very different place. “For many, underground music just meant music in the metal genre, where only boys could usually go to,” she tells Online Khabar. “The scenario is changing gradually.” Rai produces ambient rock and electronic music with a nod to traditional Nepali folk. Her journey into the less-explored genre of indigenous music reflects the changes that the industry is embracing. She notes, “I like folk music from not only Nepal but also from elsewhere. I find them organic. Belonging to an indigenous community myself, I feel the importance of exploring indigenous music.” Born and raised in Kathmandu, Rai lived in London for a few years, and is currently based in Austin, Texas.
A major and relatively recent success story of the Nep-hop scene, artist Samir Ghising is best known by his stage name VTEN. The Nepalese rapper, lyricist and music composer was born in Rautahat and moved to Kathmandu with his uncle to commence work painting Thanka, a traditional style of Tibetan painting made on cotton. While studying in school and working as a painter, Ghising discovered his love for rap music, listening to Eminem. He spent all his free time writing raps with friends and shared his work online, until he caught the attention of Nepalese rapper and television personality Girish Khatiwada, who shone a light on Ghising’s talent via his popular YouTube channel. From there VTEN’s career was catapulted, and he is today praised for his ability to frankly convey the plight of the young people of Nepal in his work.
Night are a contemporary folk band, utilising traditional Nepali instruments to create new sounds. The group aim to reintroduce the instruments of Nepal to the modern generation, visiting various parts of the country to learn folk tunes and playing techniques. Some of the Nepali musical instruments used by the band include the Sarangi, Piwnacha, Nagara, Dhimay, Paluwa (the aforementioned leaf), Tungna and Flute. Night released its first album, Ani Ukali Sangai Orali in 2014 to much praise, and more recently, its third album, Ramite-The Music Volume 1, last year. They collaborated with legendary Indian composer A.R. Rahman on the occasion of International Peace Day to produce a musical tribute; their heartfelt music echoes the lives of the economically marginalised sections of society.
Ankit Shrestha picked up his first musical instrument at the age of ten – the guitar. His original mentor was editing software Guitar Pro. Today, a celebrated figure in the underground Kathmandu metal scene, the artist expands on his career: “I’ve always liked the idea of records: storing memory of a particular time. 5/6 years back, we put out an EP (with Plan Aftermath) while I was back home. We were just starting the band but we wanted to record whatever we had, so that we could have it on record forever. As a solo artist, things changed for me, it had to be more practical than romantic. I needed to record an EP primarily so that people would remember me even after watching me busk/perform for a few minutes. There’s the romantic idea of being a musician and there’s the practical part of being one. Got to stay true but also got to keep it alive.”
Sajjan Raj Vaidya
Kathmandu-born singer, songwriter, composer and producer, Sajjan Raj Vaidya released his debut single, Aaja Matra, in 2014 and rose to prominence shortly after. One of his most widely known singles, Hataarindai, Bataasindai, features a romance between two men in the video. “When I wrote Hataarindai, Bataasindai, it was independent of the video concept. We decided that the under representation of the LGBTQ community in Nepal was an important issue that needed to be addressed and that is how the video came about,” he tells. The 2019 single has been adopted by the LGBTIQ community of Nepal as an anthem, and was the soundtrack of the first pride parade of Nepal that took place in July 2019.
Feature image: Still from Jerusha Rai’s Sunsaan I. © Jerusha Rai.