Nepathya, which recently performed at The South Asian Bands Festival in the Capital, has been fusing Nepali folk with Blues and Rock
It was 1990 when three young college boys who came to study at Nepal's Capital Kathmandu from the picturesque lake town of Pokhara, and fed on a diet of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Kitaro and Pandit Ravi Shankar, decided to form a band. Churning Nepali folk music, Blues, Pop and Rock in one pot, they grew in popularity. By 1996, they managed to release three albums.
The band is Nepathya. Since its formation, members have left, and new ones come in. Almost two decades and nine albums later, the only one to have stayed on out of the founders is Amrit Gurung, its lead vocalist.
Nepathya is popular, both within Nepal and outside; one just had to see the enthusiastic crowd response when the band — now a six-member unit, was in the Capital to perform at The South Asian Bands Festival. The line-up comprises Niraj on guitar, Subin on bass guitar, Dhruba on drums, Suraj on keyboards and Shanti on percussion. Nepathya has performed here three years ago too.
The songs they performed this time ranged from one on the few unforgettable people among the multitude that are pushed out of memory, to another one that somehow mixes sunshine, blue skies, love and tobacco. “I know the lyrics sound silly, but it's nice,” Gurung smiles, when we meet him backstage after the show. The last song performed was on their national flag. “We've suffered for 10 to 15 years. People become sentimental when we sing it,” he says.
“Nepal is a very diverse country. A different people live in the mountains. In the hills there are many tribes, different types of music. The Terai region is (the plains) very much influenced by Indian culture and music,” says the soft-spoken and bespectacled Gurung. The rock star leather jacket he flung away on stage is still out of sight. The contrast between the stage and off-stage persona is almost MPD-ish.
Gurung explains how the music the band plays has changed from a Blues-oriented sound in the early days to a more musical one now. Also, musicality is a quality he dissociates from the crowd-pleasing numbers, something which becomes all the more obvious when he says, “Today we played very similar songs. We didn't have the time to play our beautiful numbers; we performed all our hit numbers.” He adds, “Melody and lyrics are typical Nepali, and music is a fusion of Nepali and European because we are playing European instruments.”
In a country long torn between monarchy, polity and Maoism, Nepathya, perhaps consciously, has steered clear of subjects of strife. “We don't sing about politics but we composed one song about the conflict,” Gurung informs.The exception was the song “Ghatana”, which was based on a real life incident. Recalls Gurung, “Some students, after answering their exams, were coming home by bus. In the same bus, there were 10 to 14 army men. All of a sudden, Maoists blocked the highway on which the bus was passing. There was a firing between the Maoists and the army men, and 14 people died. A small girl, only 20 days old, lost her father.” The song was 22 minutes long. “It's not really a song; it's a story,” Gurung says. Nepathya had performed the song the last time they visited Delhi.
It's been four months since Nepathya released their ninth album. After performing in Seoul, Pakhyoung in Sikkim, Kathmandu and New Delhi, it is vacation time for the band, which will next perform in Nepal in March.
Among performances, one memory will never fade. It was during the conflict years in Nepal, in 2005, when the band was scheduled to perform in the remote far-west Dang valley of Nepal. Emergency was declared and people were forbidden to congregate in large numbers. “About 70,000 people turned up,” Gurung says, smiling.