I was in Kathmandu earlier this month to speak at a conference on creativity and entrepreneurship (see my coverage here: http://yourstory.com/2014/01/mobile-startups-nepal/). During the trip, I was delighted to meet up with Sachida Rauniyar, founder of Nepal’s music label SAC Music (www.SACmusicNepal.com). His roster of artistes includes Kutumba, Trikaal, Upendra Lal Singh and Ani Choying Drolma.
Now in his 40s, Upendra Lal Singh is a pioneer in bringing jazz piano sound to Nepali music. “Music is the mother tongue of humanity,” says Upendra on the liner notes of his debut album. He is also a regular feature at Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival, where he showcases Nepali tunes in jazz and rock style. Upendra has played with a range of musicians in Nepal, including Nikhil Tuladhar (drums), Babu Raja Maharjan (tabla) and Raman Maharjan (flute).
I picked up three of his albums for review: Murchchhanaa, A Musical Pilgrimage, and Nostalgia, and also met up with Upendra for an afternoon interview.
(YouTube live track: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEf8L_Hnuow)
Murchchhanaa means spiritual transition or musical movement, and represents new directions in the evolution of Nepali music. Joining Upendra Lal Singh are outstanding musicians Roshan Kansakar (bass), Rabin Das Shrestha (vocals) and Nabin Shrestha (tabla). Roshan has also played with rock band ‘Mukti and Revival.’
Rabin has a master’s degree in Hindustani classical vocals from Benaras Hindu University in India, and also lectures in Nepal. Nabin started learning tabla at the age of nine under Shri Rabin Lal Shrestha. He received a scholarship from the Indian Council for Cultural Relationships for higher studies in Delhi, and now also teaches at Ratna Rajya campus in Nepal.
The album begins with the track Instant Karma in magnificent regal style. Set in raga Jog, it includes an additional overlay of drums. Vocals and instruments blend together seamlessly and set the tone for the album. Rabin’s soaring vocals also stand out in the track No Name.
The rest of the album is largely instrumental. The track Friends is based on raga Hamsa Dhoni and features fine tabla. The folk song Resham Firiri is given a funky rock spin, and the album ends with the beautiful ballad Park.
2. A Musical Pilgrimage
(YouTube samples: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTCTPowO5t0)
This album begins in fine style with the track Himalaya, with soaring notes evoking the spirits of the mighty Himalaya mountains. The sherpa instrument peyong is played by Tshering Gyurmey. Jazz bass adds a new flavour to the Newari folk song Jhan Jaka Maya Kayana
(Your Love Grows On Me), and heavy percussion takes the track Shiva Dance to the crescendo. Based in raga Yaman, it evokes Lord Shiva’s cataclysmic dance tandava.
Wind of Naeba is an instrumental piece inspired by the Japanese hill station Naeba, and the track Jasmine includes Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese melodies. The folk song Resam Firiri features Hari Saran Nepali on sarangi. The Nepali folk melody Saal Ko Paat also gets a jazzy rendition, this time in Latin style, and the album ends in a climax with Rhythm of Nepal, featuring cymbals and local dhime drum.