In between swirls of nicotine smoke from an almost dragon mouth and gulps of thoughtful whisky, he crouches on the stool, all but apologetic for his long limbs in a country that has a population of small but stocky people. Above the din of inebriated chatter, he places his lips to a fatigued microphone and unleashes his vastness. The razor sharp guitar rises against the pounding bass and a cracking snare, and we are in awe.
His voice is an extension of his disposition, his long coiled body not quite skinny as it is now, his song about change, about mercenary Gorkha warriors glorified by a country hungry for a remittance paid by blood, a country reluctant to turn her face from feudalism. His Nepali rather accented, he rolls the soft words of the dialect, and coils the language into urgent bursts of urban poetry perhaps challenged by traditionalists, but accepted by arbitrators of a changing society.
This was early 2002, at Thamel’s Bamboo Club in Kathmandu. We were living in a country that had barely recovered from the royal massacre. It was a country wracked by the Maoist insurgency. The then King Gyanendra had imposed a state of emergency in November 2001, and the government had cracked down on the rebels in what seemed like a bloody impasse. The air was tense with rumors of gory encounters, whilst the late nights in Thamel stagnated with the rot of human thoughts manifesting in dance bars, where we heard from whispered accounts that naked girls danced wretchedly under bright lights and warm showers.
In all this hopelessness and strained milieu, there was music. There was music in the time of emergency. And, there was Robin Tamang. A Rock Star who spewed wisdom and compassion in his songs, and in the way he generously shared himself to all of us who attended his Bamboo Club gigs. I was a wannabe singer/songwriter then, rather apprehensive about writing my songs in Nepali. I was so ready for Hollywood, waiting for someone to whisk me away to La La land to make me a star. I must admit that I am guilty of overextending the imagination of a future me.
But, here was Robin—a tall, dark, and imposing man, a rock star to boot—who said that he had heard me singing,
He tells me, "Are you going to keep on singing cover numbers from a country that doesn't even know who you are? Start writing songs and singing in your language to inspire the many young girls out there who are in need of someone like you."
I laughed nervously then, even as the idea dropped like a fertile seed into me. He smiled and walked off to perform with his breathtaking band on that terrace where many an aspiring musician came to watch Robin and Looza play. On a taut and cold January night, between sips of hot rum punch and rocking wisdom, the music played on, even as we sensed the inevitable shifting of the plates between what had been and what has now come to pass.