As Black History Month comes to an end on 28 February, we look at how Nepal has embraced their music with pride and aplomb, and added its own little twist to it all.
It’s quite possible that music originating from Black culture has impacted the world like no other. Their tears, their sorrow, their happiness, their strife, all expressed through chords and vocals have found listeners across the globe. Detractors may argue about the whole concept of dedicating just one month to Black culture but here we raise a glass to it almost every night at some pub in town.
So Is The Sky:
“Blues is not just responsive, it comes from feelings rather than notes,” says Gaurav Joshi, bassist of Spirit X. Prajwol Kansakar, drummer of Newaz, echoes the sentiment. “It is a music that is free and unrestricted, like a blank canvas.”
Blues originated in the plantations in the Deep South of the United States. Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson, among others, can be considered early pioneers, but it was the likes of Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Son House, B.B King, and T-Bone Walker who took the music to a new level. While the blues may often be about suffering, the music is about overcoming hard times and ridding yourself of frustration. Its soul lies not on a music sheet but in the affliction of mortals.
Mukti Shakya of Mukti n’ Revival, one of the pioneering bluesmen of the country, admits that he “used to play Stevie Ray Vaughn when people had no idea who he was.” Although blues has been around for only a couple of decades in the country, the influence of this music has been such that pubs around the valley still ring with the sounds of Cocaine and Red House while the Himalayan Blues Festival has been a constant fixture on musical calendars for half a decade now. Consequently, Black History Month is being celebrated at House Of Music, Thamel all month long and the big finale comes tonight (28 February) with Rusty Nails, Spirit X and Mukti & Friends bringing the house down.
Wails from the Caribbean:
One of the most popular genres of music to have originated from Black culture is reggae, which developed from ska and rocksteady in the 1960s. Its greatest superstar is, without a doubt, Bob Marley. Now while other forms of music have impacted society in various ways, no music or global artist can vehemently say “We brought peace to a country.” When Jamaica was plagued by internal conflict, Marley did the unthinkable by bringing the leaders of both opposition parties on stage at the One Love Peace Concert, making them shake hands.
Until Joint Family Internationale (JFI) came along a few years ago, no one had taken the opportunity to fuse reggae’s skanking rhythms with Nepali lyrics, at least not in a major way. “Reggae is fun music,” says Sanjay Shrestha, guitarist of JFI. “I’ve always enjoyed it but it was only after a visit to Australia, and seeing how popular it was there, that I wanted to follow this passion of mine.” An album later, JFI, and other upcoming reggae bands, have been releasing stellar music and playing around town and abroad. Rasta is alive and kicking, get on board.
Don’t Fear Jazz
“In Rock you play 3 chords and have 1000 people listening, but in Jazz you play 1000 chords and have 3 people listening!” said Frank Zappa once. It’s quite possible that truer words have never spoken about the two genres. Now, no one is putting down rock but jazz is a different beast altogether. Like the blues, jazz originated among the African-American community in the southern United States. But while icons like Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong are known the world over, the music has always hovered under the radar.
Juan Ortiz, a visiting musician/teacher at Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory is pretty clear about the state of jazz in Europe. “It is difficult everywhere, it always has been. Jazz is more of a musician’s music since it involves a lot of theory. But it is what makes me and others like me happy,” states the Spaniard.
Kathmandu has taken quite kindly to jazz. Bands like Cadenza and artists like Hari Maharjan have built their careers playing different variations of the music. But, despite festivals like Jazzmandu and the upcoming Gypsy Jazz Festival, jazz in Nepal has barely scratched the surface. As Hari Maharjan points out, “There is so much more to discover with this music.”