This July, Upendra and Friends will be celebrating their eighth performance at Japan’s annual Fuji Rock Festival, a three-day extravaganza, alongside Coldplay, Radiohead, and Oasis. But who are they?
Upendra and Friends, a “super group,” formed in 2007, is more into achievement than success. For them, achievement means representing Nepal in the international arena, and the band has been doing just that by performing at Japan’s annual Fuji Rock Festival consecutively for the past seven years.
Upendra Lal Singh is the leader of the band. He is a veteran pianist and a music teacher. To hone his skills as a professional musician, he studied piano at Supagarn School of Music in Thailand. Later, he returned to Nepal and has since then been recognized as a perfectionist on the keys, and also as the front man of the only band from South Asia to perform at the Fuji Rock Festival till now. Currently, he teaches piano at Nepal Sangeet Vidyalaya in Pingalasthan and sketches out plans for upcoming shows with his manager, Rajiv Ratna Shakya. So far, he has released two albums with the band (Murchanga and A Musical Pilgrimage) and a solo album called Nostalgia.
Playing with Upendra is Raman Maharjan, a senior flutist, widely known for his flawless performances with his band Rudra and as a member of Ani Choying Drolma’s backup group. Providing the beats for Upendra and Friends is drummer Nikhil Tuladhar, who also happens to be a music teacher at Nepal Sangeet Vidyalaya and a former member of Nepathya and Trikaal. Accompanying Nikhil on the rhythm section is bassist Roshan Kansakar, who also plays in Mukti & Revival and Newaz.
On tabala is Babu Raja Maharjan. Babu Raja, like Raman, is also a member of Rudra. He is a veteran of many tours as well as a recipient of several music awards for his outstanding performances on the percussive instrument.
When a representative of Smash Japan, the organizing team of Fuji Rock Festival, came to Nepal almost a decade ago, Rajiv, the band manager, introduced him to Upendra. Upon seeing the potential of the band, he offered them a stage at the festival.
He recalls the initial years of the performances with pride as it is a rare opportunity for any musician in South Asia to perform alongside the biggest names in the music industry such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Coldplay, Radiohead, Oasis and so on.
At times, improvisation leads the band, on their new songs as well as performances. The amalgamation of the different genres of music that all the members represent appears to be the chief reason why they’ve earned a seemingly permanent slot at the prestigious Fuji Rock Festival.
Bursts of enthusiasm could be seen on all of their faces when they were asked about this year’s performance. Like each year, they will be performing on two stages, apart from the usual jam sessions with other international musicians.
“On each of our tours, our music creates a special ambience at the venue that is quite unique from what the other musicians do,” says Roshan. Raman nods in agreement and adds, “This is due to our versatile playing styles and the rare combination of Eastern and Western musical instruments, which is a something the audience cannot easily forget.”