In a city obsessed with beauty pageants, fashion shows, and innumerable events that propagate a mutual admiration society, it was a breath of fresh air to be offered four evenings of pure, unadulterated Nepali adhunik music.
Nepa~laya’s Paleti concerts have contributed significantly to institutionalising the not-so-popular genre of modern Nepali music, and bring together the Nepali speaking world through songs.
Last week’s Paleti series, conducted with nepa~laya’s well-known penchant for perfectionism (the shows started precisely at 6:00pm to the second) was a world class event. The concert itself, performances, logistics, all went like clockwork, nothing was left to chance. It demonstrated yet again that Nepalis are capable of organising events to meet international standards.
The world over, music in the classical and semi-classical genre have a cult following that is not exactly mass market. As Kiran Shrestha of nepa~laya explains, that is why it was up to the royal families of Nepal in the past to patronise the arts.
King Mahendra took state patronage of Nepali music and culture to a higher plane by importing singers from Darjeeling. Queen Aishwarya did try to emulate her father-in-law, but did not succeed much because she seems to have enjoyed playing politics with art more than backing deserving singers. King Gyanendra was a keen fan of ghazals himself, but was satisfied with inviting his favourite singers to the palace, and stopped at that.
Nepali adhunik suffered in the 70s and 80s, as English-speaking Nepalis on both sides of the border believed that it was old-fashioned. This trend has been reversed now as globally exposed Nepalis find their own music can compete with ghazals from the subcontinent.
The Paleti festival demonstrated that Nepali society has come of age and there are people who would not mind paying highi ticket prices to listen to tunes they were familiar with from the days of shortwave Radio Nepal.
The richness of Nepali adhunik in lyrics, melody and rhythm has been derived from the strong classical music influence of Bengal via Darjeeling. Nepali voices did not just have to compete with Bengali music but also each other, and the genre has benefited from this burst of creativity.
Ambar Gurung and Shanti Thatal are the products of that generation and environment, who delivered some of the most immortal and powerful songs of the period. Many of these ‘golden oldies’ were sung at Paleti last week.
Among the younger generation, there is Ambar Gurung’s protégé, Avaas, who sings for a whole new generation of Nepalis in songs that evoke our own angst, disillusionment and aspirations. For young Nepalis, one-take singers or artists performing live to an orchestra accompaniment, are things of the past. Today’s Nepali singers are mostly heard singing along to digital tracks. The Paleti micro-concerts that have kept the tradition alive by regular monthly events at nepa~laya’s R-shala were scaled up seamlessly last week at the DAV School hall which had great ambience and acoustics.
As with the many things its does, nepa~laya has demonstrated that using globally tested tools of excellence, good event management, not cutting corners on costs, can deliver world class events in Nepal. Looking forward to an encore of the Paleti festival next year.
Sujeev Shakya is Chair of Kathmandu Literary Jatra, Nepal’s annual international literary festival