- Folk instrumental ensemble Rudra is all about preserving traditional forms of music and believes there is nothing more rewarding in that vein than passing the techniques on to children
Mar 13, 2014-
It was early in the morning when I met up with Shyam Nepali, one of the country's most prominent sarangi musicians, in Kirtipur. He led me towards Jakha, where his aptly named Music House is located, amidst the green of slowly sprouting wheat stalks. The building itself was fairly non-descript, cemented and with barely a board to let passers-by know what lay inside. But for Shyam, and other members of the well-known folk instrumental outfit Rudra, it's a necessary sanctuary, one where the noisy city becomes a distant memory, and where they can focus on what is most important: their music.
The land on which the Music House stands belongs to Raman Maharjan, Rudra's flautist, who lives with his family on the second floor. The first floor meanwhile, where “the magic happens,” as Shyam says with a chuckle, is lined with traditional instruments galore—madal, flute, dholak, kheen, you name it—alongside a few Western ones, such as guitars and saxophones. While the space serves as a rehearsal room for the band, it is also where they teach music to young enthusiasts, the only way they believe traditional tunes and techniques can be perpetuated.
Rudra—comprising of Shyam, Raman, percussionist Babu Raja Maharjan and lead vocalist Bishwa Nepali—is a group that needs little introduction. Shyam is a fourth-generation sarangi player, who has worked with Sukarma and Trikaal in the past. Of late, he has been researching extensively on the instrument as well as on Gandarva history. Raman, meanwhile, has a diploma in music from the Prayag Sangeet Samiti in Allahabad, and has performed at various music festivals and brought out a number of solo records. He also worked on all of Ani Choying Drolma's albums. Like Raman, Babu Raja too attended the Prayag Sangeet Samiti for a master's degree, and is a seventh-generation musician, who was mentored in traditional Newari instruments by Nhuchhe Bahadur Dangol, the late Dev Narayan Maharjan and
tabala maestro Rabin Lal Shrestha. As for Bishwa, the youngest member, he started out as something of a
child prodigy, winning singing competitions left and right in a few short years. All of Rudra's members also teach their respective instruments at different schools around Kathmandu.
The four had first come together in 2005, working on the Imagine Rainbow project with Salil Subedi Kanika, who is also Nepal's first didgeridoo player, and Swiss artist Thomas Bertschi. The film and music project saw the participation of a great many kids—including street children, those living in orphanages and shelters, and those from underprivileged communities—who were joined by musicians and artists, to play with music and colours in a creative collaboration.
“As we got more and more involved in the Rainbow project, we were touring various parts of the country, interacting with more and more kids, teaching them music, and we then began identifying ourselves as Rudra,” Shyam says. He describes it as a 'life-changing experience'. “We saw that it was something we wanted to continue doing because there's really nothing more rewarding than equipping a child with the ability to make music.” The band was soon working with CWIN, teaching children not just to play instruments but also broken bottles, tin cans and other things that would be considered trash. “We wanted to show them that music is everywhere and you don't necessarily need expensive equipment if you're creative enough,” Shyam says.
Aside from their work with children, Rudra was also gaining acclaim for their own performances, and were soon travelling to various countries overseas—including Australia, Austria, France, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, India, and Bangladesh—to play on stage as well as offer workshops for those wishing to learn the ropes of traditional Nepali folk music. They've also released seven albums till date, such as Imagine, Himalayan Breeze, Himalaya, Rudra and Colour.
Within the walls of the Music House, however, the conversation is less about what has been accomplished in the past, drifting more often towards what is to be done in the future. “Our plans right now generally revolve around the idea of cultural exchange,” Shyam explains. “We want to bring in musicians from around the world to share their music and techniques with us, and we would like to send our local musicians abroad to promote our musical traditions among a wider audience.” For Shyam and his friends, music is a big part of the Nepali identity. “If the old ways are ignored and forgotten, in music and in other mediums of art, it is to lose a significant chunk of our cultural heritage, who we are as Nepalis...That's something we can't let happen,” he says.
Published: 13-03-2014 10:22
- Anup Ojha