Helping to heal with music
Jun 10, 2015-
Lochan Rijal, with his unconventional approach to music, is an iconic figure in the Nepali music scene. And last year, the artist became the first South-Asian to complete a PhD programme in Ethnomusicology, which he received from Kathmandu University, in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts. Rijal is currently the academic programme coordinator and an assistant professor at the KU Department of Music (KUmusic) in Lesingkhel Marg, Bhaktapur. The Newar-architecture of KUmusic has sustained major cracks after the April 25 quake. The building was home to an elaborate collection of rare ethnic musical instruments and the area itself is an important part of the traditional Bhaktapur culture and heritage. And most importantly, it had been a sanctuary of sorts for aspiring music students since 1996. Rijal has been deeply saddened by the situation the school currently is in. The Post’s Anup Ojha caught up with the music maestro and talked to him about his earthquake experiences, the relief works he is involved in and his upcoming projects. Excerpt:
What were you doing when the April 25 quake hit the country?
I was about to attend a meeting with Minendra Rijal, Minister of Information and Communication, and Ram Kantha Makaju Shrestha, Vice Chancellor of KU, at Tripureshwor, that day. We were in plans to convert the historic sattal of Queen Lalita Tripura Sundari, in Turipureshwor, into a musical heritage site under the leadership of Shrestha. I had prepared a concept paper for the project and was about to print it at my apartment in Naxal when I heard a high frequency noise. Out of reflex, I shouted “Bhuichalo”. My wife—who was in the other room—and I, we moved downstairs from the second floor of our building. As we were walking down, the building started shaking.
What did you do next?
We ran towards an open space. Once the quake stopped, I went back to the apartment, took out my favourite instruments—an Arbajo, Guitar and Sarangi—along with my important documents and stored it in my car. At that time, I thought I would at least not be hopeless if I had these things with me and that I would not have problems going to another place if everything was destroyed here.
We cancelled our earlier plan to meet. Then I walked towards Kamal Pokhari. I felt numerous aftershocks while I walked. I was busy calling my relatives and friends. I had just reached Gyaneshwor when a two-and-half storey building collapsed. It was the first time I saw such devastation first hand.
We hope none of your loved ones were hurt in the quake.
I called my sister and other relatives; they were all fine. Then I called Sujan Hyaumikha, one of the staff members of KUmusic. He informed me about the fatal crack in the school’s building, after which I started panicking. KUmusic was a hub of rare ethnic musical instruments collected in the time span of two decades. It was a model ethnic music instrument collection, probably among the most important in South Asia. As a musician, all I could think of was to figure out a way of saving all those rare instruments. Sujan also told me that Bhaktapur was totally devastated. His own house was gone.
I was also informed that my friend, Binay Dev Pandey, who was a year junior to me when in university, had died in the quake. He had lost his life while trying to rescue his mother and wife. I pray for Binay’s soul to rest in peace.
Have you been involved in any relief work?
On the second day of the Great Quake, I went to Bhaktapur. I was shocked to see how much the area was ravaged. I felt helpless as I was alone and was in no condition to help the affected. We held a meeting with all KUmusic staff. All the staff who lived in the area were rendered homeless. They didn’t have money for shelter or food. We raised money and handed it to them.
Nobody dared to go into the building. I messaged the Chief of Army Staff General Gaurav Shumsher Rana and he promptly responded. He showed his commitment to help. A team from the Nepal Army came to KUmusic the day after and took out all the musical instruments from the buildings. It was an entire day’s work. The next day, we ourselves shifted all the instruments in a safer place. Nepali music promoter Amul Karki Dhali also helped us a lot.
After that, we searched for rooms for our four staffs in Suryavanayak with the financial assistance of KU. Our Head of Department Gert-Matthias Wegner’s residency in Dattatreya was fully destroyed. He has, for a long time, been documenting the history of Bhaktapur, its culture and musical instruments. All the documents were buried under debris. We are still working on rescuing the documents in the building. Luckily, Wegner was in Germany when the Great quake hit—he had left a week before the quake.
Have you made an attempt on expressing your sorrow through your art after the quake? Have you been involved in any performances?
I performed at Prayash, Radio Kantipur’s day-long musical programme on May 26. It was very reliving. I have recorded three songs after the quake. One is Siddhi Charan Shrestha’s song related to the devastating earthquake of 1934. It has been aired on television and radio.
Siyo and Akhtiyar are the two other compositions I have completed. Both track tell stories.
What is your future plan?
Now, we will be working on restoring KUmusic by coordinating with Guthi Sansthan under KU. We have already talked to engineer Rohit Ranjitkar who will be helping us out. And to raise fund for the rebuilding, we plan on doing musical tours within and outside the country.
What could be the role of musicians at this time of crisis? What is your message for them?
Music is therapy. I guess our role is to relay information, just like what the Gandarvas did in the past. We have to work to bring a positive change in the society. I strongly believe that our music could be an identifying element that could tell the story of Nepal to the world. If we work hard, with full dedication, I am very sure that one day we can uplift our county’s economy with our music.
It is a time for artists to be creative. In a developing country like ours, we have to struggle a lot as our music industry is still very small. I request all artists to be patient. Please compose your own music wherever you are—it may be at your room or with your band. Perform whenever you get the chance and be good at your craft. Try to process in a more creative ways and be sensitive.
Published: 10-06-2015 08:19
- lochan rijal