Saturday Features

Voice of a generation

  • Revisiting rapper Yama Buddha, a talent gone too soon
- Timothy Aryal
Born in a country where tattoos and long hair is still seen as emblems of misdemeanour, Yama Buddha pushed boundaries and used his art to talk about the Nepali society, and it’s many economic and generational gaps

Jan 21, 2017-Hip-hop emerged as a cultural response to historic oppression and racism, and as a system for communication among black communities throughout the United States, in the 1970’s. But when it made its inroads into Nepal, it was used as a tool to express one’s personal angst and musings. During late 1990’s Girish Khatiwada, who was a high school student at the time, inspired by the rise of the sub-culture around the world, recorded a song, Meaningless Rap, and then went on to collaborate with Pranil Timalsena. The duo released their debut album, Meaningless Rap, borrowing name from Khatiwada’s single, which is also included in the album. For their second album, the duo collaborated with Sudin Pokharel, who went by the name DA-69, and produced the era-defining Ma Esto Chhu Ma Usto Chhu. The song touched a nerve with the young audience and quickly became a phenomenon.

The songs, at the time, revolved around motifs mostly surrounding the singer’s personal problems, with them seeking an outlet to express their inner dilemmas, and deriving self-affirmation with the songs. Likewise, The Unity recorded songs with lyrics in the same vein, and also on love, courtship and girls, highlighted by the popular song She is the Bomb.

Nepali Rap scene, or Nephop as it is termed, was even in its early days felt as if it had plateaued out; the craft was mostly limited to urban, mostly privileged youth, who rapped about urban, self-serving, themes.

Then came Anil Adhikari, performing under the moniker Yama Buddha, who sang with a veritable swagger, and whose lyrics were charged with the confusion and chaos that beset the middle-class youth, who had grown up silent witnesses to monumental political changes in the country, confused about what to make of it, and frustrated that nothing has changed in the society they live in. Yama Buddha captured this motif and made it into his art, suddenly using this ‘echo-chamber medium’ to talk about real life problems, real people.

He wrote lyrics with motifs barely touched in Nepali music before: the social problems, drug abuse, about the destitute and human trafficking. In Yama Buddha, the youth finally found a voice that articulated their relationship with the society and with the art form itself.

Consider these lines from one of his early singles, Sathi: “Din bitdai gayo, ani lagyo tesko baani, kulat ma fasiyo, jaani najaani, ganja ani gotti saaman ra paani, yo pachhi tyo, tyo pachhi tyo dami, jhyap nabhai kana din ramrai nalagni…” It recalls the narrator’s relationship with a friend, their vices, and the passing away of the friend. When you listen to it, you feel the singer is the guy next door, not some self-obsessed celebrity.

And these lines from Footpath Mero Ghar: Na ta meri aama chin, na ta mero baba chhan/ kurkur mero sathi hun, sadhai mero saath chhan/ hepiyeko maanav hu, Khatey mero naam chha/ faaliyeko fohor hun, sadak hidne kaam chha. (I have neither a mother nor a father/ Dogs are my friends, they roll with me/ I am a nigger of a boy, and my name is khatey/ I am thrown waste, my work is to walk the road.)

They show that Yama Buddha was most of all a storyteller. Dickensian in motif, his lyrics evoke plights of the downtrodden and those who consider themselves a “waste”. Rarely had the voice of the marginalised (and the lost) had found their way into the Nepali music and the arts.

These songs propelled Yama Buddha into limelight, making him the third most followed Nepali on Facebook. But Yama Buddha aspired to do something new. He aimed to revitalise Nephop; for which he pioneered Raw Barz, a rap battle platform where rappers confront each other, on the spot. In no time, Nephop emerged as a phenomenon among Nepali rap enthusiasts. The fourth season of Raw Barz is currently conducting auditions throughout the country.

Girish Khatiwada, the pioneer of Nepali rap and a long-time friend of Yama Buddha, lauds the late rapper’s contribution to Nepali music. Following Yama Buddha’s death, on January 14 in his London apartment, a shattered Khatiwada took to Youtube to lament the loss of an old friend and, in connection with it, to speak about the problems Nephop artists has been dealing with. “This is a huge loss to Nephop and the Nepali music fraternity. We have hung out together and I wished he’d rub shoulders with heavyweights of rap in the world. He had that talent,” he said, speaking to the Post. “We rappers have our share of problems, we have problems with family and media, we are misunderstood and are scandalised at times. But we have to deal with it. Now that he’s gone and since we don’t know the real reason behind the death, we can only sympathise with his family members and wish the departed soul may rest in peace.”

Another of Nephop’s prominent artists, Ashish Rana, who goes by the stage name Lahure, has credited Yama Buddha for introducing him to Raw Barz. “He often talked about taking Nephop to new heights and I went to Kathmandu and participated in Raw Barz and started recording songs. The credit of taking rap from fringes to mainstream music scene and to professionalising it goes to Yama Buddha. At one time, Nepali rap was sung only about girls and money, but Yama Buddha linked rap with problems people face every day. His contribution to Nephop can hardly be overstated,” Rana has said. Rana further reminisced how Yama Buddha helped him find his audience, “I was back in Pokhara when we first became friends.  I was rapping but was confused as to what to do next, seeking a proper platform to perform, and Yama Buddha, with Raw Barz, helped me.”

Born in a country where tattoos and long hair is still seen as emblems of misdemeanour, Yama Buddha pushed boundaries and used his art to talk about the Nepali society, and it’s many economic and generational gaps. Taking on the name Yama and Buddha—two opposite poles of Nepal’s religious symbolism—Adhikari was a firebrand musician that sang of how life, particularly in Nepal, is not always black and white. And that we all exist somewhere in between; a contradicting grey existence.

Published: 21-01-2017 09:30

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