A Musical Vagabond

  • Calling him a musical prodigy would not be an overstatement. Meet this free spirit, Ashesh Rai, the 21-year-old multi-instrumentalist.
- BINIT BANA
A Musical Vagabond

Feb 26, 2015-

You’ve mastered multiple musical instruments, when people have a hard time learning just one. How did it all start?

The first instrument I learnt was a tabla. My grandfather, who studied under Ustad Amir Hussain Khan, gave me the basics in tabla, which I’ve continued with for almost 15 years now. From there on I branched out and applied the rhythmic knowledge and theories into other instruments.

Do you remember your earliest musical experience?

Even before I knew what music was, I remember being fascinated with these foreign, hippie-like people who used to be my grandfather’s music students. But my first musical experience came as an accident. Once, as a kid, I was simply roaming about my house with a hammer in my hand looking for something to smash. I ended up destroying my grandfather’s tabla. Because he was a sweet man, he did not scold me, but gently told me that I was to learn to play the instrument from that day forward.

The biggest turning point, however, was when my mama sat me down and taught me how to play the Eagles’ song Hotel California on the guitar. When I hit that first chord on the guitar, I knew  I wanted to explore more.

You’re a self-taught musician but have also had a bit of formal music education. How do you rate the two in regards to learning?

If you learn through an educational system, you’re following a cult. But the basic knowledge is the most important factor. My basics stem from Eastern classical, and I apply those very basics in everything I create. But the thing is, if you know your music, the instrument part is secondary.

What is it that you love the most about music?

When you learn to play an instrument, you become an instrumentalist. But there comes a time when you realise that your practice has transcended itself to become a form of art—that is when you turn from a simple instrumentalist to an artist. You might not be able to pinpoint the exact time of your conversion, but you just know it when it happens. Those moments of being one with the art of music is what I revere the most.

Nepali music seems to be exploring new ideas and sounds. What are your thoughts on that?

Observing the underground and the independent scene, I can feel that Nepali music is really flourishing. Even if it doesn’t reach a specific destination, the journey is going really well; I’m glad that I am a part of it.  

You released your first song Fulbutte Chari on Soundcloud. Tell us a little about its conception and the feedback you got.

Fulbutte Chari was a song that I wrote after returning from Kolkata—a city that didn’t give me the best of living experience. I had no plans of releasing it in the mainstream market, so I chose Soundcloud to share it. Honestly, I haven’t really gone through the comments to see the responses yet.

You seem to shy away from the mainstream music. What’s your opinion on the commercialisation of music?

I played at gigs and events for a long time, but after a while I felt it made my music vulnerable, and maybe that was my shortcoming, but I just stopped and stayed underground. When you’re making music to make money, after a while, you realise that you are making music—it stops flowing from you; it feels forced and the purity of the creation gets lost in the process. But if you just make music for the sake of it, make it as it comes to you, money follows, I think. And whether or not I make a living out of music, it’ll always be a part of me.

So, what are you currently up to?

Right now, I’m working as a freelancer musician. I’m also part of a musical ensemble called Baaja Music. We’re planning on a drama with a working title of “Chhahari Bhitra Ko Akriti,” with a protagonist named Chhatra Bahadur Chhahari. We had decided to use the character’s name as our pen name some day, because we thought we could be ‘Bahadur-enough’ and express our emotions remaining under his chhatra chhahari. It’s a musical drama and will feature eight songs. And talking about theatre, I also recently collaborated for the score of a drama called ‘Dhon Cholecha,’ which was a great experience of complete performance art. The way I work is that I pick up anything that’s in front of me. I don’t plan, and haven’t thought anything for the future.

Journeying with music

Here’s a quick walk through Ashesh Rai’s musical timeline.

1993      Born

1998     First school: Galaxy Public School

            Rai started schooling at Galaxy, transferred to GEMS in grade four and completed his +2 in the science faculty. He is now a Bachelors of Arts student at St. Xavier’s College.

2000     Started learning tabla

            His grandfather Ram Hari Gurung has been a huge musical influence in his life. Gurung, a student of Ustad Amir Hussain Khan, teaches Eastern musical theories.

2001    Learnt Hotel California on guitar

           A turning point in his life; Rai got into other instruments when his uncle taught him the song.

2002    First live performance

           At Kirateshwor Sangeet Ashram, Pashupati, aged 9

2012    Joined Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory

           Rai has been involved on and off with KJC as a student and an instructor.

2012-13    Took the honours at Jazzmandu

                Rai won the outstanding young musician and the outstanding band both   at Jazzmandu 2012 and 2013.

2013    First recorded song (Butterfly cover with Rohit John Chettri)

    He played the guitar and tabla and beat-boxed for the song. The video has over 65,000 views on YouTube.

2014    Started playing mandolin

           Rai finally followed in his father, Anand’s, footsteps and learned the                 instrument his father had played for decades at Radio Nepal.

2014    First song written (Fulbutte Chari)

           His first written and recorded song. It also marked the start of his ensemble, Baaja.

2014     Got married

2015    Scored for Dhon Cholecha

           Rai collaborated for the live background score of this artsy drama.

Ashesh’s arsenal

# Tabla

# Guitar

# Mandolin

# Violin

# Murchunga

# Sarangi

# Mbira (an African instrument)

# Cajon

# And most other percussion instruments

Published: 26-02-2015 15:12

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