Print Edition - 2018-11-24  |  On Saturday

Watch the music

  • Nepali music videos are striving to break new ground and reaching for new heights, but there is a long way to go
- Pranaya SJB Rana

Nov 24, 2018-

Behind a great music video is a unique concept, told simply and concisely in roughly three-four minutes. A memorable music video finds a unique way to visualise the music, not just as accompaniment but as dialectic, where the video and music play off of each other. The two parts, video and audio, are not and should not be disconnected. Most great music videos have a central working premise, whether story, theme or aesthetic, that acts as another layer of interpretation over the music. 

Take, for instance, the ingenious work of French director Michel Gondry, who made his name with mind-bending music videos for The White Stripes (The Hardest Button to Button, Fell in Love with a Girl), 

The Chemical Brothers (Star Guitar), Bjork (Bachelorette, Human Behaviour, Hyper-Ballad), Kylie Minogue (Come into my World), Cibo Matto (Sugar Water), etc. Gondry might just be one of the most brilliant editors around, just take a look at any of the aforementioned videos and try to wrap your head around just how they were made. 

From the early days when music videos were just musicians playing their instruments in front of a crowd or in a studio to hyper-choreographed dance routines that pop stars seem to favour, there has been a whole 

grab-bag of ideas in between. 

Ever since MTV debuted, music videos have accompanied singles as part of a package. YouTube has made music videos even more essential, generating revenue while transporting viewership into the millions. These mediums have also allowed the music video to work more like a short film, where directors are able to showcase their artistry within a tight time frame, not as short as an advertisement and not quite as long as a film. Now, the music video as artist statement is becoming more and more pronounced, where even pop stars like Beyonce are indulging in somber visuals and a distinct aesthetic that is hard not to see as art. Just see Melina Matsoukas’ video for Beyonce’s Formation for a spellbinding take on Creole culture, the Antebellum south, Hurricane Katrina and black identity. 

In Nepal, the music video as artistic pursuit does not have a very long history. Perhaps the seeds for the first attempts at exploring a video as something more than just shots of the band or the singers performing can be found as narrative in Deepak Bajracharya’s video for Ritu (2002) and analogy in Nepathya’s Resham (2008). Even the Pooja Gurung-directed video for Axix’s Adhuro Prem (2004) can be seen as a half-way point, where egregious shots of the model and the lead singer are interspersed with attempts at an artistic output. 

It was really only in the last decade that Nepali music videos have charted new territories, led primarily by the output of Fuzz Factory Productions, who have set a new bar for video production that is not just dependent on their technical finesse but also the exploration of a video as something that speaks to the music and not just the musicians. Fuzz Factory’s first few videos, for Jindabaad’s Rewind, were much of the same, basically extended shots of the band performing with some After Effects trickery thrown in. Since then, they’ve grown progressively, exploring new concepts (for Topi’s Rangharu and Mitho Bihani, Bartika Eam Rai’s Umer, Tenzing Doleck’s Jhareko Yo Aansu) and new mediums like animation (for Sajjan Raj Vaidya’s Hawaijahaj and Rohit John Chhetri’s Sannani). 

As an aside, preceding Fuzz Factory was the work of French-American experimental artist Bruno Levy’s Nepal-based videos for the American band The Walkmen’s Four Provinces and German electronic duo Modeselektor’s Deboutonner, both composed of thousands of still photographs run at speed to resemble a motion picture.

In between then are a handful of other individual artists and production houses, not as prolific but no less creative. Alok Lamsal’s video for Ankit Babu Adhikari’s Ram Naam is delightful; Pooja Gurung and Bibhushan Basnet’s video for Night’s Sunka Jutta is heartbreaking; and Katha Haru’s video for Night’s Tuina ko cha hai bhara is an exercise in imagery. Then, there is the VFX virtuosity of Jazz Productions, which has made two videos for the prog-rock, prog-metal Tool-esque band, Kamero. 

Jazz’s first video for Kamero was for Pragmatic Delusions, released in 2016. Digital imagery and eerie make-up came together to make a video that was an interesting and certainly innovative entry in the Nepali music video canon. Their second video, released more recently in October, for Kamero’s Nepenthes, is a more assured version of their first foray. Combining similar technical magic with an oddball steampunk take on the Anglo-Nepal war starring the actor Karma, Jazz Productions must be congratulated for this frankly impressive feat. The video is a staggering nine minutes long, although its length does feel a little padded out. The technical wizardry still feels raw and amateurish a lot of the time but the video is fresh and novel, tackling a period war film in a way that most feature films have not. It’s a magical, fantastical tale, filled with hammer-wielding Britishers, a steampunk zeppelin and arrows that transform mid-air into spears a la BR Chopra’s Mahabharat. 

But as illustrated above, the central conceit behind a music video must necessarily speak to the music, whether it is the theme, narrative, mood or tone. The video for Nepenthes seems to tenuously fit with the tone of the music, but it is a stretch. For a similar but more thematic tonal pairing, one need only look to Mark Romanek’s translation of the Nine Inch Nails’ Closer or Chris Cunningham’s video for Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy. 

While visually entertaining, the Nepenthes video drags on, since there don’t seem to be much footage available. Most of the shots are slowed down and stretched to double-digit seconds when they should half that length. Perhaps this was due to budget and time constraints, but it is a significant shortcoming of the video. 

On their Facebook page, the band claims that “The music video represents what he [the persona of the song] sees...slipping in and out of consciousness. The song...within the album’s story…is a slow reveal of a subconsicous [sic] conversation between the protagonist (actually a fetus) and his mother (contemplating her life). The events of the video is [sic] just one of the mere possibilities of who he could be if she gave birth to him.” But this is nearly gobbledygook—it means little. The lyrics to the song too make no sense, an amalgam of words strung together to resemble poetry. However, the music, although greatly derivative of Tool, is decent. 

Jazz Production’s best video so far has been for the Irish band Winter Aid’s The Night is an Ocean. It is a quietly contemplative and evocative piece of work that fits comfortably with the mood of the song. All the After Effects technicality aside, it seems Jazz, and most other videos made by Nepalis, work best when they are kept simple. Even Fuzz Factory’s past attempts at VFX (Astha Tamang-Maskey and The Author’s Where Have You Been) come off as hokey and half-baked. 

It seems Nepali production houses are still finding their footing when it comes to music videos. Although breaking new ground in Nepal, there is still a long way to go before we reach the heights that music videos have attained internationally, especially in the US. But small steps forward, although incremental, are welcome, and necessary.

Published: 24-11-2018 07:34

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