Print Edition - 2019-05-25  |  On Saturday

Cultivating Nepal’s reggae riddim

  • Cultivation’s second album is soon to be released, but Tashi Gurung, the man behind the band, is calling it his Nepali debut.
- Thomas Heaton

May 25, 2019-

Tashi Gurung’s music is an expression of his personality, and reggae riddims have always been a part of it.

The frontman of the band Cultivation, Gurung is currently adding the finishing touches to his second album Aagaman, which he says is his real arrival to the reggae scene.  

Produced by Hal Wheeler, founder of London’s Arrival Sound System, the album is a mixture of Gurung’s live-recorded vocals, guitars, keys and bass, mixed with digitally programmed beats.  

The new 10-track album will include three bonus tracks, remastered from Cultivation’s previous EP, and will be released June 8.

The new album, Gurung says, is mainly focused on the sub-genre of roots reggae, a style blending flavours of rhythm and blues with African beats. The genre is also defined by its lyrics, which typically allude to artists’ everyday lives and spirituality, with its origins lying in Jamaica.

Through his new album, he aims to share this music with the Nepali audience, with one special track dedicated to the big names in reggae music—not just Bob Marley. Gurung has also introduced some rocksteady elements in one of his new tracks.

But growing up it was difficult for him to find his music—at a time when rock, punk and pop dominated soundwaves. However, he always had a soft spot for reggae music. “The seed was always there but I never watered it,” says Gurung.

Because he absorbed music of all genres, he had diverse taste when he was younger. It was only recently that he decided to go all-in with reggae. He loved the roots reggae of the 60s and 70s, from artists like Burning Spears, and was inspired, somewhat, by Nepali bands too—such as Namaste, in the mid 90s.

“Maybe it was earlier than that, it was a guy called Ishwor Gurung. But it wasn’t strictly reggae, it was more folk reggae,” Gurung says.   

“Reggae has been here for a while in Nepal, but the scene is still quite small. There are just a few bands—Joint Family is one of the oldest, and that’s still going.” In fact, the bassist for the coming album is Bimal Gurung, an early member of that band.

But, eventually, the dormant reggae seed inside Gurung started to grow, he says. “In 2008 or 2009, I started watering it and haven’t stopped.”Getting rich or famous is not in the artist’s crosshairs, but continuing to make good reggae music always has been.

“I don’t spend my energy on making money. I spend it where I like, to make music; that’s the right investment.” While he hasn’t invested in the massive fanbase or financial gain, he has had his fair share of struggle.

“If I was tired of not making money or not having a big fan base or a big scene, I would have quit two years in. But I don’t care about that,” he says. “I will play for two people or five people, and it’s always going to be for the vibes. It sounds really philosophical, but I have felt that struggle and it’s never made a difference.”

“The people who come to my shows are small in number, but they give 100 percent. I feel that. I do want it to grow, but I guess I’m still underground.”

Gurung’s music is not necessarily chart-topping in Nepal, but it is finding him some recognition overseas. Having played the inaugural Sunsplash Festival in Goa some four years ago, he revisited in January this year with occasional musical partner Wheeler.

The Englishman visits Nepal annually and the duo last year founded Everest Sound System. Gurung says Wheeler is a true asset to his sound, and knows his music inside out.

In some previous songs, such as Kathmandu, he speaks of personal journeys and alludes to societal issues and trends. He is not overtly political in his work, but says: “Reggae music has always been a voice. It would not be right if I only wrote about love, or something”.

Inspiration is not hard to find, for he finds it in everyday life in ‘Kathmandu’ and in the “general Nepali story,” he says. But when it comes to writing, he says the words choose themselves, and the melody decides to pop up itself too. “It can go either way. Sometimes a melody plays in your head, and you write with the melody, but if you write it as a poem, the music takes a backseat because you’re thinking of the story you’re creating. It’s all feeling, really.”

Gurung is looking forward to the release of ‘Sammai’, one of the new tracks to be released in the album. It’s an embodiment of his life’s philosophy, and is a song he wrote long ago. He’s sung it for loved ones and friends, but is now sharing it with the rest of the world. “It’s about highlighting the importance of ‘now’. Everything is about the ‘now’, man.”

Aagaman will be released on June 8, on USB, CD, and will be available through Bandcamp, iTunes and SoundCloud.

Published: 25-05-2019 15:26

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