A 2016 Nepali music playlist
This past year was great for Nepali music, both in terms of the number of quality songs/albums released and the many creative accompanying music videos that were released. What follows is a short list of the singles that I’ve enjoyed over the year, songs I’ve listened to countless times for various reasons, none the same. It is by no means an exhaustive list of the ‘best tracks’. I am no musician, just some guy who likes to listen. I have my biases, given how many of these musicians I know personally, so these are my favorite tracks, in no particular order.
What can be said of this song that it doesn’t say on its own. This is a track I listened to a lot, often while in a kuna of a sajha bus, staring aimlessly at the world passing by. The guitars and driving drums take a backseat to Bartika Rai’s soaring vocals, sung with abandon. Its a finely crafted song, the parts all strung together to showcase one thing – Bartika’s songcraft. In the melody, she is unexpected, enjambments abound and her vocals lift and fall when you least expect them to, all pleasant surprises. In the accompanying video by Sworup Ranjit, Bartika sits off-center, facing off to the left, glancing occasionally at the camera. During the final act, when she swivels and faces the camera directly to repeat the first stanza, it is striking. You are caught in her gaze, as she sings directly at you. Not to you, for this is not a paean, it is an entreaty – save yourself while you still can.
Kapase Badal builds slowly, layering sound over sound, melody over melody, its steady rhythm hypnotic, the clap-beat almost like a metronome. It begins to crescendo and just when it seems to crest, it pulls back, like a breath inhaled. All the while accompanied by the most beautifully natural of melodies, a bird song. When the other instruments take their exit, when Ashesh Rai’s delicate vocals depart, all that is left is the bird song, echoing against the lingering aural screen of raindrops. Kapase Badal, like its name, is the stuff of clouds, a soft, soothing, song best listened to on headphones while watching the world go by.
Jerusha Rai’s voice is a breezy whisper. What she sings is confidential, spoken into your ear, dark things, secret things. This song juxtaposes Jerusha’s breathy vocals with a jarring ‘say, say’ refrain that almost ruins it. But on repeated listens, the chorus belies the darkness in the song. Taken from the album ‘A Dark Place to Think’, Sirens is brooding and introspective. Jerusha is more poet than singer, more whisperer than crooner. Sirens reminds of the times you lay in your bed in the black, staring up at nothing, willing a sleep that never seems to come, only dank thoughts that arrive like pacing cats mewling on a nighttime fence.
I’d first come across a woefully short ditty by Pahenlo Batti Muni on Soundcloud that was sweet and beautiful, a pleasant earworm that warranted constant replay. Their first single is in the same vein, simple in its instrumentation and arrangement, soulful in its vocals. Rochak Dahal’s voice is angelic, as if he is once again singing a lullaby. It cajoles and draws you in, all warm and inviting. It is not one-of-a-kind but it is a good thing and contrary to folk wisdom, you can never have too much of a good thing.
I have written about Rajan Shrestha’s (phatcowlee) Achal before: “a song of stillness, a perfect amalgam of form and content. Minimal and moody, it does not rise and fall, it does not soar and dip. It does not stir. It is still. And in that stillness, there is a profundity unbecoming of something so simple… Rajan’s stillness is generative; it produces quiet in the mind. It coaxes you to close your eyes and surrender yourself, like the best kind of meditation.” All of this remains true. As the days get shorter and colder, the stillness of Achal becomes a necessity, one essential piece of a winter puzzle that includes warmth, love and idleness. With the body still, let the mind wander.
There is something otherworldly about Shreeti’s voice. It seems to take wing effortlessly, rising above the noise like a siren, and then, lilting, folding into itself, like a wave. It is a real singer’s voice. Baaja’s instrumentation is a perfect foil to Shreeti’s voice, as I discovered to my pleasant surprise in a song tucked away on Youtube, a set from her composition for Dhon Cholecha. That short tune is magical, her voice echoing in the empty chambers of the hall they’re performing in. That aside, Gondhuli is a gem of a track, each part complementing the other. Released as part of a Yomari Session (a Nepali version of the Take Away Shows by Katha Haru), this track showcases just how comfortably two very talented sets can intersect.
From that rolling bass to those teasing guitars, Anautho Mann is a good time. Playful and energetic, its a track that makes you want to sing along with its catchy-as-hell refrain. The song recalls many others, as influences and inspirations, but that only seems to add to its infectious groove. Propelled by Brihat Pahari’s vocal urgency and Nishan Siddhi’s guitar energy, Anautho Mann is a track that keeps you afloat and at ease. (Salil Thakuri is sorely missed!)
Ankit Adhikari and Prabisha Adhikari rework Coke Studio’s reworking of the Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan track. Coke Studio’s reinterpretation, with Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Momina Mustehsan, is arresting. Rahat, after all, is the heir to uncle Nusrat’s legacy. In Ankit and Prabisha’s cover, there are hints of the originals, both the Nusrat and Rahat versions. You keep expecting one of the singers to burst into a qawwali but the track refrains. In not rising to meet expectations, the cover keeps itself original.
This track is not from this year. In fact, it was released in 2014 but I’m including it here since the video for Reflection was released earlier this year. Haami is a band from the UK and boy are they fun to listen to. I have been listening to their EP regularly for the past year and it has yet to grow old. Although Reflection is not my favorite track off the EP (that would be Stars), it is an apt introduction. There are echoes of the band Toe in their music but that is a compliment. For someone who finds most post and prog rock boring and repititive, Haami’s songs are a deviation. There are flourishes – a slight tweaking of the guitar, a shift in pace, a vocal introduction, an unexpectedly sweet melody – that keep the songs from becoming boring. I imagine they sound great live.
This isn’t a great song. Kamero were fairly entertaining as a Tool cover band but their original leaves a lot to be desired. The lyrics are a hodge-podge of various metal cliches and the derivative composition just recalls other, better bands. The less said about the song and album titles, the better. What this song and its accompanying video do effectively is create a mood, deeply unsettling and bizarre, reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails project. While there is little sense to be made of the video, it is a bewitching visual spectacle realized very effectively by Jazz Productions. This track is best listened to with the video, each making the other half better.