The Midas touch

12 min read
12 May 2017
12 min read
1774 words
VMAG talks to Kali Prasad Baskota, the man behind today's many hit film songs

Kali Prasad Baskota's musical journey began as a young kid who used to sing along to his father's music collection. He became a household name when the song 'Chahana Sakiyo' got him rave reviews and awards in 2064, and he started to become exceedingly famous when his songs became the focal point of many Nepali films-Resham Filili, Loot 2, Visa Girl, Manjari, Kabaddi Kabaddi-to name a few.

In this interview with Alok Thapa of VMAG, Baskota talks about how his newfound status as a singer might be accidental, and how creating memorable songs requires absolute dedication and unwavering obligation-and how there are no shortcuts, and no such thing as luck.

What was your childhood like?
I grew up in an average middle-class family in Kirtipur; and by 'average' I mean a typical, happy Nepali family where meals were accompanied with smiles, and you were taught to appreciate the simple things in life. I had three older sisters, so I always felt the responsibility of taking care of my family. I started working pretty early on; many find it shocking when I tell them that I worked for 15 years at Tilganga Eye Hospital, in the capacity of a Senior Production Officer.

Did the self-imposed responsibility ever stifle you?
See, when you regard your vocation as an imposition, you will suffer, even if you like the job. Life is a delicate balancing act of compromise and priority. Some of my happiest memories are from my time as a music teacher or my 15-year-long stint at the eye hospital. When I later decided to quit my job, it was not because I was suddenly unhappy; I think it stopped challenging me as a person. If something no longer works for you, you should stop doing it.

Was your decision to quit received kindly by your family?
I didn't exactly consult my family about throwing in the towel. I had to take a leave of 40 days during the earthquakes of 2015, and one fine day I woke up with the realisation that I needed to quit my job at the hospital. I regarded it as a transition-embracing my passion for music as a full-time job. Of course, it was a risky move for me because I already had a baby, and a family to take care of, but it was a calculated risk that has paid off.

Are you calculative by nature?
Yes, you need to be calculative to a certain degree to lead a fulfilling, and a successful, life. I need to make such calculated moves every time I make music-from editing the lyrics, to selecting tunes, to even approaching singers. Smart calculated risks are vital for reaching your goals in life.

How have you evolved as a musician over the years?
I don't have a musical background. Nobody in my family sings, but what they lacked in vocal abilities, they compensated for with their ears. My father's collection of old Hindi songs, bhajans and Nepali music was a staple when I was growing up. Father was always proactive in organising cultural shows at our village, and his artistic inclination did leave an impression on me. As a kid, I would sometimes hum bhajans at local celebrations, and it gave me immense satisfaction. Luckily, I also got to study music after completing my high school; that certainly helped me nurture my composition skills.

From composing bhajans to making catchy, radio-friendly songs, how did the change happen?
I think the music industry has always been welcoming of different styles, or genres, and anyone who spends time in the industry has a chance to evolve. There is a lot of scope to be and stay versatile. I have been lucky that I've had the honour of working with so many talented artistes.

And in the process you have become a bona fide singer.
I wouldn't call myself a serious singer. To be honest, my intention was never to sing 'Jaalma' (for the movie Resam Filili), but then one thing led to another, and even the film's crew started telling me to do it. It came at a time when a lot of transitions were happening in my personal life, so I thought why not. Life has a way of throwing curveballs at you; it's up to you to make the most of it.

So, Kali is now happy being a singer?
I'm aware of my limitations, and I know where to draw the line. I'm never going to tackle a song that I will not be able to justify. Every song is like a baby for me, and the maternal-or call it paternal-instinct still kicks in. Also, you have to know your limits so you can set reasonable challenges for yourself. I know that composing will always be my first love.  

How has your journey been as a judge on a reality TV show?
Facing the camera is always a challenge, and you also need to tailor your mannerisms according to someone else's vision. However, I've always been open to new experiences. Nepal Idol has been immensely satisfying because the show gives us a chance to find and polish a good singer, and in the process it also educates the audience on music. Talent is everywhere, opportunity is not-so it's nice to be a part of this project.

What does the Nepali music scene lack?
We hail from a musical community where people grow up listening to bhajans and folk tunes; it's like singing is in our blood. However, I do see a lack of good composers.

Why do you think we don't have that many new good composers?I'm not entirely sure myself. Although I associate myself, first, as a composer, I do think composing is a very difficult aspect of music-making. The process of getting words, creating a tune and then getting the song approved by the people involved takes so much time and energy. Composing is a challenge, every single time-maybe that's why I enjoy it.

What's your unique selling point?
I haven't forgotten my roots. While I enjoy, and get influenced, by a lot of genres and styles of music, I make sure that my song retains the Nepaliness that makes us so unique. The Nepali music landscape is so vast. You have to have the drive to be original, and that can only come with patience and time.

What do you think about the current crop of singers?
Nepali music in recent times has seen some interesting voices. The styles of compositions are also fresh because composers think out of the box. I would like to think my big break with Sashi Rawal's 'Chahana Sakiyo' was due to the fact that it seemed fresh amongst the songs that were being produced then. You need to be willing to pursue the innate possibilities of different sounds and styles. Having said that, my only concern is the lack of uniqueness. While there are many versatile artistes, to stay relevant with the trend, singers mostly just try to emulate the style that delivered the recent hit. Creativity withers when there's no freedom.

You've always shown displeasure at covers and mash-ups, but isn't it good publicity?
There's nothing wrong with singing covers; in fact, it can reintroduce a song, or its creator, to a whole new generation. I only have a problem with the 'unauthorised' use of materials-when credit is not given, and when it's done to monetise. It's not like I'm fuming at the lack of control that I have over the 'derivative' versions, but I would humbly request everyone to be respectful. There's so much time, money, and emotions invested in a piece of music. Let's not deprive artistes of their due credit.

Lyricist, composer, singer and now a TV personality-you have had your cake and eaten it too. Are there any aspirations that you yet need to fulfil as an artiste?
You make it sound so easy, but yes, I do feel very blessed to have had such a smooth run. But there are many things that are yet to be done. Besides composing, creating good music and fostering my newfound confidence in singing, I also want to do something to better the state of music in Nepal. A TV show focusing on Nepali music is in the pipeline, so let's see what happens.

What would you tell your younger self?
I don't regret the things I have done, for it's all the ups and downs in my life that has forged the person I am today. But if I had a chance, I would probably tell the 19-year-old me to enroll in university and get a proper music education. And I would like to take this opportunity to tell everybody to pursue a degree that they are interested in. You will create possibilities for your own development if you're passionate about your work.