22 May 2017
9 min read
Art & Culture
Sunil Upreti, a star from the yesteryears and a representative of the first wave of Nepali pop music, is back in town. Even though he's been away from the country for some time, he's been observing the development of the Nepali music sphere here. VMAG's Richard Shahi caught up with Upreti to talk about what differences he's observed between the music scene then and now and what challenges today's musicians should expect when they turn professional.
What was the music scene in Nepal like back then?
I have been involved in Nepal's music scene for around 30 years now. I used to be the vocalist of the Prism band and have also worked with a few other bands-the Legend band being one of them. When I started out, Nepali pop music hadn't really taken off. People loved Western music, and we usually performed covers of English songs for them. We used to cover numbers by Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and George Michael, among others-and the public loved our renditions. We'd cover these songs as soon as they would hit the airwaves of Nepal. We did perform original Nepali songs occasionally, but Western music always stole the show.
What were the struggles that the musicians then faced?
Back then, we didn't have any proper music equipment or recording studios. It was difficult to procure even basic equipment like amplifiers. We couldn't download songs like we can today. There was no technical support either. I remember my band members and I once filled a speaker up with sand to change the quality of our music's output. Even recording a song was very difficult. The only people with proper recording equipment were people from the radio. Their studio was government-owned, which made it all the more difficult to get permission to record. Even music schools that taught Western music hadn't been set up then, and don't even mention learning from YouTube. There were no private recording studios either. Back then, people had one chance to record their song, and they'd end up practising for a good month or so before they perfected the number. And it was only then that they hit the studio.
What differences do you see in the music scene then and now?
The music scene has grown exponentially since the early 80s. With respect to the availability of equipment, today, it's possible to get a hold of any equipment from any part of the world. Amplifiers, musical instruments, mics, you name it. There are also many music schools that have opened. I would like to acknowledge here the presence of the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory and the wonderful work they're doing. And it's nice to see that so many private recording studios have sprouted up in Nepal.
The music scene has grown exponentially since the early 80s. With respect to the availability of equipment, today, it's possible to get a hold of any equipment from any part of the world
But one thing has barely changed. There still isn't really a support system for aspiring artists. By now, there should have been some professional artist management company or record label that manages artists properly-thus allowing the musicians to only focus on the task of creating new, good music. Even today, the artist has to take so many things into account-things that are taken care of by artist management companies in other countries-that it completely comes in the way of the creativity of the artist. I wish to see developments in that area.
This does not just apply to the music scene but also to other creative fields. The country just hasn't created an ecosystem in which creative professionals can thrive, and I feel that lots of talented artists and sportspersons get frustrated and have to resort to leaving the country in search of better opportunities. The country needs to recognise these talents and provide them with enough opportunities in Nepal itself. Ultimately, if they leave, it is a loss for the country.
Which artists of this generation appeal to you?
The amount of talent has grown tenfold. There are some really skilled artists out there. I really admire the works of Hemant Rana, 1974 AD, Shiva Pariyar and Bipul Chhetri. But these are the people that made it. There are people who are still struggling to make it big.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
I would like to repeat the hackneyed phrase: always work hard. And please don't think about gauging your progress by looking at how you fare in Nepal: think global. I don't know if it's just me who gets bugged by this, but I really hate it when singers sing Nepali songs but pronounce the lyrics with an English accent. It doesn't make sense for Nepali musicians, who cater to Nepali audiences, to sing with an English accent. The perfect example for how things should be done would be represented by the song Saili, by Hemant Rana. It's so close to Nepali roots, and it's sung so simply. Look at how well it's doing!
This applies for any genre. I've seen some really good Indian rock bands. The music they play is completely rock, but the way they sing is typically Indian. They aren't trying to sing with an English accent but are embracing what they naturally have, and they end up sounding great. Other than the accent problem, though, I think the music scene in Nepal is headed in the right direction.