Hemant Rana: the common man’s singer

7 min read
25 Aug 2017
7 min read
1803 words
Mature, grounded, and raring to take Nepali music to the next level, Hemant Rana traverses genres, musical styles and even continents with ease

Just as how people are so easily drawn to purity, beauty and love, everyone is intrinsically attracted to music, believes Hemant Rana. Rana, who considers himself an untrained musician and a common man's singer, ventured into the music scene by singing Sufi-infused songs, but the Wushu-player turned singer doesn't like to call himself a Sufi singer; in fact, he doesn't believe in genres, as he believes music is an expression of one's feelings. 

Rana's well-manicured discography has four albums--Paap Punya (2005), Laija Re (2010), Mero Aakash (2012), and most recently, Saili (2017). Mature, grounded, and raring to take Nepali music to the next level, Rana traverses genres, musical styles and even continents with ease. In his recent trip to Nepal, he talked with Alok Thapa of M&S VMAG about drawing inspiration from life, his love for live shows and making films that will highlight Nepali talent.

What's keeping Hemant Rana busy?
After the release of my fourth album Saili, I had been touring the US and Canada. Actually, the tour is still going on as we speak. I'm doing a couple of gigs here in Nepal and will be heading to the UK soon. It's always fun to meet new people, and live performances are basically a collaboration with the audience--you ride the ebbs and flows of the crowd's energy.

Busy is good for an artist. But seriously, since you've landed in Kathmandu, how many songs have you been offered?
It's been a couple of weeks and I'm already inundated with offers to do with movies, collection albums and collaborations. I feel humbled when people deem me a singer who can do justice to their creations, but unless and until the song resonates with my soul, I can't do it. I take into consideration everything from composition and arrangement to lyrics, and only if I feel that I can do justice to the song, do I agree to take on the work. In the few weeks that I have been here, more than 20 songs have come my way, but I have only picked one from a new composer for my next album.

Where do you draw the line while selecting songs?
When I choose a project, I make sure that the end result does justice to that song. I might be able to sing it in harmony and tune, but if I can't breathe life to the creation, I believe I have failed as a musician. In my 17-year-long music career, I have let go of many songs, and have just about managed to release four albums--and I'm happy with my decisions. I've learned to stay true to myself, and to not let people influence my decisions on how to create and write my music. I trust my gut and my instinct. I just stay true to myself.

Talking about your love for music, let's trace how and when it started. Tell us about your childhood.
I was born to a humble farming family in Dang, but we later shifted to Nepalgunj. My father was a government employee, and I'm sure it was not easy for him to take care of four children, but my parents made sure that all our needs were met. Like in any other typical strict family, academic qualification was given more importance than extracurricular activities, which is why singing or sports weren't exactly on the top of my list of priorities. But my mother tells me that I always had a penchant for singing, and that's why she put me on stage when I was five years old.

But before your foray into music, you actually wanted to be a sportsman?
Yes, I was a national-level Wushu player. I was also into gymnastics, karate and martial arts. My biggest influence was my brother, who was a sportsman. We were always heavily involved in extracurricular activities. Of course, that didn't sit well with my father, who wanted us to be more serious academically; and I don't blame him because he was concerned about our future. Sports and music don't always guarantee success. 

How does your father take your success in the music industry?
Growing up, my father used to call me 'tookrey ustaad' as I would be singing all the time. Whenever I meet him when I am in Nepal, he asks me about my latest work, but he's not the type of person who will shower me with compliments. But I have heard from others that he proudly talks about my work. And these days he calls me 'ustaad'.
Do you remember the first time you thought to yourself, "Hey, I can sing"?
My friends always complimented my singing, but I never took them seriously. It was just a passing fancy, as those around me would put it. In the year 2000, I came to Kathmandu to pursue sports and work my way towards becoming a professional Wushu player. Back then, the country, especially the sports sector, was going through a bit of decline amid the raging civil war. And so, for a couple of years, I struggled here in the capital. I was frustrated and aimless, and didn't know what to do with my life. And then one day, as luck would have it, Niraj Shakya happened to hear me sing. He was an established model and had contacts in the industry, and the next thing you know, I had a contract for five years with SAV Music.

When did you realise that you had made it?
My first album Paap Punya tested my patience to its limit, and I'm actually thankful for that experience as it strengthened my will to pursue my dreams. I spent nearly two years of my life just to record one song. Eventually, I completed Paap Punya and released the album. But it wasn't met with the kind of response I had hoped for. I was disheartened, and whispers of doubt started to creep in, but luckily, I was able to meet like-minded music lovers and formed a band. We started performing in bars, and I slowly made a name for myself in the music industry. It was only when 'Laija Re' became a huge hit that I received public attention and appreciation. 

Your Sufi-infused music was a huge hit, and you got the moniker 'the Nepali Kailash Kher'. How hard was it to shake off that identity?
A lot of people didn't know what Sufi music was, and I was a huge fan of Kailash Kher, who was at the peak of his career at the time. It is just that the texture of my voice resembled his, and I took that opportunity to sing his songs, and did my best to do justice to his creations. People really loved my renditions of Kher's numbers, and they did help me gain listeners. But coming to your point, I did fear losing my identity. I wanted people to remember me as Hemant Rana, as opposed to a good mimic of Kher. Eventually, I met people who helped me shape my career; one of them has to be Kali Prasad Baskota. I was blessed to have songs like 'Laija Re', 'Raat Ki Raani', 'Muskan' and the latest one--'Saili'.

The lyrics in your music express raw emotion and real life experiences; what kinds of songs appeal to you?
Music is life to me. Just as how people are drawn to purity, beauty and love, everyone is intrinsically attracted to music. I'm currently exploring a lot of new things apart from Sufi music. Maybe it's because I'm stationed abroad, but as of late, I've become more drawn to Nepali music, and I'm very much into exploring the breadth of Nepali tunes. I want to take Nepali music to the world stage. But personally speaking, I don't believe in genres because music is an expression of one's feelings--I am an untrained musician and a common man's singer.

What made you decide to shift base to the US?
To revive my life's trajectory, I'm taking this time to explore myself, as well as my interests within the field. I have renewed fervour for Nepali music, and I'm truly passionate about traditional music. The reason for going abroad might have stemmed from my need to recalibrate my lifestyle, and to meet certain needs that I wanted to fulfil. But at the end of the day, I always come back to my roots.

What can fans expect in the future from Hemant Rana?
They can always expect me to be honest with my music; that's the only thing I can guarantee. Apart from that, my good friend Gaurav Pahari and I have launched GH Entertainment, a platform that aims to give newcomers a chance in the Nepali music and film fraternity. We want to make movies that highlight particular social issues, as opposed to just focusing on commercial viability. We are working on our first film that will hit the floor around December this year, and the second one will be Saili, slated to go to production in February 2018. I did accidentally end up directing the music video for Saili, but I don't have any plans for a major career-switch, although I do like to write stories.