06 Oct 2017
5 min read
Musician, poet and singer Aavaas is on a mission to revive the Nepali contemporary music from the brink of obscurity. In his quest to pursue music, he left home and came to Kathmandu, then went to many places in India to learn music from professionals. His curiosity and desire for learning hasn't dimmed in all these years, and he is always putting in the work to become a better musician. But his journey has been anything but smooth, he reveals to VMAG's Alok Thapa in this week's Inspire interview. Indeed, says Aavaas, he has only gotten to where he is today on account of his hard work and willingness to keep pushing his boundaries.
What are you busy with?
Right now, I'm working beyond the periphery of music. I'm translating a book, and with the deadline looming closer with each day, all my attention is on completing the job. After the festivities are done, we'll be starting on the new Paleti season; so that's also at the back of my mind.
How did music find you?
I belong to a humble farming family and was raised in Kageshwori-Manahara Municipality. Even though our village was in the outskirts of Kathmandu, it was still quite remote. Like every other kid, I was given a set of chores, of which herding cattle was my favourite because I could be by myself and listen to music on my small transistor radio. I grew up listening to the likes of Narayan Gopal, Aruna Lama, Tara Devi. Because I listened to the music of the greats like Bacchu Kailash and Nati Kaji, my taste in music also evolved accordingly. But I listen to every kind of music; I don't believe in confining myself to a certain genre while listening or composing because art is not about limiting yourself, but expanding your creativity.
What did your parents think about your love for music?
Nobody in my family was a music lover nor had the aptitude for music, and my father actually didn't want me to focus on music. It used to infuriate me that he didn't appreciate my passion, but now, I see that his frustration stemmed from concern. Like every other parent, he wanted a secure future for his kid--which meant having a good education, a secure job, and eventually, a comfortable life--and a career in music does not usually give you all that. My mother, however, was inclined towards folk music, and that was perhaps why she never opposed my decisions. She is 86 now and still supports me in my endeavours.
Learning music professionally was a rare thing back in those days, and despite all the odds, I left home and came to Kathmandu. When I got here, I got to meet the likes of Manjul and Ramesh dai, and through them I also met my mentor, Amber Gurung. Later, I felt that whatever I was doing here was not helping me, so I moved to New Delhi, stayed there for a couple of months, and then went to many places in India to learn music from professionals. Looking back, I don't despise the struggles, or confusion, that I have been through. I guess I needed the lessons to really know my worth--and I'm still learning.
What drives you?
I cannot stay idle, and I find that I sometimes perform better under stress, as it gives me that additional push to achieve. As an artist, I like to push my boundaries--to see what I am capable of. Of course, a lot of obstacles came my way, but I will never forget what my grandfather told me: "You can achieve anything you put your mind to, but for that you need to gain the tools. You need to carve out your own space." He also made me realise that you don't need a degree to be successful or wise. His words still nudge me to keep striving.
You were a student of the late Amber Gurung. How important was he in your life?
I was honoured to be Amber Gurung's student and confidant; under his guidance I learned a great deal. He was a very interesting person who conducted himself with the utmost propriety and was very devoted when it came to his work; he never cared about name, fame or money. When I was his student, I was also teaching music at a school. One day I just felt this detachment with everything around me, and I dropped everything and stopped going to his place. A couple of days later, he came searching for me and told me to come back to music. He said that the only reason he came to talk to me was that he'd seen something special in me and that I would be a fool if I let music go. I truly believe that incident was one of the turning points in my life.
How has your musical journey been?
I feel I have matured as an artist. I can better articulate my feelings through my songs--I feel I've become a better lyricist and composer. My debut album, Pala Pala (2004), went through so many edits because I was not sure about my capabilities as an artist. These days, I find it much easier to write my own material. The lyrics in my 2011 work Lamp Post (2011) was informed by Nepali literature's aesthetics. But I also like experimenting with other types of material: I recently completed 40 songs for children. Music is like a deep sea; the more I learn, the more inquisitive I have become about this artform. I'm still searching, learning; these days YouTube has become my source of information, my learning hub.
The Paleti series is one of the feathers in your hat. How did it start?
We started the Paleti sessions in 2005, when artists at Nepa-laya wanted to promote contemporary Nepali music. It all started when Amrit Gurung (from Nepathya) approached me to compose and arrange music for a concert they were thinking of doing for Phatteman. It just so happened I was also looking for a way to do something about reviving contemporary music, which was waning as other forms of music were taking over the Nepali pop-culture sphere. When we approached people about the concert, all of them were surprised that Phatteman was still alive. The last 12 years of Paleti has been nothing short of a revelation. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I feel like I'm living through a religious experience every time the audience is able to enjoy a relaxed musical evening with the greats of yesteryears.
You're like the flagbearer of adhunik Nepali music. Tell us about the genre.
Nepali contemporary music's history is comparatively young. It all started in the 1960s. Nepali contemporary music is not exactly folk or traditional music; rather, it makes use of everything from our traditional sounds to Western elements--including ideas from Mozart and Beethoven. People sometimes say that we borrowed heavily from Tagore's modern take on Indian music, but lest you forget, he too was profoundly influenced by different kinds of music from across the globe. This mixed-genre music has kept evolving over the years, and during this evolution, we've seen stars of all stripes. Bacchu Kailash, Narayan Gopal and Amber Gurung dared to do something different from what Melwa Devi or Mitrasen were doing, and they ushered in the modern Nepali music era. Nepali literature has also had a profound impact on contemporary music.
Has Paleti lived up to your expectations?
Actually, it's exceeded my expectations. Till date, the Paleti series has featured 47 artists. In 2007, I got to travel to various parts of the country and northeast India for research, which helped me grow as an artist. When we started Paleti, the aim was to archive music for the next generation, but now our focus has shifted towards integrating the new crop of singers into this genre for the growth of adhunik music.
What do you have to say about the Nepali music industry?
I don't think we have matured enough to call ourselves an industry. Our artists still struggle to make ends meet. To be an industry, we first need to be able to sustain the people who work in it. This sector is more like a personal business, where a handful of people profit, while the majority of artists can barely get by. Music companies and radio and television stations don't seem to care enough for artists. For starters, it would help if artists received royalty for their songs. Change starts with the little things, and the industry first needs to change its attitude towards artists.
Talking of attitude, what's the difference between the older and younger generation of singers and musicians?
It takes hard work, practice and dedication to become a musician. It's not about attaining stardom but about being happy with and through your work. Music should feed your soul, and give you utmost satisfaction. Don't just do it for the sake of becoming famous or earning money. My advice to younger generations is to do as much research as you can, apart from learning under a mentor, and you will learn so much more. Also explore different styles of music.