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Nepal's musicians retune to tradition with modern note

China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-17 08:53

KATHMANDU - Nepal's musical heritage is enjoying a revival as young musicians fuse the sounds of traditional instruments once at risk of disappearing with lyrics that examine the modern challenges facing the country.

The Himalayan country has a rich folk tradition, but its unusual traditional instruments - which include a leaf from a native tree that is played like a harmonica - were dying out as younger generations moved toward Western music styles.

That was until bands such as Night, which formed in 2006 as a metal group, decided to create a modern take on its indigenous music.

"We grew up listening to guitars and drums and so we started to play the same. But then we started experimenting with folk instruments," said Night's Jason Kunwar.

Now the 33-year-old singer's musical repertoire includes the more esoteric Sarangi, a three-stringed instrument made of wood and dried sheep skin whose sounds are said to closely resemble the human voice, as well as the deeper-sounding Piwancha.

The band's latest album evolved from months spent researching instruments and singing styles in remote western Nepal.

"It is fascinating to discover and learn new instruments. We are fortunate that there are still people who can teach us," said Kunwar.

The songs tackle some of the most pressing social issues facing the country, including the huge number of Nepalis forced to migrate for work, often not seeing their families for long periods.

The combination has proved popular - it was standing room only at the band's recent gig in Kathmandu.

Ram Prasad Kandel, founder of a folk instrument museum in Kathmandu, believes the country is witnessing a "turning point" in attitudes toward its music traditions.

"There is such diversity in the sound and make of the instruments, and their playing methods. It is a gift from our ancestors," he said.

"It is our identity and the young generation has to continue it."

Popular rock and pop bands Nepathya and 1974 AD were among the first to produce fusion hits with folk elements.

Then Kutumba, an instrumental ensemble formed in 2004, brought the sounds of rural folk instruments to a more hip urban demographic.

They have taken their performances around the world, and are particularly popular with Nepal's sizable international diaspora.

"They are very excited when we play. Perhaps the music helps them connect to their roots," said band member Kiran Nepali.

Agence France - presse

Nepal's musicians retune to tradition with modern note

(China Daily 11/17/2017 page10)

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