The new DIY

Sunny Tuladhar is better known in the Kathmandu music scene fhis explosive performances as the electric guitarist in the popular underground rock band Jindabaad!!! Perhaps lesser known but equally impressive is the fact that in and around playing, recording, practicing and teaching music, Sunny manages to make guitars- from scratch! As the first real professional guitar maker in Nepal, Verse sits down with this humble musical genius to learn more about his craft, the intricacies of guitar making and how the internet enabled him to turn a dream into reality.

As a guitarist for more than a decade now, Sunny first became interested in repairing because he wanted to be able to fix his own guitars. ‘You couldn’t rely on anyone else,’ he explained, ‘because there simply was no one here to do it.’ After fiddling around with his own guitars, Sunny would then fix friends for free. It was here, some six years ago, that the idea was born to professionally repair and ultimately make guitars right here in Nepal. But how does one go about doing that when there is no school to attend or teacher to learn from? Sunny, like many others faced with limited tangible resources, turned to the internet to research, learn and teach himself how to make guitars.  Youtube and the Internet are the new DIY.

For six months Sunny spent ‘every free moment’ downloading tutorials and ‘reading the same stuff more than ten times’ in order to really comprehend the material. Surfing Blue Theory websites  and meticulously watching the process on Youtube, Sunny slowly pieced together parts of the intricate guitar puzzle. After a period of intense orientation study, Sunny spent the next two years concentrating on the technicalities of design and ‘the extent to which things could go bad.’ The proceeding six months were dedicated to preparation, until, exactly three years ago this month, Sunny made his first guitar. Unable to source proper wood at that time, he lamented that ‘the first one played well ‘“ it had the right measurements ‘“ but it didn’t finish well.’ After using it for a couple of jam sessions, the wood gave way because of its poor quality and the guitar broke.  But with the belief that ‘I could do it and I wanted to do it,’ Sunny headed for the books.

‘I would spend hours at the Botanical Gardens Library in Godavari looking through different books and I found that there were lots of woods supposed to be in Nepal but when I went to source them I couldn’t find them,’ Sunny reflects. The main raw materials he now uses include American Mapal, and the more basic supplies of rose, mahogany, elder, ash, berch and tone woods. It is ‘basically carpentry,’ Sunny says, ‘but you need to be really precise because when making guitars every millimetre counts.’ This is particularly important to ensure the string alignment is perfectly centred. It is these tiny details that distinguish a good guitar from an amazing one. The hardware for the guitar is supplied by the clients.

After just three years, Sunny has completed nearly a dozen guitars, the most recent of which just toured Australia with Sarun Tamraka, a member of The Uglyz.  Yet despite making so much progress where he ‘gets better and better with each guitar’, Sunny insists there is a long way to go. ‘I will always be studying and experimenting. Real craftsmanship and professionalism comes from experience.’  In the future, Sunny hopes to expand and run a workshop that meets the demand. This includes having somewhere more secure to store the woods and even hiring an assistant to help in the construction phase.

‘The support from family and friends is beyond what I ever expected,’ Sunny reveals, as the interview draws to a close. ‘Especially in the past few months when I upload pictures to Facebook, the response is 98% positive. People are really interested in what I am doing.’ This interest, which is predominantly sustained through social media, is also instrumental in providing a free and ever expanding platform for Sunny, and artists like him, to showcase their work. ‘I already have 7-8 orders and most of them have come through people seeing my work on Facebook.’

Sunny’s experience of learning from and now operating predominantly by social media sites, is emblematic of a paradigm shift in learning and business. Ushering in an era of the DIY entrepreneur, social media affords people the unique opportunity to access a wealth of information and knowledge they otherwise would not have access to. Sunny epitomises those highly dedicated and self-motivated few who have grabbed this opportunity with both hands. ‘I didn’t know what would happen,’ he finalises. ‘But I tried and succeeded.’
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Sunny’s guitars: Where are they now?

‘¢ The body of his first ever guitar remains in Sunny’s room as a reminder of how hard work can finally pay off.
‘¢ The first Custom Stratocaster is with his teacher from music school, Iman Shah.
‘¢ Ryan Jordan of the Cruentus, had his Custom RG signed by Joe Satriani. ‘He is my ultimate idol,’ Sunny beams, ‘I was so excited to hear that my guitar was signed by Joe Satriani’.
‘¢ His sixth guitar, a Custom Flying V, is with friend, Sashank Shrestha.
‘¢ A Custom Modified JS remains a work in progress, but Sunny intends to keep it for himself.
‘¢ Originally made for Gokul Atreya, Sunny’s ESP Replica is now in the United States.
‘¢ Taking the order through Facebook, the Custom Telecaster for Sudip Ale is being put to good use in the UK.
‘¢ Prabil Bradhanang had the next Custom Stratocaster.
‘¢ Sarun Tamrakar’s Custom Telecaster just recently toured Australia on the Uglyz tour.
‘¢ A Custom PRS 7 String Replica is currently in the making for Sunny’s fellow Jindabaad band member and friend, Abhisek Bhadra
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TEDxKathmandu – Innovation. Change. Sustainability.

On the 30th July, nine Nepalis with an ‘idea worth spreading’ became the first group of speakers in the inaugural TEDxKathmandu conference. As an independently organised TED Talk, TEDxKathmandu placed Nepal among a host of nations bringing a global discourse on Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) to the local fore.  Originating in the US in the 1984, TED talks create a secure space for new, inspirational or innovative ideas to be shared. The collective ‘lessons to be leant’ often transcend time and place. Based on universal themes, talks may be persuasive or courageous, fascinating or informative, beautiful or funny. A good presenter will challenge you to think beyond the norm, thus stimulating debate, provoking ideas and facilitating a new conversation.

The range of speakers at TEDxKathmandu reflects the diversity of social, political and activist cultures that are pertinent in Nepal today.  Speakers included social activists Haushala Thapa and Anil Chitrakar; Mark Zimmerman, a doctor and Executive Director of the Nick Simons Institute; Sunil Babu Pant, Nepal’s first openly gay member of parliament; and Kedar Sharma, a writer, journalist and documentary film maker, to name a few.

Responding to the theme ‘Innovation, Change and Sustainability,’ speakers were allocated eighteen minutes to present their idea in the most captivating way.  The theme, explains co- event organiser, Nimesh Ghimire, aimed to challenge the dominant national discourse of politics by providing a space for innovators, entrepreneurs and ‘those who think outside the box’. He elaborates that ‘particularly in developing countries like Nepal, when tackling various social and economic problems, we believe that delivery is more effective and efficient when we find ‘new ways’ of doing things’.

TEDxKathmandu can itself be considered one of these ‘new ways’ of doing things. Twenty year old Nimesh, along with his nineteen year old colleague, Shirish Pokharel truly embody the message they are trying to spread; that young people can and will make a difference. Through TEDxKathmandu they explain how ‘we wanted to create a platform whereby the 100 attendees – who themselves have a strong track record of innovation and connection to their communities – could get the inspiration and motivation to continue their works and take it to new next level’.  The pair’s long term outlook is that TEDxKathmandu, as a yearly event, ‘will serve as a hub for someone seeking the inspiration, motivation and confidence to explore ‘new ways of doing things’ in society’. Indeed, with plans already in motion for 2012, TEDxKathmandu is sure to carve its niche as an important site of dialogue and exchange in the years to come.

http://tedxkathmandu.com/

http://www.ted.com/

 

Memorable moments from TEDxKathmandu 2011

Ani Choying Drolma
Change

It is always something special to listen to Ani Choying Drolma perform. Singing from her soul, each performance encapsulates the depth and breadth of Ani’s experiences growing up as a girl in a distinctly patriarchal household and society, and later her encounters with womanhood as a Buddhist nun.  Reflecting heavily on her past, Ani addressed the TEDx audience on the importance of transforming negative experiences into opportunities for empowerment.

Revealing that her own childhood was met with instances of domestic violence which she ‘always felt just wasn’t right,’ Ani developed the courage to say no and resit the strict social hierarchy she was expected to conform.  Embracing nunhood as a form of salvation from married life, Ani found the nunnery to be like a paradise when she entered.  It is here that she met her guru and the ‘best man in the world’ who helped her transform anger and hatred into understanding and giving.

Change starts within. It starts with a change in attitude and a change in how we perceive the world. Delving further into mechanics of change and personal growth, Ani reiterated that spirituality does not necessarily mean giving to a temple or charity. True spirituality is ‘cultivating more and more the goodness we have in ourselves.’  It is about cultivating a thought process and praying for the wellness of people.  ‘It is those things that make me happy,’ she concludes.

 

Salil Subedi
Performance, activism and transformation

Performance actor, Salil Subedi, or Salil Kanikar as he is also known, energetically closed the conference with a captivating narrative of his experience as Nepal’s first didgeridoo player. Self taught fourteen years ago, Salil found succour in this fascinating new instrument, one which was pivotal to his personal quest to regain some control over his life. Today his didgeridoo, Rainbow Snake, is Salil’s main means of expression during his work with underprivileged children across rural Nepal. Bringing his performance to the hills and Terai, Salil says ‘you don’t need to explain anything, just go out and do it. They too will have something to teach.’

In keeping with the didgeridoo’s Aboriginal Australian heritage, Salil uses the instrument for storytelling. Combining music with activism, dance and performance, Salil communicates and presents social issues as an art form. It can also be a form of therapy.  He explained the magic in how a ‘single hollow tube can bring so much joy and meaning to people’¦the simple tube can bring a lot of youth together.’  The environment and animal rights are also issues close to his heart. Asking ‘who speaks for the wildlife?’ Salil imparts that we need to take care of the earth’s rich biodiversity because ‘it took care of us for billions of years.’

His parting words and aptly those of the conference, succinctly reaffirmed the aspiration of TEDxKathmandu to create a new conversation on innovation, change and sustainability. ‘If you reach fixity of thought,’ he probed, ‘it becomes a commodity. We need to live in the twilight zone. All of us are artists- go find your twilight.’

 

Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati
Interpreting history through photographs

‘History is never only history of, it is always history for.’  – Levi Strauss

History and the interpretation of history are powerful tools.  With historical recounts often shaping a nations psyche, the construction of past events often serves a contemporary agenda. Why do leaders evoke images of the nations past hero, and neglect to recall the struggles of the everyday?  Why is history written from the perspective of the victors, while the rest of society- the women, the children and the minorities- are systematically excluded?  Is it truly possible to suspend one’s preconceived notion of a historical narrative and view the world from a decentred position?

Yes.  According to Nayantara, this is all possible when we believe that history begins at home.  Over the centuries Nepali history has been a history of kingdoms, where Gorkha or Rana rule dominates the discourse. But the nation’s collective history must stretch far beyond that. As Nayantara proposes, memories are your history. They become the nation’s history when told together; A collective memory.  The Nepal Memory Project, an event run by Photo Circle, is Nayantara’s attempt to contextualise, redefine and reshape Nepal’s history from the perspective of the people. The stories from each photograph become a part of a larger narrative that builds a socio-cultural pictorial of old Nepal.

Postmodernists are relativists. They argue that there is no such thing as an objective truth as historical practice his inherently shaped by context and bias.  A distorted historical construct is thus meaningless when truth and accuracy remain in the hands of the dominant culture.  The Nepali Memory Project endeavours to construct a more accurate and enduring history of real Nepal; one that is removed from the dominant culture and is shaped by the people. After all, ‘we are all historians’.

See http://www.photocircle.com.np/ for more information about the Nepali Memory Project and also their upcoming event Rewind, Recapture and Rewrite.

 

Prabhas Pokharel
Innovation- Half Inside Half Outside

I was thoroughly impressed when Prabhas Pokharel, an activist for social development, opened his presentation with this not so threatening but otherwise exciting proposition: innovation and change come from being both within and outside of a system. The system of course refers to that intangible but all powerful entity that you know needs to be modified but you just don’t know where  or how to start. So you don’t. Or you endeavour to challenge the system only to find that it is too big and too established to even be slightly rocked.

So the solution, Prabhas probes, is to play their game. You become a part of the system. In this way one will have the contextual knowledge necessary to identify sites of change, while simultaneously having the fresh and innovative perspective of an outsider.  The leverage, thus, from those inside and outside is that they have the potential to bring about change within a constrained system.  This potential lies in their ability to talk in an open and systemic manner and to decentre themselves from a perceived reality to readily embrace the different actually they are confronted with.

When applied to a Nepali context, there is great potential in reaching across borders to stimulate discussion and source innovative ideas from across the globe. Recognising this potential, Prabhas helps to lead ‘Nepal ko Yuva’ an organising bridging Nepali youth at home and abroad. Pariwartan (change) is one of their most recent projects that seeks to ‘promote the spirit of social and political entrepreneurship within youth’.

Ending just as he begun with something to get you thinking, Prabhas concluded that if the sun and the moon, which rarely see each other, can co-exist on the Nepali flag, then Nepalis should be able to build bridges across boundaries to find innovative solutions to contemporary problems. By being half inside and half outside of a system, people will have the knowledge and competency to initiate change.

http://nepalkoyuwa.org/

The Shadows

They claim to be mainstream, but different from the rest. They made their mark by bringing Nepali rock anthems to life which earned them the accolade of best group and best performers in 2006.  Then they disappeared.  With two guitarists busy in Australia studying sound engineering, The Shadows Nepal took a break, performing only one tour together within the last three and half years. In this time new bands have formed endeavouring to fill the rock music void The Shadows left behind. Now, after a much anticipated and long wait, The Shadows are back ‘“ well nearly!  Before rocking out to fans at home, The Shadows will embrace an Australian audience playing songs from both their second album, Hidne Manchhe Ladchha, and soon to be released third studio album.

Released in 2005, Hidne Manchhe Ladchha is a combination of hard and alternate rock. Making a point of representing real people and depicting real issues in their lyrics, The Shadows strike a chord amongst listeners who can relate to the different themes of their songs. This includes nature, navigating a new modernity, persevering against adversity, nepotism, humanism and peace.

I sit down with Swapnil Sharma, the lead singer of The Shadows Nepal, to find out a little bit more about the band, their impending Australian tour and what local fans can expect when they burst back onto the Nepali rock music scene at the end of the year.

I have been in Nepal for a while now and haven’t heard of the Shadows. Where have you guys been hiding?

We haven’t been hiding, we’ve just been apart and taking a break. Both the bass guitarist (Amit Pradhan) and lead (Prakash Rasaily) are in Australia, one in Melbourne and the other in Sydney, studying sound engineering so we couldn’t do much here in Nepal.

And what did you do in all that time?

We were in such a good spot when Amit and Prakash left that I wanted to maintain the momentum going and keep The Shadows visible to Nepali audiences. We hired a few different session guitarists who played with us at different events.  But the guys did come back in 2010 for vacation. We played 10 concerts in all different parts of Nepal and received a huge response from the fans. We are definitely ready and motivated to do that again.

But first you have an Australian tour?

Yeah, it’ll be the first time we play overseas as a band, everyone is really looking forward it. Last year Amit and Prakash performed at a few festivals and in Nepali music programs in Melbourne and Sydney. They had a really good reception from both Nepali’s living in Australia and the locals.

So you have some fans there already?

It seems that way. Australia is a popular destination for Nepali students. Many would have known us years ago so they are waiting for us to come. Not many Nepali acts make it down there so I think they are nearly more excited than we are. Plus with the internet and facebook people can stay connected with the music even when they are not here. And I have a few friends who also live in Australia so it’ll be great to see them again.

Although the songs you compose are mostly Nepali, do you have plan to sing a few tracks in English for the Australian crowd? 

I sometimes sing in English. The last track on Hidne Manchhe Ladccha, Looking at the Sky, is entirely in English and I do covers as well.  But the most exciting thing for us as a band is that we’ll be performing some of the new songs from the next album. A few have been released as singles but we haven’t had much chance to play them live. Beyond that, though, it is hard to schedule songs. Much of being a rock band and performing live is that you have to read the crowd. You have to feel their energy; if they want fast, we’ll give them fast. If the mood is a little slower than we’ll tone it down a bit.

 

What is the creative process like for The Shadows ‘“ how do you compose the lyrics?

As the vocalist I tend to represent the band as the writer but most of the time it is a group effort.  Everybody is always on the lookout for a new concept. Inspiration is everywhere. It could be from something you read while walking down the street or a conversation you have with someone. Our songs have a realistic, universal meaning so ideas can come from the everyday.  Whenever I write songs I have to work at it for a while. To express social issues you have to go to many places and talk to many people.

What’s your favourite song?

My favourite is Prakriti. It’s a popular song related to saving the nature and how we are all linked to the environment in a certain way. Every time I perform it I make a point of talking about the messages the song contains, about how we represent ourselves as nature. The audience response is very positive.

Any plans for a new album?

Once we come back from the tour and then Amit and Prakash join us at the end of the year, we will have a lot of time to concentrate on performing at home and working on a third album. Actually we have already recorded seven tracks for the next album and a few, like Kheladi Hun Ma and Paisa, have been released as singles. There are lots of new bands on the scene now so it’ll be nice to get back out there.

What can audiences expect from the new album?

It is still important for us to create songs with meaning. In a way the third album explores similar issues to before but the songs are written based on the current situation. One song Naya Nepal Purano Gatibidhi, for example, looks at the politicians repeated request for a ‘new Nepal’ but the song highlights how their practices remain that of an old Nepal. We want to send a message that it’s not ok and we want people to realise this. We have already aired a few songs and have had a good response.

Something we didn’t do much of on the last album was play slower tracks. This time if we have to convey a soft message then will play something a little slower. But the feel of those tracks will still hit the audiences hard and with meaning; they give you more time to think.

Well enjoy Sydney. I would suggest going to the beach but it is winter now.

Thank you, I am sure I will. Even if it is winter and cold I have to go to the beach and jump in! We are landlocked here so it will be my first time to see the ocean.

 

The Shadows Nepal are touring Australia in July
23rd July in Melbourne at HiFi Bar
24th July in Brisbane at the Souths League Club
31st July in Sydney at Oxford Art Factory

Hemingway’s Bar/Café – ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so.’

If you’re seeking somewhere chilled and down to earth, Hemingway’s is a hidden gem among the throng of bars and cafés in the popular Lazimpat district. Despite its proximity to the more uppity Raddison’s, Hemingway’s remains simple in its approach; a delicious and affordable menu, a wide selection of drinks, a clean and secure environment, and friendly staff that help you feel right at home.

Inspired by his European travels, part owner Dipendra explains that ‘it was my dream to always open a café and while in Europe I saw a few different bars called Hemingway’s.’ Indeed Hemingway’s stands out because it is slightly European in feel; A café come bar where comfortable and practical meets chic and sophisticated.  While the walls are adorned with pictures of the literary great, Earnest Hemingway, the low strung lights eradiate mood filled elegance where it would not seem out of place to see a nice glass of red wine being enjoyed next to bottle of Turborg.

The charm of Hemingway’s is that it is ideal for both the independent worker who would prefer to sit off to the side at one of the high bar tables and for groups of friends who want to sink back into the comfortable lounges and swap stories about their day.

Having mastered Nepali cuisine, the momos and alu Jeera being the best, Hemingway’s offers guests a barbeque on Friday and Saturday nights. An ideal setting for end of week drinks, the terrace barbeque, offering chicken and pork, is the perfect way to relax on balmy summer nights. Other dishes include Thai chicken, meatballs and wanton soup. Vegetarians must not miss the vege sizzler which will have you coming back for more. Regardless of the dish you order, though, the presentation of white plates delicately drizzled with sauces and garnished with seasonal herbs is enough to make you think you were dining five star.

During the week you’ll be able to unwind with some jazz and blues while on the weekend gypsy Latino music picks up the pace. Soon, guests will also be able to sink back into the soft leather couches and enjoy live acoustic sets from some of Kathmandu’s most promising artists. Sports fan will be pleased that the football is a regular on the flat screen, and those seeking fast wifi can spend hours in uninterrupted internet heaven. For drivers, Hemingway’s boosts a large and free car park just beside the building