There is a growing movement of music and musicians that is undoubtedly becoming a phenomenon here in Kathmandu. This diverse emerging trend has started becoming noticed as more and more artists refuse to limit themselves in a particular genre. It is welcoming to see that listeners also are appreciating such efforts by artists to overcome the monotony that has been felt from cover-only live bands.
Upendra Lal Singh
Roshan Kansakar
Babu Raja Maharjan
Raman Maharjan
Upendra and Friends is one such group that has chosen to break traditional boundaries by performing folk tunes with the exception that the popular western instruments, the bass guitar and piano, blend with the flute and the percussive elements to create a unique ‘nostalgic’ sound. Upendra Lal Singh, on piano, has transcribed a whole range of folk songs over a whole range of cultures into recognisable melodies that one might have heard on the radio or someone might have sung; basically a repertoire of tunes showcasing the rich musical background of our traditional musical culture.

They have been invited to play at the Fuji Rock Festival this year in Naeba, Japan. It is one of the world’s biggest rock festivals and brings in crowds 150,000 over 3 days in several stages around the Ski Resort. Some of the bands featured this year are Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, The Chemical Brothers, Incubus, Wilco and Asian Dub Foundation.

In 2004, Hiraka Sang, the organiser of Fuji Rock Festival, came to Kathmandu with a plan of organising an open concert; Upendra Lal Singh luckily met him through a mutual friend and conversed about the audience’s choices for music. Upendra gifted him his CDs and soon Hiraka Sang became impressed and invited him to participate in Fuji Rock Festival. Since then, Upendra Lal Singh has been appearing in the annual festival.

Having been a renowned piano player in Nepal for more than two decades, band leader Upendra Lal Singh is no stranger to the instrument. Many say that his take on folk music is one that revives the oldies and classic tunes but with an approach that looks at the music from a different view: the music is still alive and he has chosen to express it in a special way with improvisation. Being an avid fan of jazz and blues, which he cites as his main influences, he is aware about making the music interesting and including improvisations live. ‘Keith Jarret!’ he replied, ‘and all other pianists, I could go on and on’, when I asked him to name a few of his influences.

Upendra has studied piano in Bangkok for 8 years. It is there that he says, he learned the importance of having to swallow his pride and start from basics. ‘You might know a lot of tunes, but if you don’t have ideas about the basics you cannot evolve in your musical venture.’ Having been offered opportunities in Bangkok, he chose rather to come back to Nepal and teach here in order to participate in the progress of Nepali music. It is in his work that his contribution to the already rich Nepali musical culture seen. Like for instance, in his third album, Nostalgia (2010), he has recorded pieces such as ‘Malai Maaf Garideu’ (Gopal Yonjon) and the traditional tune ‘Resham Firiri’. He says it is in expressing tunes such as these that he feels proud because there are so many ways to present them. In live situations, as seen in the performances with Upendra and Friends in different venues in Kathmandu, he is not afraid to play tunes even with a DJ. The presentation of familiar songs by this band is commendable. Surely as they have been doing annually, they will keep traditions alive and kicking in the land of the rising sun.

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Rock Sitar

Rock Sitar, an Eastern style influenced rock band led by sitarist virtuoso Bijaya Baidya, has been around since 2008 and has performed extensively in and out of the nation. Verse caught up with the group, as they were getting ready to embark upon the Blues festival happening in Bruges, Belgium.

What sets Rock Sitar apart from other Eastern influenced rock bands is Vaidhya’s standing sitar, which is contrasting to the conventional idea of a sitar played whilst seated. The sound intonation of the instrument (tuned to E) is also different compared with a standard sitar. On stage, Vaidhya takes on a persona, which reflects a true musician who has pioneered a new kind of sound. He commented, ‘I always wanted to play guitars. However, I could not find a place to go and learn the instrument in depth. So I chose sitar because I could study the instrument well.’ He completed his Masters Degree in Music from Allahbad, India.

Every member has been involved for over a decade in the active music scene. Most notably, Vaidhya is popularly identified with Sur Sudha, an instrumental group popular since the 90’s and Tuladhar with the popular folk rock band, Nepathya. Their music is mostly instrumental and explores Eastern melodies over a rock setting. Both the flute and the sitar share the melodies while the guitars and bass provide the rock foundation. The overall sound is a unique blend, which the group says, is an addition to the traditional elements found in eastern classical music.

Bijaya Vaidhya
Pratap K.C
Suren Lama
‘“ Guitar
Nikhil Tuladhar
‘Drums/ Percussions
Deepak Shakya

One of the easiest ways to become an active listener is by noticing the chemistry between the players, live. It says a lot about how the art form is explored. Watching them live, it was clear that not only were these musicians experienced but they also made it look seemingly easy. The improvisation aspect was very alive in their playing and the themes of the compositions were reflected here as well.

Vaidhya composes most of their songs by coming up with the melody which is then built upon by each member, providing their ideas into the structure. Till date, they have released 3 albums: Chants of Himalaya, Rock Sitar and Sitar Sudha. The songs are very emotional in nature and though instrumental, they do have a voice crying out emotions that leave a deep lasting impression. They make you want to come back and listen again. The soothing melodies give their sound a distinct eastern feel, which comfortably fits over the rock elements. The name Rock Sitar thus is a perfect description of the nature of the band’s goal to fuse Eastern and Western components without harming the musical output of either side.

Rock Sitar have toured the globe extensively and are very excited this time about their summer tour of Belgium. On an international level, they believe they are representing Nepali art and culture through their music. They are also anxious about the audience that will be part of the festival there. Though the members are not unfamiliar to performing in different groups, ensembles and other performances abroad, this tour is a first together to Belgium.

The sight of Vaidhya pulling a Jimi-move on the guitars with his teeth is always a welcome sight. Other on-stage antics include flute runs, sounding like shred runs by K.C. and diverse blues licks from Lama. Moreover, it reflects the positive energy coming out of the band as a whole. The mellow nature of their songs shows expression of the top level from this bunch of talented upbeat professional musicians in the modern Nepali music scene.