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
Babu Raja 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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