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American Nepali dohori


KIRAN PANDAY
The can match the quick wit and sarcasm required to master the traditional art of dohori singing with confidence and poise. And if you close your eyes, you could swear this was a dohori singer from somewhere north of Pokhara.

But Anna Stirr is from the United States and with her perfect Nepali, clever improvisations and mastery of the art of dohori she could fool a lot of people. The first time Anna heard dohori, she fell in love with it. T,he more she listened the more she realised how, with a lyrical play on words, it can be used to entertain as well as convey knowledge and make people aware of societal issues.

"There is virtuosity in dohori unlike any other form of folk music," says Anna who is researching dohoris for her PhD on ethnomusicology at Columbia University in New York.

She says that instead of being eclipsed by modern pop, dohori has got a new lease on life because it has been popularised in restaurants and tv shows. Anna herself has appeared in Image Channel's 'Khelum Dohori' and amazed her audience. Village-based dohori requires witty, impromptu improvisations, and that is what caught Anna's attention.

For the past three years Anna has been travelling to different villages learning and participating in dohori sessions. "Learning this style of music is as difficult as writing an academic treatise," she laughs, "but at least now I can sing back and make words rhyme."

In villages that Anna visits, the locals are so captivated that they make her sing hours at a time, sometimes right through the night. Anna's project is to show that the world of dohori holds more than just the simple tune with snappy lyrics.

"The importance of dohori lies not only in its lyrics and music but in the social context in which it is sung," she explains. Dohori lyrics open up the world of changing gender roles, Nepali nationalism and the plight of separation in a country where 15 percent of the population works abroad, of ethnic identity.

While there is a need to preserve dohori as a national heritage, there are also possibilities of innovating with the lyrics and style, says Anna whose forthcoming book is about the interconnected web between music and ideas and how one helps to circulate the other.

The American dohori singer is returning to New York to finish her thesis, but hopes to return and maybe even record an album. She says: "I can make people laugh when I sing a dohori, but I haven't yet been able to make them cry."

Shradha Basnyat



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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