The tunes by Ashesh and Nekvham are a throwback to the late 1960s to the mid 1970s, an era that consecrated the genre of blues rock. The 16-year-old Kathmandu band sampled numbers from its forthcoming June album New Spirit at the House of Music in Thamel last week.
Ashesh Dangol on guitar and vocal, Pujan Shrestha on bass, and Rajiv Tuladhar on drums make up the thunderous trio, whose original compositions in English and Nepali transcend the run-of-the-mill covers so prevalent in the valley.
New Spirit, the group's third album, sustains the definitive sound of their previous Free Spirit and Free Spirit II, fusing bluesy improvisation with experimental resolutions of psychedelic rock. Dangol's deftness with the plectrum edges on genius. His sets culminate in electric feedback and reverb, evocative of iconic performances by The Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Grateful Dead.
At its essence Ashesh and Nekvham echoes the earliest bellows of the blues, cried out in melancholic spirituals and work songs in the American Deep South. In his self-written "Broomstick Seller," Dangol sings about his former life as a peddler, while the lyrics of "In My Brother's Blues" by the band's Norwegian sponsor Jon Gandal pay tribute to the 56-year relationship between Gandal and his deceased twin brother, Sven.
Gandal, a published author and climbing enthusiast, stumbled upon the band in 2010 in Thamel months after his brother had perished in a tragic boat accident. The chance encounter engendered a melodious partnership that has brought the band to Europe last summer.
"When you hear Norwegian and European bands play the blues, it's superficial. But this band goes deep with a range of emotions and music much closer to the original roots of the blues," says Gandal. Roused by the success of its European tour that included a gig at the renowned Fabrik in Hamburg, the band is booked to headline in Scotland, Germany, and Norway in July.
"In Norway the organiser was skeptical about a Nepali blues band and gave us only 30 minutes to play," Dangol recalls. "We ended up jamming for five hours with the crowd on their feet playing air guitar."
Despite its warm European reception, the band has faced difficulty at home with an industry saturated in pop. Dangol hopes that their upcoming tour would spotlight Nepal on the international rock-music stage and gain them recognition in the local Nepali scene.
Ashesh and Nekvham's collaboration with Gandal yields spirited tracks true to the blues, resonating with the music of human struggle. Says Gandal: "My brother, my best friend and climbing mate, was addicted to the blues, and at the time, I didn't understand why. I was looking for him in the mountains, the sea and everywhere, but I found him in the blues."
Cafereena, Sherpa Mall, Durbar Marg Kathmandu