For a moment it is hard to believe the rich voice filling the room with Muna Madan's "Hatha ka maila" belongs to the honourable Royal Nepali Ambassador to the Court of St James, His Excellency Dr Singha Bahadur Basnyat.
His recently released CD "In Memoriam. Samjhanama Shrutika Lahar" is a deeply personal project for the ambassador and his family. In the aftermath of the royal tragedy in June 2001 where his wife Princess Jotshana's eldest sister, Princess Jayanti died, the couple turned to music for solace. In those dark days, the idea for a tribute was born. "Music helped us voice and share our grief, and express our condolence," says the ambassador, with tears shining in his eyes.
It took nine months of work to compile classics from Madhab Prasad Ghimire, Chandani Shah and Laxmi Prasad Devkota with British pianist Alisdair Campbell and arrangements by guitarist Anil Shai. Princess Jotshana lent her voice, daughter Sraddha edited the sleeve notes and sons Vivek and Suvash designed the album cover and co-ordinated the project to make it a truly family affair. All proceeds will go the Princess Jayanti Memorial Trust, a charity for heart patients in Nepal.
The charismatic Nepali envoy does not limit his duties to diplomacy alone. A firm believer in preserving Nepal's cultural heritage, the ambassador has promoted performances of Nepali artists, most notably at London's Millennium Dome in May 2000, where he filled in as a singer-performer himself. "Culture has no language. Look at all big and rich countries, they are all promoting themselves through culture, and I am convinced that we have to push cultural diplomacy further to promote Nepal," he told us in an interview.
Whenever possible, he invites Nepali artists visiting London to perform at select soirees at his residence in the Kensington Palace Gardens. Impromptu sessions of Nepali song-and-dance are not uncommon: "My cook plays the madal, my driver dances, while I play the violin and the 30 people home for dinner, among them many British guests, are soon dancing and singing to 'Resam-phiriri'." Obviously, parties at the Kensignton Palace Gardens are not the same as other staid diplomatic receptions.
Now nearing the end of his posting, Ambassador Basnyat and his wife, Princess Jotshana, were described by British magazine Diplomat recently as having delivered an "ace performance". The duo is known for their unbeatable skills at tennis, evident in tournaments held for diplomats in London. Their relationship made history in Nepal as it marked the first wedding between a royal-Princess Jotshana is the grand-daughter of late King Tribhuvan-with a commoner. Consent had come only after two days of intense debate in the Rajsabha, now the
Ambassador Basnyat hopes to launch his CD in Kathmandu when he returns and perform live. "What is important is to draw people's attention to the suffering that our nation has gone through, and through music find hope for the future," says the versatile ambassador.
(By Kapil Tamot in London)