For the first time in 14 years, Sur Sudha was missing Bijaya Vaidya. A few weeks ago, when the superstar classical music trio played at the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu, fans were surprised to see them without the sitar virtuoso. There has been speculation that a split in the band was imminent, but none of them were talking. Until, that is, we chanced upon Vaidya outside the Kumari house in Kathmandu Darbar Square.
The maestro was carrying a gift-a CD player and a music disc for the living goddess. "I always make an offering to the goddess when I am starting something serious," he said. It will come as no surprise to anyone who's heard Vaidya play, that when the little Kumari heard his latest-solo-venture, she smiled gleefully. Vaidya seemed relieved, and content. "She liked it," he smiled at, "so I know many others will, too."
It is now official, the trio that introduced to the world at large their classical take on Nepali folk music have broken up. Sur Sudha is no more, but the passion they brought to their music lives on. Each member will now go down their own road. Vaidya has already begun his new journey with the release of his first solo album, Sitar Sudha. "Everything changes doesn't it?" he asks. "Time has changed people's taste in music. And if you are a serious musician and willing to devote your life to producing good music, you also have to develop, become more intense. That's what I'm doing," says Vaidya.
Vaidya's imagination travels across the globe. Two of the most haunting and melodious tracks, Marahaba, which was inspired by the Arabian desert, and Oriental Cradle, which draws on the puppet shows of mainland China, are the result of Vaidya's tours around the world with Sur Sudha. And yet he remains grounded in his love for Nepali roots music and skilled at classical renditions. There are tracks both upbeat and calming like Birahani, inspired by the music of the Rais, Jatra, that recalls Kathamandu festivities and the jubilant Mithila dholak beats in Janakpur.
Although the album although focuses on the sitar, Vaidya's art is strongly supported by a beautiful mix of eastern and western classical guitar played by guitarist Sasindra Rajbhandari. Present on almost all the tracks, this unexpected touch helps give the album its distinctive sound. The closing track The Rain God is different, though. Vaidya says the sounds of water plopping into a pool stands for peace. "Drop by drop, let that peaceful feeling gather a pool," he smiles.
There are other goodies in this popla-encased CD-the cover is by renowned Poubha artist Lok Chitrakar, and such as sounds taken from the new Kumari's first big Indra Jatra earlier this year. It was difficult for Vaidya and his colleagues to record the sounds in the rain and crowd the day when the young Kumari was taken out in her chariot for the first time, but they have managed to capture something of the excitement and reverence of the procession.
The production values of the album come as a bit of a surprise. To hear that the sitarist recorded, engineered and arranged all the tracks on the new album in his small mud house called Mokshya Ghar, at the Balaju edge of the Nagarjun forest, one would not expect too much by way of world-class digital sound quality. And yet Vaidya has managed to produce a splendid album, surpassing the efforts of many a sound engineer. Always modest, he says, "But for friends like Louis Betignac, who introduced me to this recording software, I would have had a hard time bringing the sounds I wanted in formal recording studios."
The moods and textures that Vaidya has managed to create are completely different and more experimental than those in his albums with Sur Sudha, although they clearly draw on the same expertise showcased there. Sitar Sudha also includes a wider range of sounds-traditional percussion like the khi and the dholak, and many other little acoustic effects.
Vaidya is enthused about his new creative identity. In fact, he has three more albums in the pipeline. "Energise your efforts," he says. "With skills, meditation and sincerity, things will turn