All Amrit and his friends wanted to do was play the kind of music they would have liked to hear-if it existed. So they got together in 1990, called themselves Nepathya, which means "Backstage", and threw together a pretty unusual sounding mix-Nepali folk tunes with a western flavour-giving rise to a distinct new sub-genre of Nepali popular music, lok pop or folk-pop. Wherever the fresh young band played, people couldn't swayed to their beat. Nepathya went back to the studio this year-for the fifth time-to record their new album Resham, which they promise brings the sound of the stage to the studio.
Nepathya's eponymous debut album was released in 1993 to popular acclaim. But despite their considerable fan-following, some still demurred: they were just there at the right time, there were so few Nepali bands, it wasn't too hard to get noticed. Nepathya's third offering, Minpachasma, silenced naysayers. Critics and fans raved and erstwhile sceptics stared open-mouthed as some 120,000 copies of it flew off the shelves. Everyone was humming the hit song "Chekyo, chekyo" and Nepathya was sailing. The band was playing everywhere, and had a tour in Japan lined up.
But pride, as is said so commonly of showbiz, comes before a fall, and the band's fourth album Shringar was an unmitigated disaster. Amrit puts it down to that heady "star" feeling the band had, which made them take their music for granted. He wishes Nepathya had practiced more and worked harder on the album, instead of getting swept away by celebrity. The band was so disappointed with the album that they pulled all but 15,000 copies of Shringar from the market. But this was a learning experience and the band has moved on. Now, far more than being chart-toppers or international stars, they are concerned with making music their audience likes and that they are fully satisfied with. "An artist should remain an artist," says Amrit. "Being a star is not a big deal-any good artist is that anyway." This time around, the band spent a lot of time refining the tunes, recording, improvising, re-recording and basically pegging away in the studio.
The composition of the band has changed over the years, their most recent addition is Naresh, who used to be with the cover band Crisscross, but found the idea of working with Nepathya intriguing. The band credits Naresh with the "raw", stage-in-studio sound of the new album, which they say works better with their music, which has become more complex over the years, than the smooth, "finessing" technique of studio technicians.
Nepathya is quite excited about an epic 13-minute track on Resham, but say they'd rather wait for feedback from readers than pontificate on it at this stage. They're quite happy to talk about the other songs, though. They range from new interpretations of folks songs from eastern and western Nepal, Nepathya's spin on the adhunik style, and a new rendition of the song Yo Zindagani, to the exciting-sounding Dhak Dhak, which might just become an anthem of Kathmandu residents.
With Resham, Nepathya hopes to break new ground in contemporary Nepali music. The band's mature music could almost be a roadmap of today's music scene-it nods to the past, particularly the era of Ambar Gurung, Narayan Gopal and Gopal Yonzon, traverses the breadth of Nepali folk music traditions in search of catchy melodies and memorable lyrics, and sometimes has the feel of that vague but identifiable entity "world music." But eventually it produces something totally different, very Nepali and very listenable. Naresh talks about how they are comfortable using acoustic drums in conjunction with amplified bass guitars. The band's philosophy keeps it simple: use instruments the way they are meant to be. After all, they come out of traditions, and people have figured out the best way to play them. Hence, they say, the "raw" feel of the recording, the improvisation-you hear what the music really sounds like when it is played live.
Nepathya likes a lot of current Nepali musicians, particularly Cadenza, Mukti and the Revival, and Robin \'n' Looza. What they like less is the gratuitous use of instruments like the madal and the sarangi, and the way contemporary recordings are filled with cheesy digital effects.
Nepathya is doing all it can to up the musical ante. Their lyrics are simple and their music light. They make it look almost easy to touch the hearts of thousands of young people. And that effortless sweetness, say fans, is why they are one of the biggest names in contemporary Nepali music.