It isn't just Nepali music that has come of age, so has the meticulous choreography needed to stage a Grammy-style music award night in this country. This is the lasting impression the 1,300 people who attended the 4th Annual Hits FM Music Awards 2057 sponsored by Close-Up at the Birendra International Convention Centre last Saturday took away. The quality of the music was an indicator of how far we have come, and a tribute to the enormous self-confidence, maturity and professionalism that modern Nepali music has gained in the past five or so years.
It may be too soon to call it the golden age of Nepali music, but we are certainly getting there. And if this is the pace of change, then it won't be long before Nepali music receives much-deserved international recognition. What's the harm in dreaming? All we require is a little bit of patience and a whole lot of passion.
Love for music survives on this passion, and that is how icons are born. All the contemporary artists nominated for the 4th Annual Hits FM Awards-Jems Pradhan, Nima Rumba, Nabin Bhattarai, Reema Gurung, Raju Lama, Ram Krishna Dhakal (to name only a few) oozed conviction in their talent. And they all sang praises of renowned musicians like Narayan Gopal, Aruna Lama, Ambar Gurung, Gopal Yonjon, Deep Shrestha, Kunti Moktan, and Arun Thapa.
It's interesting enough that young Reema Gurung and veteran Kunti Moktan were nominated in the same category, Best Female Vocal Performance. And no junior artistes were forgetting what they owed their seniors. That is why Reema Gurung did not have to feign surprise, or even shock, when she emerged winner in that category. "This honour means even more to me because I was nominated with artists I regard as my inspiration," said a visibly moved Reema as she clutched her silver award statue.
People who like and follow Nepali music have been a little worried lately. Would the younger generation come from under the shadow of big names like Ambar Gurung and Narayan Gopal? With the demise of Arun Thapa, the future of Nepali music did seem a little bleak. But now there is no reason to panic. Still in our midst is Deep Shrestha, who has broken his almost decade-long silence with the finest Nepali album of recent times- Dhristi, Deep's ode to his daughter. It was Deep's night as he walked away with three of the most coveted awards, Album of the Year, Best Male Vocal Performance and Record of the Year.
Other young musicians also got their place in the sun, and the older and more experienced were appreciated for their timeless and tireless contribution to the Nepali music industry. In the limelight this year was 74-year-old, composer, lyricist, singer, Nati Kaji Shrestha who received the Lifetime Achievement Award. It was in 1948 that Nati Kaji recorded his first song. And on Saturday night, when presenters Basudev Munal and Haribhakta Katuwal climbed down from the stage to the first row of the hall to bestow his award, there was in Nati Kaji's eyes a glint. His shining eyes must mean that his struggles, his passion, his love for music weren't wasted after all. The audience gave him the loudest and longest ovation.
It was a historic moment when lyricist Kshetra Pratap Adhikari won the silver statue for Song of the Year. Jindagi Ma Dherai Kura Garna Baaki Chha, a song he wrote keeping Narayan Gopal in mind. But Narayan Gopal died before he could sing it, and so did Gopal Yonjon and Aruna Lama. By this time, Jindagi... seemed jinxed. As Kshetra Pratap Adhikari's son recalled while receiving the award on behalf of his father, there were doubts that the song would ever find a voice. But it did. And who better than Ram Krishna Dhakal, Narayan Gopal's prot?g?. It seemed then that destiny was just waiting to do its bit.
Sunny Shrestha of Hits FM and the architect of the award evening is thrilled with the response. "What it showed is that if you have quality in Nepali music, you can finally have your economic reward. Look at Narayan Gopal, he died a pauper. He needn't have. Today, as long as you don't compromise on quality, music artists can have a great career." And if it seems the Nepali public has become more demanding, it is also finding ways to reward merit.
The award ceremony went without a hitch, the organisers clearly learnt from the glitches of the past and carefully planned the performance that was broadcast live on Nepal Television as well as on Hits FM 91.2. The ushers were hearing- and speech-impaired students. And the three-hour performance was awe-inspiring for the sole reason that we have come to expect time over-runs, power outages, boring speeches, squealing microphones, hooters in the audience. But Hits made sure everything went right, and the whole performance was slick, exuded finesse, and was brilliantly MC-ed by Deepesh Shrestha. The Hits FM Annual Music Awards is definitely now an event to watch, and it will encourage Nepali musicians to aspire to greater professionalism.