18-24 April 2014 #703

Step by step

Red Monsoon and Lochan Rijal’s score for it are both original and originate from Nepali roots

Long after listening to five-minutes of Pailaharu on YouTube, the first-time viewer is left with the words, rhythm and melody of this haunting new song by Lochan Rijal echoing inside the head, and realises why he is the most original new singer to appear on Nepal’s soundscape in recent years.

The song strikes resonance with the dark storyline and mood of Eelum Dixit’s movie Red Monsoon (releasing 9 May), which deals with contemporary Nepali themes of domestic violence and alienation of the modern urbanite amidst a backdrop of society in turmoil.

Rijal’s innovative and inventive melding of words and song go straight through the heart like an arrow in Paurakhi, another jagged-edged composition about a migrant worker who abandons home for “Muglan”. It is a timeless story, communicated through the poetry and music of a modern-day Nepali bard.

Both Paurakhi and Pailaharu use traditional Nepali instruments like the sarangi fiddle of the traditional gandarva troubadours and their lyrics are based on their story-telling style through textured layers of everyday hardships and pain. Rijal has also revived the arbaja and its lute-like sound quality which had become all but extinct in Nepal.

Lochan Rijal is a singing academic. Born in Panchthar, and raised in Biratnagar he has an MA in ethnomusicology from Kathmandu University. He currently teaches music at Kathmandu University. There were hints that this was a talent waiting to burst forth when he became the first singer to win four awards at the 2006 Hits FM Music Awards for Best Composition (Pop), Best Composition (Rock), Best Vocal (Pop) and Best Album for Coma.

Nepali Times: What is the process behind your creations: music, lyrics, where do you start?

Lochan Rijal: Lyrics and music to me are influenced by whatever I see and observe. Whatever you are experiencing is the story and the truth, and it is these that create art. Any art is storytelling, and that story may not remain my own after it is told. It belongs to the audience once they have heard it.  I always start with the music. A tune comes to me, and the lyrics just fit in. I am not a poet, so I don't begin with words.

Was it a conscious decision to move from pop to your new style?

It was a conscious decision, but it was also my own “paila haru”. Step by step you move in the direction you feel is right. Careers are hit and miss. When I was playing Western instruments and style, it was because that is what I had access to. Now, I would like to spend my life exploring the timbre of as many instruments as possible, expressing myself through writing and singing, listening to diverse sound qualities and seeing as many colours as I can through these instruments.

For instance, the arbaja used to be played by the Gandharva along with the sarangi for hundreds of years. My latest music actually brings back the lost duet of the male arbaja with the female sarangi.  

How did you get involved in Red Monsoon?

I had never thought I would work on a movie, especially with the kind of music that I practice now. After seeing the rushes and reading the script, I felt my music matched Eelum Dixit’s vision and future in film work. The movie is honest, deep and important. I also found that when I read the script and watched the footage, musical and lyrical ideas began to take shape in my mind. Every time one of the characters in Red Monsoon spoke, it was genuine and I felt inspired by the art. It is a raw film, and the instruments I work with at the moment were a perfect fit.

How did the music and movie complement each other?

In Red Monsoon we have authentic Nepali instruments playing in an authentic Nepali film. This film is not a cliché, and neither are the instruments that I play in it. Music and movie are both original, both originating from Nepali roots. Fifty years from now, this combination of film and music will be an authentic documentation of this period in Nepal’s history.

As a music scholar, researcher, instrument preservationist, it is my mission to contemporise local instruments and bring them to the mainstream. Eelum has tried to do the same: bring local issues embedded in tradition and history to the mainstream through the medium of cinema.

Pailaharu features the arbaja, sarangi, nagara and my original composition and voice. Gandharva instruments are mixed with Newari percussion played by German musician scholar Fabian Bakels, all of these come together in Red Monsoon.

Red Monsoon is true to the core, and speaks for many of the lives and intricacies that make up Kathmandu Valley society. I am proud to be a part of it, and hope that the Nepali audiences feel the same way.

Watch trailer: