|IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE: Nepathya\'s annual peace concert tour could not have come at a more appropriate time for the residents of Lahan and other cities in the tarai.|
"Are you a Nepali?" yelled Amrit Gurung into the microphone at a concert in Lahan this week. The crowd responded with a deafening
"Are you proud to be a Nepali?"
"Let me hear that again."
Amrit's band Nepathya then launched into a fast-paced rendition of Raamesh's rousing Gaun gaun basti basti, which had the audience dancing in the aisles. Nepathya has been greeted by enthusiastic crowds at every stop in its current 40-day concert tour, but Lahan was different. The war never really ended here in the east-central tarai.
The region is the stronghold of the Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha (JTMM), a breakaway faction of the Maoists that has itself since split into the Goit and Jwala Singh factions. The groups are competing with the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP), part of the governing coalition, to lead the struggle for proportional representation of the tarai in the constituent assembly election.
The day before Nepathya arrived in Lahan, the NSP had declared a tarai shutdown. There were posters calling for boycotts of businesses owned by hill settlers, and a young bus passenger was killed in front of his two sons. A van belonging to Kantipur was shot at.
"We weren't sure whether we should go ahead with the concert," recalls Nepathya tour organiser Kiran Krishna Shrestha, "but we thought it was more important than ever to do it."
The concert in Lahan was sold out and young people sang along with such Nepathya hits as Resham and Talko pani. But crowd-response was most intense for the song that extolled Nepali unity: Rato ra chandra surya. Amrit admits he was moved close to tears.
"It was amazing," he says, "I felt this powerful intensity coming from the audience, and it energised me even more." Nepathya closed the two-hour concert with the swaying and restrained melody of Au hat milau, which had special resonance for people in this tense tarai town.
The Nepali folk-fusion band has been using powerful lyrics set to jhyaure blues to spread the message of peace and tolerance for the past four years. This winter, the tour will reach 25 venues, including out-of-the-way places that have been scenes of battles in the past: Sandikharka, Surkhet, Besisahar, Trisuli, Jiri. Band members found audiences much more spontaneous and open than during the war years.
Gurung is swarmed by fans backstage after the Lahan concert, including four Maithili-speaking women in saris (inset) who want to take a picture with him. "People used to call us mad, going around the country singing about peace," Amrit says, "but look at this, it works. Everything will turn out right if we just keep a positive attitude."
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