Create your own musical future: Astha T Maskey & Rohit Shakya

August 7, 2014 , by Jerusha Rai, 2 Comments
Create your own musical future: Astha T Maskey & Rohit Shakya » My Dreams Mag
Astha and Rohit need no elaborated introduction at this point. Their three albums have raised the bar for Nepal’s pop scene and garnered enough appreciation from a wide array of audiences, from general listeners to keen musicians. This in itself is a praiseworthy feat: balancing their tendency to experiment in electronic soundscapes with the warm familiarity of Astha’s voice and acoustic guitar. Apart from that, the duo now stand as an inspiration for young musicians not just because of their success, but because they have come this far with minimal resources, without the safety net of a record company. Here they talk about how they made this possible and give valuable advice for young Nepali musicians.
Life is strange. One day you’re listening to someone’s music with a deep reverence and a solemn vow to someday be as good as them. The next, you’re having strawberry waffles with them at Camden.

Astha Tamang Maskey and Rohit Shakya were rehearsing for the UK leg of their Ma Ek Sapana tour when I walked into the practise room. In accordance to the universal code of musicians, as they were mid-song, we merely nodded and smiled at each other, instead of stopping to introduce ourselves. Excitement hung in the air as I listened to them play live for the first time. 

When we finally got to talking, I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth Astha could look so dainty! Her powerful voice and magnetic stage presence, as one of the best Nepali songwriters of our generation, always articulate about music, had left me with a big image of her in my mind. So her humble, almost shy, reaction to my compliments came as a surprise. Rohit is also surprising because he had more questions to ask us than we had for him. Our little Nepalese musicians circle in London greatly admires his work and Rohit’s eagerness to get to know us was enormously flattering.
Their performance at Coronet Theatre in London was a complete blast! Astha hit unbelievable notes as her voice soared throughout the venue in trippy delays. Though she is better known for her pop, RnB vocal stylings, these notes took their experimental motifs to a whole new level. Rohit’s delivery of the cool beats and fiery guitar solos was like a thrill ride without seatbelts: dangerously fun.

I was delighted to meet them a few days after the show as they were digging for vinyl in Shoreditch and Camden. We sat down with the aforementioned strawberry waffles and talked.

How has your touring experience been?

Rohit: Its surreal. We’re sitting here in Camden, London today. Just a few weeks ago we were on a beach in Sydney. And we’ve been to several different cities now. I think I will only register this when I reach home. Right now it’s too overwhelming, so I’m just going with the flow.

Astha: On top of that, the most beautiful thing about this is that we get to meet people. Every city has its own feel and every person has a story. And we’re meeting so many inspiring people. Sometimes we just shut ourself down and listen them talk.

How do you feel about the audience’s reception so far?

Astha: Its been really amazing. We know we don’t have a big fan-base but it’s great to see that it is growing. In every single show that we did, the people who showed up were the people who really wanted to be there. On the day of the London show, it rained pretty heavily. But people still showed up. So the flow of love and support from every city has been overwhelming too.

Tell us about your set for the shows. How do you balance between performing songs that the audience want and doing your own experimentations?
Rohit: The set includes songs from all our albums and new songs too. Just the tour is called Ma Ek Sapana. We had a mix of audiences I think. Some knew all the words to the song and sung along with us. Some had never heard of us. The happiest I feel is when we gain new listeners. It feels good when new listeners listen to our whole set, appreciate it and listen once again when they go home.
Astha: I think both Rohit and I have felt that this tour was more challenging as we weren’t travelling with a full-fledged band. It was just the two of us; there was a lot more pressure to put together a show that was effective, entertained people, that entertained us as well. You were at the show too. You know we started the set with this soft electronic ambient music and then built it up to audience-engaging, upbeat portion. Then we moved on to our more experimental electronic stuff. Then the acoustic version which I think the audience is most comfortable with because those are the songs they’ve listened to the most. And we slowly build it into the final part, which is also electronic music. So yeah there was a lot of planning that went into the song selection.


What was it like to perform with musicians you had never met before?

Astha: We were super lucky to have met such talented musicians as Dinesh and Prabhash. We didn’t have much time to rehearse together but I think they handled it very well as it’s not always easy to play with new people. So we picked three songs that we thought we could really handle as band and I think we nailed it.

Was it a challenge to bring out your record independently?

Rohit: It was easy in some ways and in some ways difficult. We had initially planned to let someone else handle it. However we weren’t satisfied with the idea because we really wanted to do things our way. From making videos, album production, marketing to cover design, we kept learning after our first album. And right now we do it all by ourselves.

When you first started, how did you deal with lack of equipment or expertise?

Rohit: We’ve always stuck to the less is more concept. When we did our first album, we didn’t have much equipments. But we had the drive to get the best out of the little. We do have more gears now, but the challenge is actually not the lack of equipments but to sustain that drive and motivation. Yes having gears does help, but the most important factor is your own will and drive.

Astha: More than anything, our biggest struggle was the initial investment. I think financially we struggle which is also the reason why we have had a limited DIY approach. Both of us went to school for audio, so that really helped us. We do most of our music in our home studio. Any investment we did put into was more into skills training. That’s how we shaped our mentality and that’s what we’ve been doing. Obviously, who wouldn’t want to record in a top-notch studio? But we learnt a lot more about music because we had to do it all by ourselves.

How do you feel about the practically ineffective laws surrounding piracy and copyright in Nepal?

Rohit: Well I think downloading music illegally is very different from selling illegally downloaded music for profit. People do download albums illegally because there is nowhere in Nepal they can get it from, or can’t afford to import it. We are starting to feel like music should be made freely available. This is why we have allowed free streaming of our music online on iTunes. Basically we just want our music to be heard.

Astha: I think at some level, all artists believe art should be free to everyone. We do sell our CDs and merchandise and I think people now buy it because they want something tangible to keep. It’s become more about meeting people after the show. To be honest we don’t even sell that many CDs. Its both a blessing and a curse. With the internet, more people can access our music which is a great, great thing. Though that portion of the revenue stream may be deteriorated, in our case it has helped us. We are always giving out free downloads of our music. We’re sort of free music advocates.

You write songs in both Nepali and English, and play mostly Western styles of music. Have you faced criticism about that, or any pressure to do more Nepali songs?

Astha: Yeah, definitely. There’s also been a lot of criticism with regards to musical structures incorporating western elements. Also my vocal styling, because of the music I listened to growing up, a lot of my influences have been western. But then again, though there are people who have criticised that, there are also those that really appreciated it. I think the most important thing is to realize where you want to take your music, and how you want to move forward. From then you just have to filter out the comments and it gets to a point where it does not affect you anymore.

You’ve been around the Nepalese music scene for a long time now. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young Nepali musicians today?

Rohit: From what I’ve seen, there is a lack of consistency among Nepali musicians and bands. Like they play for two or three years, and then somebody leaves the band. Some move away. Most of them don’t imagine themselves in ten years’ time; they don’t see the bigger picture. They think there is no future. But I think you have to create your own future.

Astha: Every single career path has its struggles, specially in the creative field. Yes, in Nepal, there can be many struggles facing young Nepali musicians. There’s financial challenges, or no family support. There’s lack of infrastructure for a music industry or a platform scarcity. Rohit and I really had to create it on our own too, though we still have our struggles.

So your advice to young musicians is to just go for it?

Astha: Well, a young Astha would definitely say “Go for it! Dream big! It’s going to happen!”. But as I grow older and gain a more realist perspective of life, I would say “Plan for it”. You know, set a goal and sort out your priorities. Making music is really not about money or fame. Its easy to get pulled into the fame and glamour aspect of it. It happened to me as well when I was young. But as I have grown older, I realize its not about any of that at all. So its really important to know where you want to be as a musician, the skills you want to demonstrate, the type of music and audience you want to reach. If you don’t have a plan, you’re never going to reach your goals.

Rohit: Also, if you are pursuing music, you have to pick a good team. Even a solo artist needs teamwork; you need a producer, a studio. There are many skill sets you need, to take yourself to a certain level. Even album covers and the font used in those covers. If all these details were carried out to a good standard, our music industry would definitely develop along with the artists. If people believed in quality. So my advice is, keep doing what you’re doing and keep looking for a team that best suits your music, be it for making videos or marketing. You need marketing to bring your music to a mass audience or it will only stay in your bedroom. So open up your music to a good team and to more people.

Where do you see the Nepalese musical scene in the near future?

Rohit: It’s difficult to say. I do listen to many exciting new artists on the internet, but as I mentioned before, I wonder if they will consistently do it for the next 10-15 years. We don’t have a strong industry that can nurture the artists or take them under their wing. We have to make it on our own and create our own scene. People are not secured about their own future in Nepali musical scene. But if you could paint a bigger picture, you work towards it, there will be a good future, I believe.

Astha: What really impressed and inspired me when I first came into the scene is the amount of motivation that musicians had to play music. Even with the lack of resources in Nepal, people were making really amazing music. Especially meeting someone like Rohit, who was so driven and could make great music with so little.

Rohit: I only got my first computer a few months before the first album, Sabai Thikai Huncha. It didn’t have a sound card, didn’t have a microphone. Just a really old version of Fruity Loops where I used the mouse to click in every note. I didn’t know how to play keyboards then. So some of the chords I made on the computer were so difficult to play on an actual keyboard. That’s what Abhishek (Bhadra) always complained about (laughs). But it sounds good and well that was it.

We also had room for experimentation even on our first album. If we were under some record label, it would have been a different scenario. They might have said “oh people won’t like that” and we wouldn’t have been able to do exactly what we wanted. But since we did our own thing, it sounded different from what was out there on the market and people liked it. From then on, we were not scared to experiment.

Astha: Yeah, we thought there would always be someone out there who would like our music. Coming back to the main point, as Nepalese musicians keep overcoming the lack of resources to make such great music, it just goes to show how driven they are and that it really is a medium for Nepalese youth to express and they gravitate towards it. If they can maintain the same creative spirit, the future looks bright for the scene.



Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

Astha: There’s the final leg of the tour that’s still pending. We are also working on a new album, mostly acoustic songs that we are doing in collaboration with CWIN. About a year and a half ago, Rohit and I had the opportunity to visit CWIN’s shelter for children who have been rescued from various unfortunate situations. The children there are mind-blowingly talented!

There are dancers, singers, writers, they make their own songs. The main director, Sumnima Tuladhar, had just watched the Khula Aakash video. And because of the motivational spirit of the song, the girls there especially could relate to it and use it to experiment creatively. They wanted to use the song for a fundraising theatrical event. When Sumnima didi approached me I, of course, said yes. The fundraiser was very successful and a lot of people showed up.

So Sumnima didi, Rohit and I had this eureka moment and thought why not do an entire album about child rights, where we would feature the same sort of motivational lyrics. The song writing is almost finished now, and when we get back, we start with the production process. So this next release will be sort of a compilation of old motivational songs and some new ones as well. All the proceeds will go towards the children’s shelter and other child rights causes. We’re really excited about it.
In Conversation with Jerusha Rai.
Photo courtesy: Parcha Productions.
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Categorised in: Arts, Interviews

2 comments on “Create your own musical future: Astha T Maskey & Rohit Shakya

  1. Becksan Enigma says:

    gorgeously crafted, Astha n Rohit will always be the big inspiration!!!

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