Lochan Rijal: The Other Sides of An Experimentalist

August 25, 2014 , by Adarsha Dhakal, Leave your thoughts
Lochan Rijal: The Other Sides of An Experimentalist » My Dreams Mag
Lochan's idea was the application of scientific knowledge by scholars and musician. An application which he believes will help Nepali music gain international recognition and inclusion in the global academia. "We live in a world where we are very much interested in Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley or Adele, Kishore Kumar or AR Rehman. We run behind the brand created by media."
When Lochan Rijal’s second album ‘Coma‘ became an instant hit breaking all charts and sweeping away numerous awards, it was a merry time for listeners and music distributors who thought that a new pop icon was born. An icon that has already set a benchmark and heading towards to set a new one.

After his premature — what the singer himself likes to term — album Udbeg headed nowhere songs like Chandrama, Salkairahechu, Baato, Yestai Rahecha from Coma sneaked into the common household with the lyrics murmured frequently. Coma incorporated songs for all generations, a lover boy’s feelings for her girl in ‘chandrama’ and a thinker’s perspective towards life in ‘baato’.

The ability to address every generation was the USP (Unique Selling Product) in Lochan and it was a good sign for Nepali music which by then had remained stagnant after a mini marketing revolution brought by Nabin K Bhattarai before it was followed by Sugam Pokharel and other top-notch pop artists.

Coma‘s success was probably one of the biggest in Nepali music industry that was underrated by Lochan himself. He is a man who doesn’t want to blow his own trumpet because establishing himself as a pop icon was not what he dreamt of. He never dreamt of being a musician before being distracted from medical studies which could have spurred from the reverberating sounds of traditional Nepali instrument maadal at the Melbote village in his hometown Panchthar.

"It all seemed very instinctive for me. I learnt music like we learn language. A spontaneous phenomenon. I still remember my school senior Prem Tamang playing ‘A major’ in guitar that had the beat of a maadal," Lochan said in a serene setting at the Department of Music where he currently holds post of a coordinator.

Lochan’s musical journey began in an ordinary way. Introduction of an instrument, a shift to city (Biratnagar), performance at the school and an identification of a talent was how things began for him. Learning guitar was special for him. "If I find an instrument I start writing music on that. I like creativity. More than going through any instrument theoretically, I am more into writing music. That is how I learnt guitar," says Lochan.

Lochan travelled to Kathmandu in 1995 and he was in a way lost in what he calls a different scene in music where pop was flourishing. He liked popular music but there was not any intended genre for him.

"I never intended to be a pop musician. I was not aiming to go with any particular genre. What comes out from my group of arrangers, guitarists, drummers was my piece of work. In a way, I worked under a nothing theory. At some level we have to compromise with the mindset of the arrangers and I loved whatever we produced."

Beginning of a struggle

Lochan is currently in a different league of artists, particularly musicians. His songs like Chetana, Paurakhi, Samaj and Pailaharu prove how he has been practising music. He has transformed himself into an experimentalist of ethnomusicology from a pop musician whose words (or tunes) are stuck between the lines of love and tragedy. But very few people know he is by default what he has become now.

"After I passed my SLC, I was studying science because I was planning to be a medical doctor by profession. It was just an ordinary son moving according to the parent’s will. That was the time when I was invited to perform at the GP Night (a popular live music programme during 2001-02 organised by rap artists Girish Khatiwada and Pranil Timalsina involving several other contemporary artists). That was the time when I met across some of the senior artists like Pranil and Nabin dai. They inspired me to get involved in music," said Lochan.

"Nabin dai brought me to this place (Kathmandu University, Department of Music) and the serene setting here and the courses that were offered in ethnomusicology were enough to distract me from what I actually had intended for. I sidelined the thoughts of taking science because I thought that ethnomusicology was going to shape up the way how I was brought up into a musical upbringing," he added. But the road was not going to be easy for him.

"It was a big thing for my family because in a Nepali society where music is always undermined, I was studying it. I knew that I had to be prepared for conventional questions: ‘Oh my god what have you done?’ My parents were supportive but since I went against them, the struggle had begun for me."

Lochan’s latest superhit ‘Chetana‘, according to the artist himself, is all about the intermingling of nostalgia of his own life. A life that began ordinarily when he started teaching for his living in a concrete set-up of Kathmandu. Through the motivation from Nabin Bhattarai, he released his first album Udbeg that didn’t go well. He worked for several companies for his survival.

"The important thing for me during that time was my livelihood. How I was going to survive here (Kathmandu) independently. Independent has two meanings — one is a person who ignores society and next is the one who choses his own part contrary to the desire of the nearer ones. I opted for the next one," Lochan gets reminiscent.

Table turns with a self-subdued stardom

In a competitive pop musical scene of Kathmandu where obtaining stardom was everyone’s target, Lochan was just the opposite when his second album Coma hit the charts. It swept several prestigious awards and Lochan was everywhere. But Lochan held himself back from the stardom that could have earned him the recognition of a new generation pop.

"I was studying BA when Coma hit the market. I had myself covered with big pictures in almost every other magazines or newspapers. There were calls for interviews in TV, FM station and other media but I took it very slightly. Maybe I was not that professional at that time. I was not that interested in stardom because it always saturates and is somehow fake."

"The commercial value of stardom is not as much as how people evaluate or how general audiences witness. Everyone is behind the brand established by commercial activities. The success rather left me with some serious questions. It pushed me to look music with a broader perspective. Why not move to a bigger academics, become a musician as a contributor or as a researcher."

"The real need of Nepal is theorising the resources of music, discovering instruments and other ideas, applying them with discovery of new sounds, giving life to instruments. I wanted to decipher the other side of music. The question always struck me: ‘Would I always wear the tag of this popular musician? I felt I was going nowhere.’"
Those were the times when Lochan realised where he can head towards. "There was no formal music education from school to university level. Neither there was standardised curriculum nor beneficial one. By music we meant few elements of Indian and shashtriya music, guitar, violin or tabala. That will take us nowhere."

While his musical life garnered much recognition nationwide, Lochan was dealt a hammer blow when his father had to undergo daily dialysis due to kidney failure. It was the time when he had to deal with several struggles of his life. "That was something that comes to an ordinary Nepali’s life, when you have no other options than to oblige to the will of the god."

"I went through a massive pressure to balance my personal and professional life. I had some good people around who supported me in my hard times but that was still not enough. While I was doing MA in music, I joined Nepal Music Centre and did several other works because I had numerous responsibilities to perform," remembers Lochan whose principles remained intact at the other part of his life.

"Unless a musician proves that he has a role to contribute to the society, the society will always take music for granted. As these things triggered in my mind I decided to do Ph.D in music and applied for the US so that I can research on Nepal’s ethnicity and culture. I talked to my father regarding my plans and he gave me a green signal saying: ‘I am not going to die for the next one and half year.’"
The testing times

After the approval from his father, Lochan left for the US to begin his PhD course from the University of Massachusetts. Lochan wanted to lift the diversity of music that existed in the multiethnic Nepali society which was confined within themselves. To accomplish his mission, he modelled his course in a pattern that could benefit Nepal. Lochan’s course in the University of Massachusetts was supervised by Prof. Roger Rideout and Prof Gert-Mathias Wegner looked after his course in the Kathmandu University.

As he completed his theoretical course, Lochan was preparing for a tour to Minnesota from Massachusetts to meet his friends and perform live music there but he was left shocked by a turn of events that made him more submissive. His mother passed away due to stroke and cancelled all his further plans heading his way to Nepal.

"It made me paranoid. I think those events were the cause of making me more introvert. My father would have lived more but three months after the death of mother, he also succumbed to the existing illness. I received several calls from TV and radio stations for interview at a time when I was going through testing times of my life. Until we pass through a normal Nepali life, its quite hard to get into a hifi world. To go down to earth one needs to understand life."

After recovering from a turbulent personal life, Lochan set forth on his long and arduous field research which began after he released his third album ‘Maanis‘. Though the album didn’t take off as Coma did, Lochan considers Maanis as one of his best albums lyrically and musically. "I was focused on something else so didn’t care much about its release. It was neither pushed to marketing nor we made any attempt for its promotion."

Discovering Arbajo and applying it

A pre-determined Lochan was well aware of the outcome of his tour that began with his visit in some Gandharva households at the Kechana border in Jhapa. His entourage travelled from Mangdin village of Bhojpur en route to Dang, Salyan, Kathmandu, Banepa and Kaski that went for around three years where he researched on ethnic music and instruments.

It was in Kaski where Lochan discovered Arbajo which was in the threshold of extinction. "I stayed in the remote areas of Kaski for a long time and I came across to know about Arbajo. I was quite fascinated by the appearance of it and the sound it produced. As my major area was organology, I started learning the making of Arbajo.

Arbajo is a lute made out of willow that has hollow neck and body. "I did documentation on the last Arbajo player of Nepal, Mohan Gandharva. Gandharvas used to play Arbajo before Sarangi but it was confined in tradition. As an ethnomusicologist, I thought that of applying it in contemporary music."

"I applied Arbajo in the Paurakhi, Samaj and few other new songs. It helped people know about the instrument that was about to extinct. I have been charged with questions like: ‘Is this a guitar?’," added Lochan whose attempt never got tiring.

Before doing Chetana, Lochan brought 32 Gandarvas from across the country for a concert in support from HRI Research Institute in Dattatraya in Bhaktapur. His interest was going even deeper. "I thought of combining sarangi and arbajo together in a song. The main idea was to bring the lost instruments together, that is Gandharva repertoire, by a non-Gandharva which is me. In an attempt to overcome the thinking of people who prioritise the hierarchy of society, I did Paurakhi which narrates story of an immigrant worker. The real strength is the art, music, human behaviour and connection of society with humanities."

Off late, Lochan gave his music in the Nepali art movie Red Monsoon that includes background score of Chetana and has Samaj as the original sound track. He has been mastering in bringing traditional instruments together, evident in Samaj which has the fusion of arbajo, newar drum, violin and other western instruments. The song entitled Pailaharu contains sarangi, arbajo and nagada.

Lochan’s relentless dedication have already begun to identify Nepali traditional music in global world. Chetana was featured in a New York Pop Conference with some well known music professors giving presentations. The video and music was particularly lauded as a revolution in Nepali music industry that is seen after many decades. While Paurakhi got its place in World Music Literature.

"For me to have a Nepali song being presented at one of the biggest music symposiums in the western world is a great reward," said Lochan who also won the best singer’s award during a festival in Bangladesh. "I just want to create the music which will put me ahead in musical world, the music whose insights will contribute to the society, can take it globally. To contemporise local music will have a separate place in global world."

A visionary dreamer

Lochan has often been stung by the inefficiency in Nepali music that has been struggling to make a mark outside its own boundary. His three-year field research knocked him off his comfort zone. "After the return from my field research, I found out that the first priority should be the documentation of music tradition."

"Music is not only what we see and listen or watch in TV. I realised that we don’t have anything which we need to take abroad. There are more than 64 ethnical groups rich in terms of music, language, instruments and melody structure. We have to think about making them saleable. Documentation is the only way out for us."

Lochan’s idea was the application of scientific knowledge by scholars and musician. An application which he believes will help Nepali music gain international recognition and inclusion in the global academia. "We live in a world where we are very much interested in Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley or Adele, Kishore Kumar or AR Rahman. We run behind the brand created by media."

"No one cares who is Tirtha Raj Sombahambhe, Badhi Gandharva, Mohan Gandharva. People talk about Gibson guitar, Fender guitar, Roland sequencer, Korg sequencer. But what about the Jhyabrung makers from Far-east Nepal, Hari Gandharva the sarangi maker from Kaski or even Ram Manandhar, a non-Gandharva Sarangi maker from Banepa."
"When are we going to popularise our strength first within ourselves before taking it outside the country into the global world. If Indian music can be studied worldwide, why cannot Nepali music go with the same fate?" asks Lochan.

Lochan’s ambition is to produce scholars who will theorise multiethnic strength. "For instance having each student or scholar doing theses in the musical diversity of different ethnic groups. Those theses could be used as school materials and music could be formalised in school studies. We can just imagine 30,000 musicians getting jobs at school."

"There is no need for damai to beg for money as he could be joining a school curriculum. This will also help to eradicate what still exists as a caste system in Nepal. A damai getting recognition of a teacher. Will not we live in a better world? Bringing music from the outside world is not going to help us make business. I want to let the government know how music could technically and practically bring business."

Lochan doesn’t consider himself a folk musician because folk is not in his blood. He is a man who works through his instinct. "I work through the vision that I envision. My education helped me to establish myself as what I am now. Had I not done PhD research, I wouldn’t have discovered arbajo. And after few experiments with arbajo and sarangi, I have seen a lot of people being inclined to it. Its better to scream that our rawness is much more nicer than the theory which is already very popular all over the globe."

Photos from Lojan Rijal’s videos on Youtube Channel.

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Categorised in: Arts, Features

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