Composing a Bridge Between Eras

September 28, 2014 , by Jerusha Rai, 9 Comments
Composing a Bridge Between Eras » My Dreams Mag
Bajracharya stands out from his contemporaries as his individual style spans the tastes of several generation of Nepalese. In over 25 years of his musical career, the prolific composer has never been deterred by the limitations of time and society, nor a generation gap. As if impressing renowned seniors like Narayan Gopal and Aruna Lama with new forms of music wasn’t enough, he has spiritually stirred a hip, modern generation with songs like “Phul ko Aakha Ma”. Bajraycharya truly acts as a bridge between these very different eras.
Nhyoo Bajraycharya started playing music in an era when there was no television or the internet. His generation either entertained themselves at the cinema or listened to music on the radio. It was an environment rife with creative experimentation as they made contact with visiting musicians from foreign countries and drew from Nepal’s rich variety of folk and adhunik (modern) music.

Bajracharya stands out from his contemporaries because his individual style spans the tastes of several generations of Nepalese. In over 25 years of his musical career, the prolific composer has never been deterred by the limitations of time and society. Nor the generation gap.

As if impressing renowned seniors like Narayan Gopal and Aruna Lama with new forms of music wasn’t enough, he has spiritually stirred a hip, modern generation with songs like “Phul ko Aakha Ma”. Bajraycharya truly acts as a bridge between these very different eras.

In this interview, Bajracharya shares his unique and fluid approach to music. He reveals how he couldn’t quit music (even when he tried), and the factors behind that abiding passion. He keeps himself apart from a mere nostalgic attachment to older songs, and is an active artist that always has an ear out for newer forms of music. Although now an adorable name in Nepalese music sphere, Bajracharya struggled with failure as well as celebrity. He talks about how he could only chase his dreams with his feet firmly on the ground.

Its been over 25 years of your musical career. Did you always want to be a musician?

When I first started, music was just my hobby. Since school, I loved playing music, mostly guitar. I didn’t think of pursuing a career in music like other musicians did. When we were teenagers, we mostly played music to look good in front of pretty girls (laughs). That was the only ambition, honestly. But as I kept playing, I got addicted to music itself. Some of my classmates who played alongside me, encouraged me. While those classmates went on to do well in studies, I began to slide in studies because I was playing music all the time.

There was no professional scope for music, neither we had today’s technology. Even the senior musicians such as Gopal Yonjan, Narayan Gopal and other artists were finding it difficult to fully embrace music as profession. I was well aware how difficult it was to be a professional musician but I could not abandon my dream either. Perhaps if I had other skills, I would have kept music as a hobby (laughs). Not having extra skills forced me to take music as a career. Now after all these years, I am very happy. I don’t feel like I am doing a job or a chore when I make music. I am earning a living…. doing what I love.
Did you have any formal music lessons or were you self-taught?

I was just talking about this with a friend, a few days ago. His name is Andrew Singer and I met him first in Kathmandu where he was teaching music and doing shows. When Andrew heard me playing the guitar, he was quite impressed. He asked if he could learn from me! We started meeting up for classes. Andrew could read notation, a skill that I had never learnt. However, Andrew was surprised and impressed that I could play by ear.

Andrew suggested me to go to London to study music. Since, that was about 30 years ago when we did not have the internet, Andrew would send me big parcels full of brochures and other documents containing information about music schools in the UK.

I was making up my mind to go for it. One of my brothers was also inviting me to study music with him in Poland. But when I discussed my plans with my family, they were sceptical about the chances of earning a living out of music. They said that even great musicians like Narayan Gopal didn’t have a platform; how would I succeed? I was still young and it made me lose my confidence.
I ended up studying commerce instead — the biggest regret of my life. As even then I couldn’t give up music, the commerce education was just wasted on me (laughs).

What would you say to parents who want children to pursue safer careers than music?

I think good parents will always be concerned about their children’s life choices. They want their kids to be safe and have a secured future. But they need to be mindful that children have their own ambitions. They might be interested in sports or arts. I really believe that the best thing to do is encourage those genuine interests or else their present or future could be a pendulum. I did struggle during my early days as a full-time musician, but that helped me a lot later in life. My parents used to like it when I played music as a hobby but were really worried that I wouldn’t get a job. But now they are very happy and proud of me.

What was the musical scene like around the time you started?

We didn’t have the internet or even television at that time so our main source of entertainment was either the cinema or listening to and playing music. People were very creative. They used to experiment with new things.

Were you the first generation to play guitar in Nepal?

No, guitar was played for a long time. But our generation was still facing taunts from more conservative people for “trying to be modern”. Perhaps we were the first generation for whom the scope for musicians was into its initial flourish.

How did you continue to learn music?

I just kept on learning music from friends, mostly visitors from foreign countries. I learnt a bit of Eastern Classical (shastriya) music because I realized its importance. I listened to a lot of folk songs from various regions of Nepal. There is diverse flavour in Nepali music. Sometimes, you can hear the blues, detect some elements of jazz, even a bit of rock and roll. There are distinctly indigenous stylings and inflections of Eastern Classical. I learnt a bit of everything which I continued to use for my compositions. This was also because there weren’t strong scenes for different musical genres like they do in Western countries. You wouldn’t have an audience if you solely played jazz. So that sort of environment prompted me to familiarise myself with a variety of music.

Did that help you come up with your individual style? Your songs, like “Phul ko Aakha Ma”, are quite different from the influences you mentioned.

Yes, I do a lot of research before I compose songs. As Ani Choying is from a Tibetan background and I arrange most of her songs, I study and learn from Tibetan music. I think a lot about what kind of sound would suit the vocalist, or the theme and compose accordingly.

What kinds of themes do you usually like to write about?

Well I have written bhajans, songs for children, patriotic songs like “Shanti lukau kaha”. But most of all, I just enjoy writing love songs. I have also come to appreciate Buddhist philosophy and tend to write spiritual songs.

You are a very prolific composer and have written over 1000 songs now. Did you ever feel uninspired or bored to do music?

No I don’t think I’ve ever felt that. I have seen people in our musicians’ circle getting bored of it at times, especially when there is not much reward or money in it. For me, if someone asks me to play, I always feel excited to perform my best. This makes me convinced that I made the right career choice. I don’t even like weekends because I love my work so much!

Do you wait for inspiration or do you go on working every day no matter what?

Once I was asked to make music for a telefilm of the MaHa Jodi, that was when I composed “Saya Thari Baja Eutai Taal”.

I wasn’t used to getting feedbacks because people had always appreciated my music. But when Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansa Acharya heard what I prepared for them, they didn’t like it at all and asked me to compose another tune! My mind was already set on the first composition. I realized that people have different tastes and some people might as well not like your music. I struggled a lot to redo the song, to forget the familiar melody and create something new. I did finish the song and the MaHa Jodi liked that one. The song is still played today.
The final outcome taught me a lesson that if I wanted to make music as my profession, I couldn’t just play music that only pleased myself. Yes, artists must firstly make art for themselves but with the current circumstances in Nepal, you have to be mindful of others’ taste if you want commercial backing. So I have made a habit of composing every day. My friends have noted that I am always humming some tune or looking for ideas in everything around me. I have exercised my mind to do so which is good but sometimes it can be trouble; like when your mind drifts away with some melody while your wife is talking to you (laughs).

Do you ever face a musician’s block?

These days I find it easy to make songs. I have written songs for the younger generation as well. Some of them have become popular, like Marcia Adhikari. I have composed for Ram Krishna Dhakal, for example, the songs “Orali Lageko” and “Daiba Tero”. Another example is “Laija Chari” for Yogeshwor Amatya. These are very different artists and I have learnt to take on different perspectives and direction while making music. As I keep working with younger people, I take on board the new ideas they bring. This is how I deal with a musician’s block. When someone approaches me to ask me to write a song, I come up with two or three different ways to do it. The only block I face is choosing the track to pursue.

What kind of music do you listen to these days?

I listen to new songs that my daughters listen to in the car. I am curious about what the younger generation likes, what they talk about in their music, how they express love through songs. I watch how time changes society. Some of my friends seem to be stuck in nostalgia. They are only concerned with the music of our times, and they believe that is the only good music. They tend to condemn the styles of younger generation of musicians. They should understand that many of the expressions of those times are obsolete.

Old singers sang about falling in love with a beautiful woman sitting by the window. Who has time to sit by their windows anymore? (laughs). The singer goes on wondering how he is ever going to express his feelings to the woman, it was a delicate matter. When my son hears songs like this, he asks, “Why not just ask her out?” What I am trying to say is music reflects the times.

So do you have any debate on whether an artist should conserve traditional music or pursue their own style?

Yes, what I say these days to traditionalists is that I am a composer. It is very different from being a specialist in cultural conservation or an ethnomusicologist. I think my role is to study what these researchers have found in remote areas, or from history and to inform my creative projects. There are numerous young musicians choosing to play and preserve indigenous and classical music. So I believe that the older music will survive. It makes me very happy to see it as I understand every body has their own inclinations. But you can’t expect every artist to have the same purpose for their music. We all have different kinds of skills.

As there wasn’t much scope for musicians, how did you carve out a career for yourself?

Oh it was very tough at first. You know there is that age where you’re too old and feel sheepish to ask for money from your parents, but you also have a girlfriend to take out on dates (laughs). I did a few jobs here and there along with my friends. But then I started teaching music in schools and gave guitar lessons. But a music teacher’s job was still not very secure and I actually wanted to be a composer.

One day a singer I knew, Lochan Bhattarai, persuaded me to participate in Radio Nepal’s competition. There were no other radio stations or such platforms at all during that time. People from as far as Darjeeling would come to participate. So it was very tough competition. So I came up with an original song; it was a kind of jazzy and sounded different from what was generally heard during those times. I didn’t go there to win but just wanted to see what was going to happen. To my surprise, I won the competition. I found out that the judge who had voted for me was Swarsamrat Narayan Gopal himself! I don’t know if I got lucky or he genuinely appreciated my unusual song. I never got to talk to him.
I didn’t really like competitions especially when it came to art. I couldn’t understand how one music could be better from another; everybody had their own style. But when I won the competition, Gorkhapatra covered my story. Radio Nepal announced my name as the winner and it gave a lift to my career. I could not keep my feet on the ground. I got carried away by the fame and I would keep trying to bring up my achievement in conversations (laughs).

The surprising fact is that winning the competition didn’t motivate me at all to make more music. In fact, I didn’t write anything for a year after the competition. I realized that I was still basking in the glory and finally let myself go. I went on to make better music. When I receive awards or recognition now, I appreciate it only for that moment. Yes artists should be happy with the appreciation they get as well but we need to keep our feet firmly on the ground.

In conversation with Jerusha Rai. Follow Jerusha on Twitter @rjrusha

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Categorised in: Arts, Interviews

9 comments on “Composing a Bridge Between Eras

  1. Manish says:

    What a simple and inspiring interview! Many thanks to Jerusha for masterfully capturing the essence of Nhyoo B., one of the pillars of Nepali music: he simply does what he loves, knows best, and comes to him most naturally, i.e., make music. From parenting to making music to following one’s dreams, Nhyoo B speaks simply and clearly. Like his music, his words flow straight from his heart. It is his ability to stay with the times and the ever-changing musical landscape and the willingness to learn that have enabled Nhyoo B to endure for almost three decades. Best wishes to Nhyoo B for many more decades of making music, entertaining people, and most important, touching lives. Thanks again to DREAMS Magazine and Jerusha for letting more people learn a bit more about this genius of an artist.

  2. Prakash Sayami says:

    Such a wonderful interview….

  3. Dikyi says:

    What an inspiring life! Thanks for writing such a well written article. Glad to read in depths about Nhyoo sir and the struggles of pursuing a musician career. Loved it!

  4. When I hear a strange sound—of guitar by Nhyoo , I usually find pretty young music and rhythms of its melody,…I tried to identify its some words by visuals medium and I succeeded to Direct music videos of two songs composed by him in 1992,….Occasionally we friends pay attention to the sound of his guitar. Now a days it is more than a sound of his guitar, and we are listening him in another mode, popular celebrity Nhyoo Bajracharaya .cheers to my old friends achievements.Sahaj Man Shrestha,Filmmaker/television journalists

  5. First of all thanx to Jerusha rai of Dreams magazine who present and gave us more authentic workout of music journey of Nhyoo bajracharya. I also think to Nhyoo B. who gave his dedication and deleberation in nepali’s music field. we pray and wish him to achieve higher goals in intl.mucis level. he is the only one who can really do this form our country. we are very proud to have this kind of versatile musician in our country. in my opinion he is the AR rahman of nepal

  6. He is a very good and versatile musician and his each and every song is very herat touching
    and he is also a very good human being

  7. Anjan Shrestha says:

    I have heard very few of his work in the past and have known very little about him. During his recent visit to USA, I get to know him very closely and understand his work better. I think it’s so cool that you can pick up a guitar and create something that didn’t exist 5 minutes ago & you can write something that no one ever heard a minute before. It’s magical and Nhyoo has that capability & music at his fingertips. I am so happy to know that Nhyoo has been an instrumental figure in developments of Nepali music industry. His consistency in good music, which is very rare to find these days and often inspiring songs, makes him unique. I believe musicians have a duty, a responsibility to reach out, to share your love or pain with others & he delivers that effortlessly.

    I am glad that Nhyoo did not follow the Nepali parents’ paradigm of becoming a doctor or an Engineer and rather pursued his hobby and making it his profession, and hence gave us a genius musician. He is an inspiration & motivation to many upcoming new talents in music industry.
    Thanks to Jerusha Rai and the Dream team, that we get to read that Nhyoo is not only a talented musician, composer, and singer; but also a humble person with a great sense of humor. Keep your good works going – both to Nhyoo and the Dream team.

  8. Deepak Ghimire says:

    Interview is very insightful. He is one of the most talented composers of all time in Nepal. His compositions are genuine, very soothing and are of a great quality. I won’t be completely wrong if I say that he’s the first composer who has managed to cross the borders of nepal to international audience with his song “Phool ko Aakhama”. I’ve heard many many stories of his unparalleled talent in composition. I personally grew up listening to all his music during my teenage years and most part of my adulthood. It’s very inspirational to see a person who went out of the norm from his family’s beliefs and plans for him and created something that not only his family but the whole country can be proud of…

  9. monika says:

    Amazing musical journey through thick and thin. You’re one of the living legends of our time. Hats off to you Nhyoo dai.

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