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Owning up to life: Bartika Eam Rai
KATHMANDU, August 20: Idea, also the narrative, for ‘Bimbaakash’ album came to be in 2012 when Bartika Eam Rai moved to the USA for her education.
Moving to the States necessitated Bartika to adapt to a new environment that was moderately “unwelcoming” and completely different. She recalls being extremely sad – “depressed”. This ultimately led her to avidly work on strong semantics, the result of which we can hear in ‘Bimbaakash’. In November 2015, she summoned a five-member team to record her songs and work on visual graphics of her album.
‘Bimbaakash’, particularly its lead song ‘Khai’, elucidates a magical experience where the audience is forced to recall their aspirations, hopes, setbacks, and essence of life in general. The album boasts Bartika’s competency in not just singing and music composition, but also the command of Nepali language and videography. The six songs in her album have vibes that everyone can relate to.
At a time when emerging talents of the industry seemingly focus on performing cover songs, she has focused extensively on recording and producing originals, the lyrics of which she writes herself.
Budhanilkantha School, Bartika’s alma mater, was an incubation hub where she could foster and strengthen her passion in music and writing. While previously an avid participant in the family-based singing competition, like the ‘Antakhchhari’, she first derived confidence to perform on-stage at her school shows.
Feedbacks like “you can sing” and “good job” lingered longer than the excitement of organizing and participating in school shows, as a result of which she later pursued vocal lessons.
Bartika trained from musician Shriti Pradhan and music legend Gurudev Kamat. She learned the essential technicalities from Pradhan and Alap from the legend Kamat. She took piano lessons from musician Upendra Lal Shrestha for four months. She then worked for Rattle band, which prominently required her to “Howl rather than sing”. She had no complaints, however, owing to the fact that the metal band exposed her to the community of “exceptionally passionate” musicians. This later eased the process of finding and securing an equally passionate team for her music production.
Bartika had learned early on—16 she recalls—that good writing need not be exclusively about anything big as long as it can appeal to one’s thought process. Growing up with voracious readers and aspiring writers, she had found that words could help shape cathartic experiences for the writer. Professionally, she started writing for a magazine when she was 19 years of age.
While at school, her mother, whom she calls Aamaji, contributed significantly by writing to her rather long “highly-worded” letters. “At school, my friends would be waiting for family phone calls. Instead of phone calls, Aamaji sent me long letters, which provoked jealousy among my friends,” said Bartika.
This exposed her to the intricacies of Nepali language, which later formed the basis of her interest in literature—Nepali and English alike. Not only that, she recalls getting books on philosophy and morality as birthday gifts in contrary to dresses and dolls her friends got for their special days.
Aamaji became an important support in Bartika’s professional career as a musician in numerous accounts. For instance, the title of her album ‘Bimbaakash’ was inspired by Aamaji. “Bimbaakash translates to a million images of dreams floating in the sky,” she recalls her Aamaji explaining.
Not only that, Aamaji has been valuable in copy-editing the drafts of her song lyrics and “being available” every time she needs support of any kind, despite the time difference. “’Bimbaakash’ was all about celebrating my mother’s trust and belief in me,” said Bartika.
After more than five years in the industry, Bartika has published one album and accumulated a lifetime's worth of lessons. She has learned to own up to her productions, instead of singing or performing live for a commercial purpose. She has learned to identify her likes and dislikes of music fraternity and act accordingly.
For instance, she dislikes having to attend after-parties following any musical performances. Instead, she hopes she could be a Sing a Song Writer like music legends Bob Dylan and Feona Apple. “In future, I will be working on embracing the idea behind Sing a Song Writer and create a vibe that would enable music enthusiasts to perform just the music, not the after-party hassles.”
Bartika also participated in and won the Miss Nepal USA beauty pageant. “I used to be exclusively anti-pageants, but I decided to participate during my first summer in New York. I hoped to network with New York-based Nepalis and get mentorship from my all-time favorite Malvika Subba through the pageant. I hadn’t expected to win when I signed up,” she said.