They make music that you crave to hear when you are away from home. Their lyrics speak to you and seem to understand your emotions at each phase of life. The pioneer of blend folk melodies and groundbreaker of Nepali pop songs, Nepathya, is a band that has consistently been able to produce popular songs over the past 25 years. They have also creatively transformed Nepali music and, along the way, become an important socio-cultural force.
“When I was in school, I loved painting. I was never been interested in stage performances,” says Amrit Gurung, the guardian, leader and lead vocalist of the band whose single concert, today, fills even the biggest stadiums in Europe. His journey from being a backstage helper at school programs to the electrifying stage performer has been an interesting one. With his band, Gurung has been able to create historic events in the times of civil war and provide a platform for many young and talented musicians of Nepal.
The first performance
Gurung would always be a backstage helper at every school performance. He was neither interested nor confident to be on stage. “Only if somebody was unwell or not able to perform, I would go on stage to replace them,” he says.
His first solo performance was at Dafe Kala Mandir in Pokhara. “It was my friend who forced me to sing at a charity event there,” says Gurung. But the performance at Danfe Kala Mandir was a big day for him. Even today, he distinctly remembers the series of events that happened during and after the show.
“Just before the event my friend had two glasses of alcohol. I was shocked but he immediately forced me have a glass as well. He told me that one glass would help me perform well,” says Gurung recalling the thrill and the stage fright that he experienced for the first time.
On stage, Gurung noticed hundreds of heads staring at him. He was nervous, his voice quivered, and he left immediately after his performance. “I did not sing on stage after that day until I completed my bachelors’ degree,” he says.
A new beginning
Nepthaya, one of the biggest names in Nepali music industry, was established in the year 1990. Its founder members were Deepak Rana, Bhim Pun, and Gurung himself. They were a group of friends who wanted to do something creative after college. So, they decided to form a band.
“We grew up listening to Beatles and Pink Floyd. At that time, Nepali music was getting influenced by the western world. But we were clear that we wanted to preserve our folk tunes and create something new with it,” says Gurung.
Even after forming his own band, Gurung did not become a vocalist. “I used to sing when I felt like it, at home or with friends. But I never sang on stage,” he says.
After releasing some outstanding songs such as ‘Chekyo Chekyo’, ‘Chari Maryo Sisai ko Goli le’, ‘Jomsome Bazar ma’ in the 1990s, the band split. While some members went abroad, others chose to pursue ‘more stable’ professions. Gurung himself wanted to make a career in filmmaking.
Travel and terror
It was only after 2000 that Gurung became the vocalist of the band. “I guess I did not have much luck with filmmaking and my friends continuously encouraged me to become a vocalist. At that time I had nothing to lose so I decided to give singing a try,” he says.
Making music and performing have dictated his life since then. He says travelling inspires him. So far, he has travelled to 73 districts of Nepal on foot. “I make new friends on my journeys and also make music along the way,” says Gurung.
However, around 2001, the time when Nepal was going through a civil war, Gurung noticed that Nepal had changed. “The places were not the same and people were terrorized of one another. I could not see happy faces while travelling. Most of the people I met were suspicious and wary of strangers and were also frightened,” says Gurung adding that this situation compelled him to try and do something for his country.
Fighting for peace
When Gurung was in Ilam, he saw a group of distressed young students. They were sad because their SLC forms had been burnt at school. “I was alarmed looking at their sad faces. Children should be carefree and happy but they weren’t because of the war,” says Gurung.
That is when he thought of starting the ‘Education for Peace’ campaign. During the Maoist movement, schools were camps used by either the army or the Maoists. Many schools were either shutting down or were severely affected due to numerous strikes.
Nepathya started their tours to advocate for violence and politics free educational institutions. “Our appeal was to keep war outside the school gates,” says Gurung. Through music and through statements they made during concerts, Nepathya wanted to hammer in the fact that schools were only for children and teachers. During the ‘Education for Peace’ campaign, they travelled and arranged concerts at Narayangarh, Hetauda, Biratnagar, and Kathmandu.
They also started the ‘Sundar Shanta Nepal’ campaign in 2003. Then again, they tried to show solidarity for peace through their concerts. “Our concerts were merely symbolic. We knew we could not end the war by singing but we wanted to bring smiles on the faces of Nepali citizens during the time of crisis,” says Gurung. In Dang, around 50,000 people came for their concert.
However, organizing such huge events during the time of conflict was not easy. The entire team would constantly be under pressure. “It was a feeling I will not be able to put into words,” says Gurung. “We did not know who was attending the concert or what their intensions were. There could have been a bomb anywhere and people on stage were easy targets,” adds Gurung.
Long lost friend
Gurung’s songs are not only inspired by his travels. He also writes songs based on real life incidents. Gurung had a friend who had migrated to the USA. “When I got the opportunity to go to the USA along with my band, I was expecting to meet him there,” he says. But when he got there, none of his other friends knew where he was or what he was doing.
That made Gurung very sad and he wrote a song, ‘Gharko Kura’, on his way to Washington DC. At DC, with the help of a small keyboard that his cousin had, the entire team completed the composition of the song in no time.
“I never sit down to write songs. I write when it naturally comes to me. There were times when I have been unable to write a single word for two years,” says Gurung.
The dream concert
Performing at the Wembley Stadium in London, England, is every artist’s dream. It is a stage that has carried great history and legacies of the world’s greatest artists. Once when Gurung was in London with his family, he told his daughter that he wanted to perform there. “It was a joke then and all of us laughed it off,” says Gurung.
But the dream actually came true in 2013 when Nepathya became the first ever Nepali band to perform at the Wembley Stadium. “That stage reminded me of my first stage performance in Pokhara. I had the same kind of nervousness,” says Gurung adding that he was delighted and filled with gratitude towards all those who came to the concert. “The place was filled with people who loved and respected Nepali music and we had a great time,” he says.
But it is not the size or the location of the stage that matters for Gurung. “For me, the stage where Narayan Gopal performed in Nepal is equally important,” he says emphasizing that it is the music, songs, and the audience that matter for an artist more than any stage. Yet, performing at the Wembley Stadium was undeniably a proud moment for the entire band.