Rock O Belly

The culture of live music is as old as one can remember here in Nepal. From Dohori to The Doors, everything has its place.
The creature known as Thamel rumbles and roars almost every night. Sounds of strings twanging and drums beating are inescapable even on a rainy Tuesday evening. It is all but the result of years of catering to a tourist populous that slowly morphed into funding your own record for listeners here and around the world. Sure, musicians like The Prism Band have been around since the 70s but initially, live music scene was just a means to meet ends. Now it’s a separate beast altogether.

Live music has seen its rise in the past two decades owing mostly to increment in the number of pubs and clubs. It started with the adhunik meshed with the hippie upstart musicians, a simpler time, tales of which still echoes from stalwarts. Concerts and college fests were their field days and playing in a bar was limited, as bars were limited. The big paradigm shift came with the rise of Thamel. As the place grew, so did the local proprietors and slowly it projected as ‘The Tourist Destination’ not only of Kathmandu, but Nepal itself. Thamel has played a huge part in letting live bands thrive and even succeed by providing them a platform to showcase their musical abilities. However, no matter what the abilities, sometimes the song remains the same.

As part of the band Spirit X, I can attribute to a lot of short lived discussions in the recent past with pub owners. The staple classics are still belted, while originality in Thamel is somewhat a lost art. Musicians have slowly evolved over the years, somehow eroding the nature of the genre that we quite cavemanishly lump together as Rock. One of these said discussions involved the owner of a popular bar in Thamel. Whilst explaining him what Spirit X was all about, he stopped me in the middle, pointed towards the stage and said “Yes, but do you sing these?” There was a band onstage and the female vocalist was doing a cover of a Rihanna song. This, it occurred to me, as one reason why original music finds it hard to live in Thamel. It is stifled at its source.

One could make a case for the bar owners and say, ‘Hey, they need to bring in more people so if Rap is in, let’s have you rap!’ The sheer necessity of being heard for a band is sometimes greater than its values. There is only black and white in the world, shades of grey were invented by man, to make him feel better at moments of compromise. The bands and the pub owners do business on the basis of a handshake, a mutual understanding of ‘I won’t drink all your booze coz I’m a musician, and you will pay me for my gig.’ Both parties at times fail to keep their promises.

Shirish Dali, vocalist at Albatross once said to me, “Abhishek, they should just have a fair priced ticket system and let the bands keep what they draw. It would be a good gauge for the bands to see if their popularity is increasing or how they have to double their efforts to be good.” The practicality of this can only be known post implementation.

The pubs need artists as much as they need them. A place without live music on a street with musicians crooning from the competition across the road sends the wrong message. Bar owners have gone out to organize events, or get the proper artists hooked, so people keep coming in and the place stays happening. The business in restaurants is helped with the inclusion of live music because people have a tendency to respond in kind for good music. Look at places like Purple haze and Reggae that always have a steady flow. One could argue a case that Haze is more known for the atmosphere it provides than the music, but we digress. It does goo business, and the buck stops there. As soon as people aren’t coming in the gate, even the best bands will have to look elsewhere to earn their pay.

Is everyone hooking onto the bait of live music in 2015? Well the answer is a resounding yes. With all the plethora of festivals, pubs and genre of music making its way to the masses, it seems like a happening time for bands right now. There is a huge capital involved and a bigger ceiling to break. One has to really click with the audience to have any sort of longevity and it will show; the cream always rises to the top, that adage can never go out of fashion. Even if some of the songs do. I mean, you can hear Çocaine only that many times. People yearn for the different, not just here but around the world. There is a lot of market value for originality but that goes hand in hand with the artist taking a stand and the pub owner encouraging said behavior for the benefit of his establishment as well. If any band does well and connects with the audience, crowds grow, they always do. Good music wins in the end, and for all the dues that musicians and pub owners alike pay to make it, the rewards are very fruitful.

All one has to do is keep at it and make something of their own. Unique, yet addictive; No one loses in that partnership? There is only black and white in the world, shades of grey were invented by man, to make him feel better at moments of compromise.

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