By Abish Shakya
Photos by Bibek Puri
In the afternoon on April 21, band members of Mongolian Heart were on stage and playing the intro-music of the song ‘Mero Nepal’, but Raju Lama, the vocalist of the band, was in the backstage holding a flag of Nepal in one hand and a microphone in the other. The verse comes along and Lama sings a line without appearing on the stage and a massive 14,000 odd fans gathered in and outside the Hyatt Ground in Chuchepati roars in excitement. He then sings another line and another line. Finally, he takes a deep breath, and with a big smile on his face, he ascends the small flight of stairs towards the stage and makes the crowd crazy. Lama appears at the centre of the stage, hoists the flag, and sings, “Mero desh malai lagcha prayo”, sending an ineffable wave of nostalgia of all those years.
The moment was one of the sights during a concert organised by Event Management Nepal on April 21 that marked the 25th anniversary of the folk-pop band Mongolian Heart.
Raju Lama was a 15-year-old kid with a passion for music when Mongolian Heart was formed in 1992. Others in the band were Chandra Gurung on rhythm guitar, Dev Gurung on drums, Rajkumar Thapa on lead guitar and Basanta Gurung on the keyboard – all being equally passionate for music.
From the nascent stage, they started composing songs; most of them being love-themed which also embraced the tang of Himalayan melodies and cultural values. But pursuing to become a musician was taken as something absurd. As the band comprised of young broods, this belief sent immature instincts to them. In particular, they were advised to get rid of the youthful hoodoo to rather focus on academics. Despite this, they did not stop. It was their equal love for music that held the group together.
As the band was just budding, each band member would save some money for the band and use it for various purposes. They had even borrowed some money from others, especially from their parents, when it came to buying instruments. This kind of consistent effort even made the band successful in amassing Rs 18,000 in 1994 to release their first album ‘Soltini’.
Raju recalls, “We were amateurs then. Everything was raw and needed polishing. I didn’t even have any formal knowledge on singing.”
Nevertheless, the band did their best to release and promote the album that was recorded in a single take in the analogue recording system. They bought an ordinary picture from Thamel and used it for album’s cover and printed some posters which they pasted in various locations all by themselves. By pushing for sale through their friends’ circles, they sold 5,000 copies approximately.
“MONGOLIAN HEART RELEASED THEIR FIRST ALBUM ‘SOLTINI’ IN 1994, AND BY PUSHING FOR SALE THROUGH THEIR FRIENDS’ CIRCLES, THEY SOLD 5,000 COPIES APPROXIMATELY.”
‘Badalu Ma Luki Basne’ was the first song to be aired on radio, but as newcomers, they still could not grab the headlines. Likewise, the band still had limited chances to perform on stage, but when they did get it, they had the chances to share the stage with legends like Deepak Thapa, Arun Thapa, and Sukmit Gurung. And in 1996, the band won their first-ever award at Sajjan Smriti Pop Competition and bagged its ‘first prize’.
‘Mongolian Heart: Volume 1’ was their breakthrough album that was released through Music Nepal in 1996, and it included superhit songs like ‘Oye Nana’, ‘Natanu Ta Tanu Lagne’, ‘Badal Pariko’, and ‘Ubho Ubho’. Approximately 500,000 copies of the audio tapes were sold. As the album was marked as the highest-selling album for two years in a row, Music Nepal secured two gold medals in total.
Lama thanks, “Getting to this point wouldn’t have been possible without the support from our families and friends. We also would like to give our special thanks to Dipesh Pradhan, Patrick Sithling, Sylvester Sithling, and the late Sunil Bardewa.”
‘MONGOLIAN HEART: VOLUME 1’ WAS THE BAND’S BREAKTHROUGH ALBUM THAT WAS RELEASED THROUGH MUSIC NEPAL IN 1996. APPROXIMATELY 500,000 COPIES OF THE AUDIOTAPES WERE SOLD. AS THE ALBUM WAS MARKED AS THE HIGHEST-SELLING ALBUM FOR TWO YEARS IN A ROW, MUSIC NEPAL SECURED TWO GOLD MEDALS IN TOTAL.”
Following the album’s breakthrough success, the number of their crazy fans continued to multiply every day. While fans requesting for the band’s autographs or reaching their homes with flowers were common, some fans even did not step back to use blades and write the name of the band or Raju Lama on their skin or have it tattooed. Many fans have even fainted in concerts. From this point on, the band did not have to face the dire situations like struggling musicians.
After this, the band came-up with commercially successful album one after the other. In 1999, the band released their third album ‘Mongolian Heart: Volume 2’ that contained songs like ‘Gajalu Tika’, ‘Laibari Laibari’, ‘Timro Tyo Akhaile’, and others. In 2002, the band released ‘Mongolian Heart: Volume 3’ that went blockbuster hit. It contained songs like ‘Mero Nepal’, ‘Timilai Dekhera’, ‘Sayad Timro Batoma’, and others. ‘Sayad Timro Batoma’ became the first commercial recording in Nepal that used audio processor software Autotune to produce after-effects on Lama’s vocals. The record went on to bag numerous awards like ‘Hits FM Music Award’, ‘Aaha! Pop Music Award’, and also won the award for the most airplay for three years from Kantipur FM.
In 2006, the band released ‘Mongolian Heart: Volume 4’, which included hits like ‘Parkhaima’ and ‘Juraideu Euta’. It was after the release of this album when Lama left for the US, and the band split. However, Boby Lama – the guitarist who had joined the band in 2000 – led the band as band manager and brought in members to reform Mongolian Heart in 2007.
Lama (Raju) who remained in the band despite geographically far saying, “Living in the US does not make you an American. No matter where you travel and live, nothing is better than home. It is the Nepaliness that gives me motive and energy, and it makes me strong.”
With such feeling in deep inside his hearts, Lama continued contributing to the band when it comes to making music or performing. “When Raju comes to Nepal from the US, we get extremely busy. We hardly get time to eat or sleep,” says drummer Santosh Thapa, who is an assistant sub-inspector in Nepal Police School of Music and also a semi-professional cyclist who has paddled from the east to west of Nepal and even participated in the M.S. Gong Ride 2017 in Sydney. Similarly, bass guitarists Pawan Kapali says, “We all are involved in our own works as well. I am involved in a business, but despite heavy work schedule, touring with the band is like going on a holiday.”
With such a strong bonding, the band did not stop releasing an album. They released ‘Mongolian Heart: Volume 5’ which included hits like ‘Halla Challecha’, ‘Yo Junima’, ‘Dil Basyo’, ‘Chotto Cha Jindagi, and others. Soon they released ‘Mongolian Heart: Volume 6’ which included hits like ‘Herda Herdai’, ‘Maya Bhanu’, ‘Sherpini Aija’, and others.
Recently on April 21, the band released the seventh edition, ‘Mongolian Heart: Volume 7’, during a concert that marked their 25th anniversary. The album runs with nine tracks and the band has released music videos of the song ‘Ek Jodi Nayan’ and ‘Adha Rogi’. According to the band, MV’s of the remaining seven tracks of the album will all soon be out.
“Mongolian Heart has ingrained Nepali culture in its music, and it has an ideal music for every generation,” says guitarist Kiran Nagarkoti who is a businessman when not with the band. Lama (Raju) adds, “Our goal is to bring people through music. Religion and race do not matter. Music is the messenger of peace and harmony which unites us all.”
Besides devoting to create good Himalayan tunes, members of the band have been involved in acts of philanthropy. In the aftermath of 2015 earthquake, The Raju Lama Foundation remained active in building schools and providing stationeries to schools’ students. The foundation also constructed ‘Maya Ko Sanghu’, a suspension bridge in Baruwa VDC, Sindhupalchowk district. Lama (Raju) had performed concerts in many places around the work to raise money for the bridge; as a result, he constructed the bridge at the cost of US$ 41,762.47.
Similarly, Lama (Boby) was involved in post-earthquake aid programs who provided financial aid of Rs 6 million, along with tarps and mats for earthquake victims in Bhotong and Baruwa VDC of Sindhupalchowk district. Along with providing educational materials to students of quake-affected districts, he was also involved in transporting injured victims to Kathmandu for their treatment. Referring to the Mongolian Heart’s 25th Anniversary Concert, Lama (Boby) who is the CEO of the concert’s management company MH Event Management Nepal, informs, “The amount raised from the concert will be donated to Tusal Youth Club.”
“We never thought we could come this far but we feel honoured to have completed 25 years of journey. We’re thankful to our friends, family, well-wishers, teachers, senior musicians, band members, former band members, and others who were involved in getting us to this point. These amazing souls helped us go through amazing moments which helped us learn our values and made us stronger and mature. There’s no word to describe this feeling.” says Lama (Raju).
Over the years, Mongolian Heart has toured in many places in Nepal, including Namche Bazar to Muktinath. Likewise, the band not only has shared the stage with Bryan Adams but also has toured in countries like USA, Australia, Hong Kong, India, and Bhutan. Lama (Raju) personally has toured over 60 countries across North America, Australia, Europe, and Asia. Now again, the band will be on tour and be performing 24 more concerts this year.
“WE NEVER THOUGHT WE COULD COME THIS FAR BUT WE FEEL HONOURED TO HAVE COMPLETED 25 YEARS OF JOURNEY.” – RAJU LAMA
Mongolian Heart consists of Raju Lama on vocals, Boby Lama on guitars, Kiran Nagarkoti on lead guitar, Santosh Thapa on drums, and Pawan Kapali on bass guitar. Former members of the band include Dhiraj Gurung (1996-2006) on bass, Chandra Gurung (till 2002) on rhythm guitar, Dev Gurung (till 2006) on drums, Dipendra Man Singh (2008-2017) on keyboard and Prabin Das Shrestha (2008-2011) on bass, Rajkumar Thapa (till 2006) on lead guitar, and Basanta Gurung (till 2001) on keyboard.