All for Sarangi
Kiran Nepali had faced a lot of challenges from the beginning of his journey with sarangi. While he had wanted to start, his father discouraged him to do so. Later in his life, he found four problems: ‘sarangi not being easily available’, ‘lack of standards in making the instruments’, ‘lack of a proper place to learn’, ‘lack of a place to perform’. However, with sheer determination, he has continued being successful whatever he had planned. Nepali’s ‘Project Sarangi’, ‘Jamarko’, and ‘Sarangi Bhela’ are going on in full swing, while his students are getting platforms to showcase their talents. All in all, Nepali, with his fellow artists, are reconnecting all the Nepalis—living in Nepal or aboard—with their roots.
By Priyadarshani Shrestha
Photos by Pranish Shrestha
The 2017 music festival ‘Jamarko’ was huge. As many as 150 folk music artists coming from different corners were presenting music with their traditional Nepali musical instruments, while over 1300 music lovers were forcing in to watch the 6-hour event despite the courtyard of Patan Museum—the venue—had the capacity to hold 300 spectators. The event even had 32 artists performing on the stage at one time, while there was a pin-drop silence from the audience’s sphere. A prevailing respect for Nepali music was seen on the day.
It was a day of celebration of music, and for the renowned sarangi player Kiran Nepali, it truly was a day of success. After all, it was only the music that had stolen the hearts of many, and his baby project ‘Project Sarangi’ had grown ‘big’.
Before playing the sarangi, Kiran Nepali would play the guitar even before he reached 12 years old. His brother, who was a singer and a guitarist back then, was his inspiration. However, he was also inspired by his father and grandfather who were sarangi players and by his uncle, Ram Sharan Nepali, a legendary sarangi player. Though his father used to teach others to play the sarangi, he used to discourage Nepali to do the same.
Nepali recalls, “Sarangi is played mostly by Gandharvas, a community considered by many as those of lower caste people. So, although my father used to teach others to play the sarangi, he never encouraged me to learn to play it; instead, he used to encourage me to play other musical instruments. So, I simply used to watch him playing and teaching to play the sarangi to others despite really wanting to play it.”
However, in the year 2007, Nepali asked his mother if there was a spare sarangi he could use to learn on his own. The very next day, she took out an old sarangi, dusted it off, and put the strings. He then asked his brother to tune it, and he started learning to play by himself. Later, his grandfather started tutoring him.
Nepali then started to play the sarangi with other people and befriended with Rubin Kumar Shrestha, the flutist of Kutumba, during a jam session. In 2008, Kutumba approached him to collaborate with the instrument ensemble for a show, and Nepali experienced his first-ever live performance. “To my surprise, people really liked it, and the response encouraged me to continue playing the sarangi,’ shares Nepali. The very same year, Kutumba again asked him to join them on their tour, and since 2009, Nepali officially became a member of the band.
With an acceptance that sarangi had given him fame and respect, Nepali thought of giving something back to sarangi. He also wished to see many sarangi players coming up. So, he started researching on key problems and he found ‘three’: ‘sarangi not being easily available’, ‘lack of standards in making the instruments’, and ‘lack of a proper place to learn’.
“I’ve performed in Wembley Arena, Manchester Stadium, and Coke Studio. Every musician has a dream to play in these venues. I didn’t get these opportunities by playing a guitar. If sarangi can make your dream come true, why do you choose guitar to play?”—Kiran Nepali, the brainchild of Project Sarangi
“I found that sarangi makers had stopped making sarangis and pursued a profession of making furniture due to the low demand of the instrument. I shared this problem with my family, and quite coincidentally, I was introduced with one of our relatives who used to make sarangis. So, I got him a piece of wood, and with his old tools, he carved a sarangi—his first sarangi after years,” shares Nepali.
While Nepali was happy for having gotten a solution for the first problem, the second problem was still unsolved. So to address the second problem, Nepali did a lot of research and not only came up with a standard for making sarangis but also set-up a small factory and started ‘Project Sarangi’. Nepali says, “Today, we strictly follow these standards while making sarangi.”
While the second problem was also solved, the third problem was still there for Nepali. He was an instructor at Nepal Music Centre, and while working at the music school, he realised how many people were interested to play the sarangi. Nepali gathered some sarangi players for a gathering to share ideas and knowledge to grow as musicians, but as a total of 10 sarangi players approached him, he planned to turn the gathering into an event. This was how ‘Jamarko’ was born.
Nepali recalls, “On the event day, we had 22 sarangi players on the stage. Besides playing, we also shared how sarangis and flutes are carved. Seeing the enthusiasm among the crowd and the sarangi players, I got more motivated to do more. This was when I thought of establishing a proper institution to teach people to play the sarangi. I registered my company as ‘Project Sarangi Centre’.”
Project Sarangi Centre conducts formal classes and has employed two teachers—qualified in eastern and western music—who are now teaching a total of 22 students. The centre offers five courses: ‘Basic Course’, ‘Post-Basic Course’, ‘Pre-Advanced Course’, ‘Advanced Course’, and ‘Post-Advanced Course’, each running for three months. They charge Rs 3000 a month for a basic course and Rs 7,500 for the 3-month package deal. Besides, they increase the fees nominally according to the level. Besides this, the centre also conducts training for teachers, and recently, they have trained 10 teachers.
“Today, people are demanding for more outlets, and since we want to make our teaching accessible to all, expansion of the centre to different areas is part of our future plans,” shares Nepali, adding, “I don’t blame the government for not doing anything. We should take the step if we can. If we start something, then the government will put their hands forward.”
Nepali is endeavouring to make this centre a common platform where people can come and share their ideas and collaborate with each other. For this, they also organise ‘Sarangi Bhela’ where amateur and professional folk instruments players get together and interact with each other. They share ideas, perform, jam together, have fun and establish a network with other artists.
“More than 60 lakhs Nepalis are currently living abroad and most of them are living there for many generations. They are losing their roots and are having identity issues. By playing before them, Kiran Nepali and other musicians are trying to reconnect them with their roots.”
Nepali explains, “We basically want to bring all sarangi players and unite them. It’s a big market, and I believe there’s always room for more.”
When a total of 22 students have now excelled from basic to advanced course, a challenge had arisen, and for Nepali, this was the fourth one. There weren’t any proper platforms for sarangi players to perform on a usual basis. So, Nepali started proposing some people about hosting an event at restaurants, and he got positive responses.
“Earlier, we had organised 10 to 20 local events in a year, but this was not enough. With such positive responses, we celebrated sarangi month in March 2017, and a total of 11 bands had performed during 56 events within one month all over Kathmandu,” says Nepali, “We organise events with support from sponsors, and we try to convince the corporate sector that it is also their responsibility to promote our culture through events like those.”
Organising events only in Nepal is not his plans. However, Nepali has been performing abroad with a special purpose in his heart. Nepali has been holding workshops in countries like Australia, US, UK and others and try to inspire and motivate Nepali people living in these countries to learn sarangi, the musical instruments that can be one thing that reconnects them with their roots.
“More than 60 lakhs Nepalis are currently living abroad and most of them are living there for many generations. They are losing their roots and are having identity issues. In these workshops, we try to connect with the audiences by covering pop songs,” says Nepali, and adds, “We do not want people to think of Resham Firi or Gandarvas singing sad songs when they hear the tunes of sarangi. We want to encourage people to integrate and explore different styles and genres using sarangi as the medium. Sarangi is an instrument that can be played in any genre, be it in rock, blues, or RnB and jazz. Sarangi has a huge potential and we simply want to encourage experimentation and creation.”
Nepali has always been successful in solving his music-centric problems, and he is always ready to face more. But for now, Nepali, along with his Project Sarangi and a gang of talented musicians, is preparing for Jamarko 2018 happening this November. Besides, they are going to local areas searching for versatile talents as they are planning to include bhajans and panche baja this time and make the event bigger than before. If you’re interested to collaborate, you can easily contact them through Facebook and other media outlets.
Instructor at Project Sarangi
“I learnt to play the guitar in 2009 and sarangi in 2012. I was in the Music Centre, and since I had to choose a folk instrument to learn along with guitar, I chose Sarangi. I had known that sarangi—unlike guitar—was a fret-less musical instrument which sharpens one’s ear training for the musical notes.”
Student at Project Sarangi
“I am a musicophile, and I have always revered Nepalese folk music. I grew up listening to the tunes of sarangi as a kid, and this instrument has always felt so mysterious and alluring to me. I took up this instrument out of pure curiosity, respect for Nepali folk music and most of all my profound love for music.”
Bhannus Kumar Shakya
Student at Project Sarangi
“I never really grabbed any instruments to learn in my youth. I was busy making a living for my family during most of my adult life as well. But now, I just felt like learning at least one instrument, and I simply got connected with the tunes and melodies of sarangi. It just captured my heart so, although I am still at the very basic beginner’s stage, I feel happy to learn to play the sarangi.”