Growing up in a missionary school in Darjeeling during the 90s provided me with many opportunities to explore different genres of music ranging from Christian gospels to head-banging heavy metal. My school days usually began with the singing of gospel songs, transitioning to the likes of The Beatles, Cat Stevens, John Denver during music classes and other genres at the hostel disapproved by the warden. It was during the same era that the songs of Nepathya first echoed through the hills of Darjeeling. Nepathya was the first Nepali band to blend folk melodies with western music to create folk-fusion rock that still resonates in the hearts of millions of Nepalis worldwide. In the mid-90s, the hills reverberated with the tunes of Chekyo Chekyo (छेक्यो छेक्यो) and Jomsomai Bazaarma (जोम्सोमै बजारमा) and with that of Resham (रेशम) and Bhedako Oon Jasto (भेडाको उन जस्तो) in the early 2000s.
Time warp to 2018, Nepathya 25th Anniversary Nepal sound testing, Birtamod: कोशी को पानी यो जिन्दगानी सा ल ल ल जईजाने हो हजुर! Echoed through the air with floodlights illuminating the night sky. We started getting excited as we approached the stadium, driving through the bumpy and dusty road. For a moment, it felt like we were sitting on an elephant swaying left to right, back and forth.
As we entered the stadium, the band was busy sound testing and tuning their instruments. Only the night before, we had received guest passes to the concert and an invitation from Amrit Gurung (lead vocalist) himself to come and experience the sound testing. The stage was lit with colorful lights, huge LED panels projected images and smoke created by dry ice magnified the grandeur of the stage. While we were admiring the stage, Niraj Gurung (lead guitarist) began strumming his guitar and Subin Shakya (bassist) pulled on the bass strings and Dhurba Lama (drummer) pressed the bass drum pedal. Lights flashed, flood lights and laser beams scanned the sky, the ground vibrated and Amrit Gurung began जीवन हो, घाम छाया, सुख दुख, दुवै हुन्छ…. यो जिन्दगानी, यो जिन्दगानी !!!
Kiran Shrestha, the production manager (from Nepa-Laya, the company which manages the band) gave us a quick orientation on what it takes to put together a concert from managing logistics to crew members. We were informed that sound testing itself took more than four hours. The entourage consisted of 60 crew members and six truckloads of equipment. The sound control room looked like an airplane cockpit with screens, sound mixing consoles and flickering yellow, blue and green lights. There were five people in the control room—two people responsible for managing images and videos on LED screens; one person managed stage lighting and two people donning headphones worked the sound mixing console to get the perfect sound balance. I casually asked how the band selected the songs to play during the concert from its entire discography. I was surprised to learn that the band did not choose the songs to play, this was actually up to the production manager with the key concern being to entertain fans and the audience.
Nepathya 25th Anniversary Nepal Tour 2018, Birtamod 5:45 pm: A jam-packed stadium of 5,500 people cheered 5!4!3!2!1 in unison with the countdown on the big screen. The stage went pitch black, the audience cheered and then a traffic accident minimization campaign played on screen. The band entered the stage and opened with their first recorded song ‘आगनै भरी’ while the LED screen displayed images highlighting Nepathya’s 25-year musical journey. As the audience sang along, the tune suddenly felt nostalgic and filled me with a longing for the past.
A few things notable things about the concert. First, punctuality; unlike other events (concerts, meetings, corporate events) in Nepal, the Nepathya concert began exactly at 5:45 pm as mentioned in the ticket. Second, the sponsor was not an alcohol company and there was no sale of alcohol at the venue. In fact, the audience were warned that alcohol consumption was strictly prohibited and the organizer reserved the right to deny entry to people who had consumed alcohol. Despite having not consumed any alcohol, the audience sang and danced as the band performed songs such as छेक्यो छेक्यो and तालको पानी. Third, unlike concerts I have attended in the past where girls were escorted by male friends or cousins for safety reasons, at the Nepathya concert there were groups of girls who let their hair down and grooved to the music without experiencing eve-teasing. The guys behaved and an occasional collision was followed by an apology.
The band played most of its popular songs for two whole hours, maintaining the same energy and zeal throughout. Amrit Gurung’s energy, even after having performed for 25 years, was inspiring. The crowd cheered Once More! Once More! And then came “रातो र चन्द्र सुर्य”. This was the last song for the night, the audience cheered even louder and sang the song as proud Nepalis. The band took a bow and disappeared into the darkness of the night while the fans screamed Once More! Once more!