Accessibility links

Nepal Musicians Hope to Stir New Appreciation for Traditional Sounds

Nepal's traditional instruments date back centuries and have been very much at the core of the country's cultural heritage. But these days, modern musical forms from India and the West have some fearing that traditional sounds will die out. As Ron Corben discovered during a recent visit to Nepal, a group of young musicians hope to revive interest in traditional songs.

For centuries across the valleys and foothills of Nepal people have played the bamboo flute.

In Nepali folklore it was said to have been the favored instrument of the Hindu god Lord Krishna.

Traditional music is at the heart of Nepal's culture. The rhythms of music are popular, especially during the festivities that weave their way through the daily lives of people.

But since the early 1990s, the number of groups performing traditional music and dance has steadily declined.

Instead, popular music from India's thriving entertainment industry is increasingly heard. Western pop music also influences Nepal's music scene.

Fewer young Nepalese take up the traditional instruments and there are fears the traditions could fade away.

But a group of young musicians hopes to change that.

The group is known as "Kutumba" - a word that means having a unique bond with the community. Some of the group's members began by playing guitars and Western-style drums, but since 2004, they have focused on traditional instruments.

Bhushan Shilpakar manages the band. He says the instruments come from all over the country.

"Basically, most of the instruments are all from different regions of Nepal; the Himalayan regions," he explained. "The tungna and damphu are from the Himalayan region. The tungna is a string instrument and damphu is a skin instrument and there are skin instruments - these are from Hile region. Sarangi is a string instrument - And murchunga - we have that - from all over places, all over Nepal."

While the band members love the sound of Nepal's traditional instruments, they wanted to update the music and not just perform the same songs other folk musicians play. Instead, they blend old and new, with a lively sound that draws in a younger audience.

Ruben K. Shrestha plays the flute in the band.

"It's very important because most of the people nowadays they are not using the traditional instruments they are following only the Western instruments like guitars, piano and they lose everything," he said. "So I found that there is sweetness in our traditional music so I really love to preserve our culture through traditional music."

For band member Rashil Palanchoke, the desire to play the traditional sarangi - a bowed, short necked lute - came during a bus trip.

"Before I used to play guitar; but once when I was traveling to Pokhara I saw one guy playing sarangi on a bus - these are Nepalese instruments so why not learn? If I can play guitar why can't I learn sarangi? From then I started to practice on sarangi. I want to bring the sound of sarangi to people lots of people," he said.

Flute player Shrestha thinks the band is succeeding in a drawing a new generation to the music.

"We want to try for the young generation. We are really focused to play in front of the young generation," he said. "I think we are successful because in Kathmandu most of the times we play in the college universities and the young people really like our music."

But being popular is not the band's only goal. To make sure the traditions continue, the musicians travel around the country in search of teachers who can help teach a new generation.