A different musical experience

Music Issue 126 Apr, 2012
Text by Niraj Karki / Photo: Wallace Woon

Wildly popular in Nepal, traditional-folk music group Kutumba are taking Nepali folk music to the world.

An ensemble playing traditional folk Nepali instruments, Kutumba has reached audiences through Nepal. There are moments in concerts when really old classic Nepali songs are played – the reaction of the crowd, the atmosphere and the energy that comes from deeply ingrained melodies gets everyone singing and dancing. For those living in Kathmandu, the centralized view of Nepal where Kathmandu is where everything happens is true, especially considering mainstream music. The instrumental band Kutumba however, has never really been mainstream.

Playing strictly folk Nepali instruments, they are a different genre altogether but one that Nepalese everywhere can relate and identify with. Kutumba are Arun Manadhar and Kiran Nepali on the stringed instruments, the former playing the tungna and the arbajo and the latter playing the sarangi. Pavit and Raju Maharjan cover the percussion, playing traditional drums including the ‘madaal’. Siddhartha Maharjan covers all effects and Rubin Kumar Shrestha plays the flute. Through these instruments, they play their own songs as well as covers of old Nepali songs creating new sounds with familiar melodies.

Their most recent shows in Palpa and Butwal, as part of three concerts for Nanglo’s Bakery Café’s Momo Mania accompanied by Nishant Gauchan who beatboxed along with Kutumba, were met by an enthusiastic and appreciative audience. While Butwal and Palpa might not be the first places that come to mind when thinking about good musical events, when it comes to an audience appreciating music, and particularly a Nepali crowd enjoying old Nepali tunes from instruments, these two places are as good as if not better than the Kathmandu crowd.

There is a different spirit in these hillside towns, different and very originally Nepali - maybe because Kathmandu is fast morphing into a metropolitan city and people here are more used to western music. People and places outside Kathmandu seemingly retain more of the real Nepal than we do in Kathmandu. Watching Kutumba perform brings forth a feeling of being connected to Nepali roots. The modern day sounds of old instruments like the sarangis and maadals fused to create melodies old and new show that concerts don’t just have to be electric guitars and amps and loud drums and they certainly don’t have to be inside Kathmandu.

Modern day generations have almost completely forgotten the sounds of a sarangi and the other instruments such as the tungna, arbajo and others used in percussion are almost unheard of. Their music is unique, different and purposeful. Their sound is a fusion of things both old and new but at it’s core, it is a sound connects with all Nepalis.