A Love Letter to Nepal

Music Issue 115 May, 2011
Text by Utsav Shakya

Diwas Gurung played lead guitar for Nepali alt rock band Albatross before leaving for the U.S. to pursue higher education. His strong riffs and classy solos powered Albatross’ thrash metal mayhem, introducing them as a band to keep an eye on in Kathmandu’s underground metal scene.

Diwas Gurung plays lead guitar in a progressive rock band called Ayurveda in the U.S. Ayurveda’s signature sound, if ever they were going for one, seems to be songs that alternate between whispered confessions over haunting bass lines to stomping guitar riffs that walk all over you. Their relentless touring includes locations ranging from seedy bars to large theaters, colleges and universities, winning them a steadily growing fan base of locals and Nepalese living in the U.S. In each show, supported by his band, Diwas makes sure he drops a Nepali tune or two.

The fact that in mid 2009, Diwas Gurung came out with a collection of covers of Nepali folk tunes entitled Rato Mato stands testament to his versatility and talent. The album name borrows from the Nepali saying ‘Rato mato, chiplo bato’, Nepali for ‘red mud equals a slippery path’; is a reference to his choice of dedicating his life to music, which is never a safe career choice for any artist, anywhere.

However, Rato Mato’s music is definitely a safe bet. Anyone with a good ear will notice the effort Diwas has put into ensuring that he stays true to the original flavor of the songs, adding instead what he can, to make it more contemporary in terms of music arrangement. “Mai Runchhu” is a delicious ballad, light on music yet heavy on teary-eyed emotion. Likewise, with “Asarai Mainama”, a popular folk tune with lyrics already dripping with heartbreak and longing, Diwas displays a mature understanding of Nepali folk music, of which he is a very new student. His singing demonstrates amazing restraint as he lays equal if not more importance to the silence between notes.

On his terrific cover of his father O.B. Soaltee’s “Machi Kadaile”, dry, swaying guitar work lays a base from which his joyful shouts of “Ahai!” and “Lahai!”, create a mood that celebrates Nepali music. The upbeat delight on the album is a cover of popular Nepali folk tune ‘Lekali’, originally sung by Ram Thapa, with Diwas’ melodious voice gelling really well with strumming guitar. Even when he does veer off this path of folksy tunes, it is a delight. His cover of 1974 Ad’s hit “Sanjha ko belama” is a solid rock track, with scorching guitar work and a plenty distortion, unabashedly giving away the singer/songwriter’s influences from modern rock and his work with Ayurveda. 

Diwas does not try to hide the influence of his favorite musicians, alt rock band Radiohead and progressive rock superstars Tool along with Nepali legend Gopal Yonzon and folk rock heroes Nepathya in his music. Yet, Diwas’ warm, folksy voice and neat guitar work allow him to own this offering completely and to re-introduce an important body of work to a generation that for the most part has ignored this genre of Nepali music. Going by this album and his work with Ayurveda which has already made him a recognized guitarist in the American indie rock scene, slippery paths should pose no problem to this talented singer/songwriter.

(Rato Mato was released in Nepal at House of Music, Thamel on May 14, 2011)

The album name borrows from the Nepali saying ‘Rato mato, chiplo bato’, Nepali for ‘red mud equals a slippery path’