Yesterday I got take-out Sushi dinner with two friends, who I will, for the sake of simplicity and to illustrate the fact that it was a diverse group, simply call white guy and black guy, at the Nathan Phillips square outside Toronto city hall. As we walked into the square looking for a empty, quiet spot to rest our asses and I heard some music that sounded familiar, coming from a stage marked with a banner saying “Himalayan festival 2009″ (or something of that essence), two things were pretty clear – our dinner spot was going to be neither empty nor quiet. After spending half a minute trying to guess if “Himalaya” meant India, Nepal, Bhutan, or Tibet, by process of elimination I concluded that it was afterall a Nepali festival.
We took a quick look around what was going on. Apart from traditional Nepalese foods like popcorn, coca cola and nachos, they had a stage with dance performances and a small but quite enthusiastic crowd of supporters cheering for everything that was being conducted. It was very nice to see so many of ‘my people’ (apparently) enjoying a little ‘by the Nepalese, for the Nepalese’ festival in the very heart of the city while there were two other large festivals, Chinese and Caribbean, going on few blocks away (Summer Sundays are busy man!). The music was blaring, and it was what I call, for the lack of a better term, ‘second grade bollywood music’.
15 minutes passed. Unable to bear it, I was getting increasingly uncomfortable, but the seemingly tranquil facial expressions on my friends made me wonder if I was the only one who was getting bothered and others were actually enjoying this ‘exotic’ music. Finally I asked each of them, “Do you like this music?” Almost apologetically, they said, “Not at all!” and added that they thought that I was probably liking it. I wish.
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I had an image of Nepal as a virgin, exotic (even for Indians, Nepal is exotic) country, unharmed by foreign cultural influences. Technically, each state of India is a little country in itself (more diverse and distinct than the little European countries), and Nepal could easily have been just one of those states. Fortunately or unfortunately, Nepal is a separate country, and that, I fancied, would be a sufficient reason for Nepal to maintain its indigenous cultural identity that includes its Himalayan music.
When I think of Nepali music, what comes to my mind is not what I get to hear today. I have listened to lot of Nepali music over the last few months, and sadly I am forced to conclude that today’s Nepali music has lost the Nepal-ness in it. It’s just second grade Bolywood garbage bundled with Nepali lyrics. Now what exactly is second grade Bollywood music? you might ask. Well, Bollywood (the Hindi film industry based in Mumbai hitherto called Bombay) movies, as you might know, are roughly equivalent to what is referred to as ‘musicals’ in the west. Each movie has anywhere between four to ten songs of four to five minutes each. About 800-1000 Hindi movies are made each year, and probably an equal number of movies are churned out from different states in their own language. As a result, every year there are tens of thousands of movie songs in the market. Then there is also the music from independent musicians. Quality and quantity are almost always inversely related, and as a manifestation of this rule, a very very large chunk of commercial music produced in India is of very low quality – repetitive beats and limited variation in notes. Hardly any songs have shelf lives longer than few days, since alternatives are cheap, plenty and easily available. Ask yourself (if you are Indian) or an Indian friend how many songs you/they remember from the latest movie you/they watched. The answer will be surprisingly low since most of these songs have null significance in the movie plot. I am not painting Bollywood music in one stroke at all, there is extremely good stuff but very rare.
Traditional Nepali music (for example Newari, Gurung, etc.) has virtually lost its influence on contemporary mass-produced music, just as the impact of Indian classical music on Hindi film music is more or less a history. What I mean to elucidate is that contemporary Nepali music has unfortunately been overwhelmed by second grade bollywood music – a silent take over (or adaptation if you prefer to call it that) and I am upset with this kind of evolution.
I leave you with an awful Nepali song which could easily pass as just another Hindi movie song if the language is changed (spare yourself from watching the video). Sorry Nepal, ‘our’ Bollywood, a monster factory churning out conformist music, is uncontrolled and will kill regional traditions.
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I suspect this post will force the proponents of Bollywodization into a defensive stance, nevertheless I am curious to hear criticisms and opinions.