Reviving the ragasWith the aim of promoting Nepal’s classical music, Prabhu Raj Dhakal and his team have been organising free classical music performances for the public.
In a small room in a house in Dhobichaur, Kathmandu, Prabhu Raj Dhakal and his students sing and play old Nepali tunes. The room functions as a studio and has classical musical instruments lying around and portraits of musicians put up on walls.
From this tiny room, musical stalwart Prabhu Raj Dhakal, who has been performing and teaching classical music for 35 years now, has been organising classical music performances for the public to keep the genre alive. The free concert series called ‘Sangit Suras’ is organised by Sangit Prabin Nararaj Dhakal Smriti Pratishtan.
The institution was established by Dhakal and his family in memory of his father Nararaj Dhakal, who is widely credited with introducing classical ragas in the Nepali language, with the aim of musical preservation.
“The journey has been incredible so far. It feels like classical music has revived again, even if it’s from a small room,” says Dhakal. “Every month, people who admire the music gather together and enjoy the performance. I think it’s one of the most effective ways to conserve such precious forms of art.”
On the first Saturday of each Nepali month, the event starts at around 4pm and lasts for about two hours. This idea was conceived three months ago with the aim of bringing classical musicians and aficionados together, thereby conserving and promoting classical music.
“We currently manage on our own money from the foundation we established in commemoration of our father. Sometimes it's difficult to sustain ourselves on such limited funding,” says Dhakal. “Funding has been a problem for the expansion of such programmes, and there is no support from the government whatsoever.”
Although the programme’s coffers have been a problem so far, especially to pay musicians, Dhakal says the response has been one of resounding support. People have been volunteering and donating money in order to keep the event going.
Last month’s performance saw singer Jhuma Niraula, sarod player Suraj Raj Bajracharya, tabla player Prasanna Shrestha, and a handful of other classical music enthusiasts.
“If possible, we want to perform all over Nepal and make everyone aware of the importance of classical music. But it is centralised in Kathmandu,” he says.
About 50 people attend each event, with older people mostly making up the audience. But Dhakal says that the younger generation has also started to show interest, with a number of them participating and performing in the programme. A number of those aspiring classical musicians are students of Dhakal.
Dhakal, who used to play in a band named Dafa, with Suresh Raj Bajracharya, sitarist Tarabir Shrestha, rock sitar player Bijaya Vaidya and late Rabin Lal Shrestha, says the degrading scenario of classical music in Nepal is concerning. According to him, classical music has only been subsisting on the enthusiasm of musical experts who go out of their way to teach others. The introduction and diffusion of western culture and music has had an influence, as has a lack of media support, he says.
“We have got a few TV programmes running with the aim of promoting the music industry here in Nepal, but we don’t see any media running shows to promote classical music,” says Dhakal. “It’s almost impossible for a classical musician to sustain a living solely through pursuing this profession.”
Dhakal says people need to be aware of classical music’s historical, cultural and traditional importance. “It is a precious art form, one that is difficult to learn as well. It contains a vast array of knowledge too; people need to acknowledge its importance,” he says.
Musicians like Dhakal believe the government should step in and promote the music as something of national importance. Teaching classical music in schools, for instance, would be a great way of preserving the artform. “It’s extremely necessary,” he says.
The next event of ‘Sangit Suras’ will be held on November 16 in Dhobichaur, Kathmandu. The event starts at 4pm.