Shailu is just getting startedThe Pokhara-based musician has been performing since 2008, but it was only in 2020 that he came into the limelight.
Shailendra Rai, aka Shailu, still finds it surreal when people sing along with him whenever he performs at pubs and bars. Rai usually finds himself reacting awkwardly when people compliment his music.
“I am still getting used to this whole thing of being recognised for my music,” says Rai.
Since October 2020, Rai has released seven original tracks on YouTube, and even though none of them has gone ‘viral’, his songs have been appreciated. His songs have gained him loyal fans who enthusiastically wait for him to release new songs.
Rai credits Darjeeling, India, for making him fall in love with music. He spent three years of school life in the hill station town, where he first learned to play the guitar and sing. When he left Darjeeling and returned to Pokhara, he continued pursuing his love for music by writing lyrics and composing songs.
However, making a career out of music was never part of Rai’s plans. He wanted to join the British Army and even spent two years training for it. But when he failed to get enlisted, Rai decided to fully dedicate himself to pursuing his love for music, and no one in the family objected to his decision.”
“I don’t come from a family with musical background. My parents are both teachers, and my father also occasionally played the tabla,” says Rai.
By 2008, Rai had become the vocalist of a Pokhara-based band, and the group performed cover songs at pubs and bars in the lake city.
When the band disbanded in 2011, Rai decided to chart his course as a solo musician. This period, says Rai, tested his determination to become a musician.
“Owners of pubs and bars all wanted bands, and no one was willing to take a guy with a guitar,” says Rai.
But whatever few opportunities that came Rai’s way, he grabbed them and gave his all. As he started proving his mettle in Pokhara’s live music circuit, Rai started getting more opportunities.
Despite performing live gigs several days a week, he still found it challenging to make a decent livelihood as a musician. In 2014, six years after he first began performing live, Rai decided to get a paragliding licence, and in 2016, he finally became a licensed paragliding pilot. Since then, Rai has been moonlighting as a paraglider.
When the pandemic gripped the country in 2020, everything in Rai’s life came to a grinding halt, and he suddenly found himself with plenty of time.
“I had always carried this guilt for not pushing myself harder and being too shy to make public my own original songs that I had written over the years,” says Rai. “During the first lockdown of 2020, I had a lot of time to ruminate over all the chances I didn’t take as a musician. Since I now had the time, I started working on original songs.”
In October 2020, Rai uploaded his original song, ‘Samaya’, on his YouTube channel. The song deals with Rai’s anxiety about where he is in life and realising time is slipping from his hands. Not long after the song got out, artists like Bartika Eam Rai and Yugal Gurung gave a shout-out to the track, helping the song gain traction. ‘Samaya’ has already been viewed more than 43,000 times on YouTube.
“I was so nervous when I released the song. But when the song started getting so much love and appreciation, it felt like I had made the right decision,” says Rai.
He has since released seven original songs on his YouTube channel.
The verse ‘Maan ta cha sabai ko maan rakhney, Kushi banddai ekchin lai bhayeni hasauney’ [I desire to make everyone happy, Spread happiness and bring smiles, even if it's just for a moment] from his song ‘Lamo Sash’ already has its own separate fanbase.
Three months ago, when Bipul Chhetri performed live in Pokhara, the organisers roped in to perform Rai as the opening act. It was one of his career’s significant milestones. Apart from performing in Pokhara, Rai has already done shows in Kathmandu and Butwal.
“A few months ago, when I came for a live gig here in Kathmandu, I was pleasantly surprised to see the audience sing along with me,” says Rai. “On stage, I was like, they know the lyrics to my songs.”
Rai is also now working on his debut album. Diwas Gurung, the renowned composer, has also agreed to produce some of Rai’s songs.
“I am really excited about the album, and I hope to get it out within the next few months,” says Rai.
When asked how it feels to be finally where he has always wanted to be as a musician, Rai says, “It feels unreal. A lot has changed. It’s humbling to see the audience show up to see me perform my original songs. But one thing that hasn’t changed is I still get stage fright every time I go out to perform. I don’t think I’ll ever overcome this.”