Coming into her ownJhuma Limbu, who was mentored by the great Amber Gurung, has turned out an extraordinary talent in her own right, with two albums under her belt and a fledgling interest in ethnomusicology t
It has become increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the present-day mainstream Nepali music industry. Flooded as it has become with sub-standard players, most with money to burn and not nearly enough skills to back it up with, we’re left watching a stream of individuals and groups who crowd the airwaves, stages and TV screens, but who don’t appear in the least qualified to do so. And so it is that even as the cash has poured in to fund album releases, video launches
and solo performances, as have, naturally, the number of such events year round, experts and discerning listeners have complained of a noticeable drop in quality.
Then again, amid the mediocre and less-than-mediocre music ‘stars’ making their way up charts, one finds the occasional gem, musicians who are deeply committed to their craft, and who assert that they are more interested in creating something long-lasting than in drumming up hype. Among these is singer Jhuma Limbu, whose musical output is the result of years of rigourous practice and extraordinary talent.
Limbu, a student of the veteran musician Amber Gurung, credits her guru for having been her guide into not just the techniques behind making music, but also the passion.
“You don’t just listen to a song, you feel it, and for a piece of music to be really impactful, it has to appeal to not just your ears but also your heart,” says Limbu. “That’s one of the biggest lessons my guru taught me.”
The singer, who has been training in classical music under Chandi Prasad Kafle for a good three years now, says she’s tried to follow Gurung’s advice as far as possible, and that it’s made her more selective about what she puts out there into the world. “Of course, any average singer could turn out a few dozen albums if they tried, but what’s the point of that? It’s not about numbers, it’s about owning and loving whatever you hand over to listeners.”
Born in Taplejung district, Limbu was the youngest among six siblings. Although none of her family members really showed much of an interest in music, she remembers how she was bitten by the musical bug, back in the sixth grade. “We were having the annual Dhaan Naach, and hearing the Palam melodies just stirred something awake in me,” she says. “It’s such an important part of the Limbu culture and it spoke to me.” Soon, the singer was belting out tunes, and people in her school and village came to know her for her voice. But her parents weren’t entirely supportive of her wish to pursue music as a career; they “didn’t think it a respectable thing for a girl to do”.
It was only after finishing her SLC exams in 2001 that Limbu came to Kathmandu, and by this time, she was determined to do a voice test at Radio Nepal. Her parents had grudgingly allowed her just three days’ time
to get it done, and she was determined to make the most of the opportunity. Thankfully, she passed, and stayed
on with her relatives, her dreams
of becoming a musician stronger
As a means of getting started, Limbu joined RR Campus, but dissatisfied with how music classes were conducted there, she moved to Lalit Kala two months later. In the meantime, she was also taking classes under noted classical musician Chandan Kumar Shrestha, whom she calls her ‘first guru’. Under his mentorship, she was able to bring out her first album ever—Eh Saila—which enjoyed some success. Then it was off to study under Amber Gurung.
“Until that point, I’d never really been criticised much, but he was different,” she says of Gurung. “He pointed out specific problems with my voice, and gave me very useful suggestions on what to do to improve.... I learned a great deal from that approach.” Then, about five years ago, Limbu began work on her second album. Gurung’s son, Kishor, had returned to Nepal from his stay in the UK, and Limbu collaborated with him on compositions for a long while. “Kishor sir, you’ll know if you work with him, is very much a perfectionist,” the singer says. “But although it’s often very hard to meet his standards, it also means that whatever you do end up with is something you’re proud of.” The album, titled Amber Sangeet, is a tribute of sorts to Amber Gurung, and comprises songs that were all composed by Gurung, save one that was penned by the acclaimed lyricist, Ratna Shamsher Thapa.
Alongside the album, Limbu has also been involved in researching Mundhum—the ancient religious scripture and folk literature of the Kirat people—and the musical heritage of the Limbu people, and hopes to soon bring out a book of translations. “It’s something very close to my heart because it reminds me of my childhood,” she says. “The deeper I go into it the closer I feel to my roots, and that’s something I think everyone should experience.”
Limbu’s album is currently available in the market