Singing the sarangi’s songsKiran Nepali is known as a sarangi maestro who is more than adept at playing both folk and contemporary tunes
Kiran Nepali is known as a sarangi maestro who is more than adept at playing both folk and contemporary tunes. The bond he shares with the instrument goes back two generations—he was born into a family of sarangi players; the music runs in his blood. His father wanted him to take up a more practical career, but he decided to follow in his father’ footsteps and is today a globetrotting folk musician with the band Kutumba. Nepali talked to The Post’s Gaurav Pote about his music, roots and interests. Excerpts:
What was it like growing up in a family of musicians?
I had a normal upbringing; I was brought up in Kathmandu. I liked having fun and hanging out with friends like all boys do. My home had a musical atmosphere as music provided of our daily bread. Even as a teenager, I jammed with many musicians and formed bands. We even won a competition back in 2000. Music was a huge part of my life.
We heard you’re the third generation of sarangi player in your family. How did the family atmosphere shape your interest in music?
It’s a privilege to be able to continue my family’s legacy with the sarangi but it has only been about nine years since I started playing the instrument. My father wanted me to get a practical job—something that was financially rewarding. So I wasn’t allowed to focus on making a career in music when I was young. The turning point came in when I realised that I could play a lot better than the two students my father was training. So I asked my mother to get me a sarangi. She handed me one that had been lying under a bed and with that began my sarangi journey.
Besides sarangi, what other instruments do you play? How is playing the sarangi different than other string instruments?
I do play the guitar a little. Previously, I used to play the guitar with the folk band Rudra. As far as the sarangi is concerned, it is a bit trickier than other string instruments. Because there are no frets in a sarangi, you don’t need to press the strings with your fingertips like you do with the guitar. You need to make use of your nails, so playing the sarangi is a little different.
How long have you been with Kutumba? How did you come to join the band?
I joined Kutumba in 2008. I had already started playing the sarangi with different individuals; later, when I met Rubin Kumar Shrestha, an old friend of mine, he asked if I was interested to join them for the Hope concert, and said I was. Later, Pavit Maharjan, the spokesperson of the band and a brother-figure to me, from whom I learned many things, asked me to join the band. That’s how I became a part of Kutumba. From day one, everyone in the band has been supportive of and helpful to me. The bond has become so deep that we are now more like a family.
Since you are a musician you must have travelled a lot. What are some of your favourite travel destinations?
I have been fortunate enough to have travelled to many interesting places and met a great deal of people. I like visiting new places and getting introduced to the local people and culture. The highlands of Scotland, London and Corsica are some of the places I liked, but I have always preferred travelling within the borders of Nepal. I like the hills and places like Pokhara and Dadeldhura, but Kathmandu is my all-time favourite city.
What’s your favourite place to hang out with friends in Kathmandu?
There are a number of places where we go, but Reef, in Thamel, Curilo, in Lazimpat, and View Point Restaurant, in Kirtipur, top the list. I also like the Newari dishes at Lahana, but sometimes we do go to local bhattis as well to chow down on good Newari food.
Have you watched any movies or TV series recently? Whom do you like as an actor?
I do watch a lot of movies, actually. I recently watched Bahubali, which has a nice historical plot, and I usually find such movies intriguing. Game of Thrones is my favourite television series. I watch action-adventures and sci-fi movies as well. As for actors, I like Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson.
What keeps you busy these days?
Music takes up most of time. As a typical musician, I usually have practice sessions and recordings to go to. Also, I own a sarangi-manufacturing company that makes professional-grade sarangis. So I take care of the shop when I am free.
What keeps you motivated to follow your passion in music?
For mainstream music, sarangi is still considerably new. So I keep myself motivated by experimenting. Apart from that, travelling to new places for shows and getting to know the culture of those places also keeps my motivation high.
What’s next for Kiran Nepali?
I am trying to promote Project Sarangi, which aims to simplify the process of learning the sarangi for everyone and to extend its reach among the youth. If more and more people learn the sarangi, it will never die out, and we won’t need to label it as an endangered species. I’m also making a video tutorial to help everyone start learning the sarangi. I have been trying to preserve and promote the art of making sarangis because it has become a rare skill these days and only a handful of people can actually make a instrument that has a good sound.
A few suggestions that might be helpful for aspiring musicians?
Always believe in yourself and work hard. Dream big but keep following your aim; only then will you reach your destination. Keep your mind open and share your music. Don’t ever hesitate to explore and learn more and more.