Staying true to the artFor a musician who has put out one hit song after another for almost nine years, Bipul Chettri doesn’t consider music as his career.
Pinki Sris Rana
Nine years ago, when Bipul Chettri released ‘Wildfire’, his first-ever Nepali single on YouTube, he had no idea that this track would go on to shape his musical journey for the foreseeable future. Chettri didn’t think that song would go on to become a hit, let alone establish him firmly in Nepal’s music industry.
‘Wildfire’ was a fusion of pop music with a subtleness of folk tone to it, the kind that sounded quite different from the Nepali music that most people were listening to of the time. Not long after the release of ‘Wildfire’, Chettri dropped his debut album, ‘Sketches of Darjeeling’, and the album helped make his trademark music style a separate genre in itself.
“‘Of all the songs that I have created in the last nine years, ‘Wildfire’ is my favourite because the song was what led me to discover my musical identity,” says the singer.
With three albums and numerous singles to his name, Chettri has been recently invited to be a part of the new Grammy Member Class of 2022. Chettri is one of 2,700 artists selected from 22,000 members.
“Music is the only thing I know. It’s like breathing. And what would I do if not this?” says Chettri.
Born in Kalimpong, India, Chettri became drawn to music because of his father’s love for music. When the senior Chettri retired from the army and started working as a musician, his passion rubbed off on the young, impressionable Chettri.
“In Kalimpong, the children either play football or the guitar. I fell in love with the latter,” adds Chettri.
While Chettri’s love for music was ignited by his father, the Kalimpong he grew up in also played a significant role in strengthening his love for music. Known for its number of convent schools where choirs and carols are an integral part of school life, Kalimpong has music in its DNA, and like most children in the town, Chettri also went to a convent school.
Chettri was in grade 3 when he performed his first-ever concert at a school event. The song he performed was Bob Marley’s ‘Buffalo Soldier’.
After finishing his schooling in Kalimpong, Chettri moved to New Delhi for college. “I spent a lot of my time in college playing the guitar. When you are a teenager, you are always searching for your own identity, and I was no different. For me, music became my identity,” says Chettri.
At the age of 18, Chettri began teaching music to earn pocket money. After finishing college, Chettri started working as a music teacher at Vasant Valley School, a New Delhi-based school, a job he still holds.
“If you want to continue doing the kind of music you like and never compromise on your art, it is important to have a steady job,” explains Chettri, who now heads the art department of Vasant Valley School. “It is difficult to make a living solely from art. When you are financially dependent on your music/art, that’s when you start compromising. I have always been very clear on never making music out of compulsion. I want to stay true to my art.”
This belief system is also why Chettri does not want to call his musical journey a career.
From 7:30 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon, Chettri remains busy on the school premises teaching music lessons. After returning home from school, the singer focuses on his songwriting.
“In real life, there are hardly ideal situations where you’ll have just the right circumstances to write your songs. Writing songs is all about discipline, and no matter how tired you are, if you love your craft, you’ll always find time for it,” says Chettri, who has been taking his musical adventures alongside his teaching profession.
Although Chettri has created his own distinct musical genre, the journey to find that musical identity has been anything but easy. The kind of music that he is now known for was completely different from the kind of music that he grew up listening to.
Growing up, Chettri loved listening to western music and even flirted with American Jazz, which is also why he has a diploma in Western classical guitar. But he never felt connected to the kind of music he was exploring.
He finally found his musical identity far from on a beach in Chicago. “I was in a joyous mood that day, and that was when an idea for a Nepali song came to me, and the song later went on to become ‘Wildfire’,” says Chettri. “I found my musical identity at a time when I was far from home in a foreign land and experiencing culture shock.”
Almost nine years after his debut single, Chettri says he doesn’t believe in proving his musical capabilities or taking the pressure to produce hit songs.
“When you do the thing you love, the satisfaction will always be there,” says Chettri. “The pressing matter then becomes perfecting what you do.”