Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Documentation: The first step

The music of Nepal’s numerous indigenous communities has the potential to attract large audiences both within and outside the country. A number of parallels exist between the different styles of Nepal’s indigenous music and other world music.  This could possibly open up an infinitely wider field for experimentation. Ethnomusicology is still a subject that is virtually unknown and unexplored in Nepal. For a developing country still coming to grips with the onslaught of information and globalisation, modernisation means “westernisation” in many respects. This bears a negative connotation when traditions are abandoned without thought in favor of popular culture. As is true in many other countries, the current trend in much of music in Nepal is to embrace popular western sounds.
While popular music, local and/or traditional music have their own niche, the overwhelming commercialisation and promotion of the former can overshadow the latter genre. This would not pose a problem if there was a similar popularisation of local music to counteract this trend. In the absence of such a trend, indigenous music seems to only cater to specific sets of audiences. Since the problems with the existing scenario with local music in Nepal are many, there needs to be method-based plan and action for the resolution if the music of Nepal’s many communities is to evolve and flourish.
Creating space for the local music of Nepal in term of popularity, access, documentation, preservation and propagation requires that systematic mechanisms be put in place. There needs to be a special focus on increasing the public’s knowledge of and access to the local musician. This could be a multi-faceted program targeted at popularising this genre of music through the media by rigorous promotion, performances and tours. Encouraging the usage of such music and musicians on television and films, as background scores or fillers, would also be helpful. It is also important to focus on business skills in the local music sector since there is a serious lack of expert managers, copyright experts, producers and agents in this field. These skills are imperative for artists to make wise decisions about their music and livelihood. To this end, existing networks need to be strengthened; improvements are needed in infrastructure, including performance venues, recording facilities and touring circuits. In addition, music education in schools and other institutions must be encouraged.
With these issues requiring attention, an important step toward achieving these goals is an understanding of music and the artists who create it. The lack of such documentation efforts is one of the major shortcomings in the present scenario in Nepal.

A basic guide to sarangi making

. A large percentage of the sarangis in circulation within the Kathmandu Valley are  our creations. Below is a basic summary of the materials and measurements involved in the making of a sarangi. This is the first in a series of articles to appear on the sarangi’s organology.
Parts of a whole
The sarangi has a total of six parts or divisions. The measurments of the specific parts in the piece made for the team are as follows.
The knot = 3 inches
The bridge = 1/2 inches
The neck = 3.25 inches
The hollow section = 5.5 inches
The stand = 2.1 inches
The skin = 3.2 inches
(Visit the gallery to see pcitures of the different parts of the sarangi)
The dimensions of the sarangi depends on the its scale and range capabilities. The A-B-C-D range sarangi has a neck length of  3.25 inchs and a bridge of 1/2 inches. Meanwhile, the E-F-G range sarangi has a neck length of 4.15 inches and a bridge of 2.15 inches.
The string used can be of a variety of kinds including telephone wire, guitar strings, monkey gut and cycle gear wire.
The bow
The steps to making the bow of the sarangi are as follows:
-          Cut the  bamboo to a length of about 18-19 inches
-          Make small holes on both ends with a drilling machine.
-          The plant Kyaktuke is used – though nylon is an increasingly popular option –
to tie onto the bow (The Kyaktuke threads are softened by soaking in water for one hour and then tied onto the bow on both ends.)
-      The bamboo piece is curved
-      The skin to cover the hollow part  is soaked in water for about 7-8 hours, till it softens. It is then rubbed on a rough surface by hand and pasted onto the instrument  with glue.
-      The bridge and string stand are mounted before adjusting the four strings of the sarangi.

The Gandharva of Nepal

Gandharva - Overview | Print |

Music on the move: The Gandharva of Nepal

Over the centuries, the Gaine or Gandharva, a community of occupational caste musicians, functioned as the sole organised means of information and entertainment for the numerous isolated communities across the mountains of Nepal. In a time before postal networks, telephones, radios and televisions, the Gaine travelled from village to village, singing about everything from legendary heroes and ongoing battles to tales of what they saw on their journeys and the lives of the people they encountered on their way. In a society where access to information was considered the exclusive right of the 'high' caste and the wealthy, the Gaine’s function was crucial.
Today, as both digital and physical connectivity grows more efficient and expands deeper into the country, the traditional storyteller function of the Gaine has been losing relevance rapidly in the rural areas. This is already evident, with the Gaines migrating to the cities in large numbers. In the urban centres of Kathmandu and Pokhara, the Gaine now roam the tourist areas, hoping to make money by playing tunes for the tourists or selling them a Sarangi (a fiddle-like instrument). That the Gaines have been displaced from their traditional practices is self evident, and a number of organisations dedicated to ensuring that the Gaines can continue to earn a living through their music are today active.
Amidst such noteworthy efforts, a scholarly approach to documenting and analysing the Gaine musical tradition is lacking. While a significant amount of anthropological research on the Gandharvas of Nepal has already been published, a systematic study of the music of the community is lacking.