Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Flowing with the Sarangi

Unlike most musicians, Barta Gandarva had never had much passion for music as a child. The Sarangi was more like an obligation to her; she needed to go around her village singing to the tunes of the instrument so that she could collect money for her family’s survival. “When I was small, my father left home for two years. My family was in a difficult position financially so my mother put a Sarangi in my hands and I went around playing it.”
Gandarva explains that she never learnt the art of playing the Sarangi from her father, Damber Gandarva, whose ancestral occupation is music.
“I did not know how to play the Sarangi when I first went around singing. I used to receive criticisms as well as appreciation,” she says. What is significant, however, is that she managed to learn how to play the instrument by herself and that in an orthodox society which bars women from even touching the instrument. “As far as I know there are only two women Sarangi players in Nepal,” she says.
Although Gandarva has travelled around the world with her instrument, she never had the technical knowledge to back up her practical skills. She is currently learning the technical aspects of the Sarangi and vocals at the Nepal Music School and also works as a teacher’s assistant there. Besides, she gives Sarangi lessons at SOS Hermann Gmeigner School at Thimi and Arya Tara School at Pharping. The musician is also pursuing a Bachelors degree in music at Lalitkala Campus. Perhaps it was destiny’s design that Gandarva was brought to Kathmandu by Gopal Siwakoti where she had the opportunity to grow musically. She recorded her first album Guraans Fulyo at the age of 12.
“I used to get nervous quite easily and did not care much about music at school—I seldom performed with my Sarangi,” says Gandarva. She says she came to realise the value of music only after finishing her school. It was only then that she began taking serious lessons and started supplementing her Sarangi skills with theoretical knowledge of music at the Nepal Music School where she got a scholarship.
Gandarva explains the differences between the ways she used to play as a child and does now. She realises that her understanding of music has evolved and grown over the years. “These days I know my mistakes and the places where the notes have gone wrong. When I used to go around playing the Sarangi, there was no one to correct me.  I was all on my own,” she says. She even shares how nervous she had been—by herself in a dark studio—when she recorded her first song. “I was nervous but then I could sing in a single shot because I didn’t have any fear of going wrong. But the more I learn the more conscious I become.”
The female folk artist has travelled with her Sarangi to different countries such as Norway, China and Sri Lanka. She shares that her music has been appreciated wherever she has played it. “The Sarangi itself is very unique instrument.  When the one playing it is a female then it somehow becomes more of a novelty. People appreciate and encourage it,” she says. The musician has appeared at different concerts and the last one she performed in was at the Melba Devi Mahotsav where she earned accolades for singing a Melba Devi song in her own style with her Sarangi.
Gandarva plans to record another album and she has already started composing songs for it. “I am waiting for the appropriate time for that,” she says. “An album requires a lot of focus. Striking a balance between work and studies would leave me no time for the album. Moreover, I still will require financial back up for that.” She also wishes to travel to all those places she used to previously frequent as those were the places where she gained her experience. “The love and encouragement I received from the people there is invaluable and I want to play for them again,” she says.
Gandarva has not just established herself as a promising folk musician, but also as a determined lady and a compassionate human being. Her level of determination will definitely take her a long way ahead.

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