“ MAYA” is the name of his new album. The infectious main riff of his songs chants nostalgia, the sound of his voice sends us all into pangs of desperate homesickness. By now you know who I am talking about. Bipul Chettri needs no introduction. His fans across the globe have been waiting with bated breath for the next set of tear-jerking, addictive Himalayan folk songs that tug at every Gorkhali’s heartstrings.
Don’t miss a single word as Adwiti Subba Haffner interviews the chappal wearing, folk song singing, homesickness inducing, our very own humility toting, Bipul Chettri for a down-to-earth interview where he opens up about his creative process, offers his insights on songwriting, his opinion on where Gorkhali music is heading towards, the latest controversy on plagiarism, what it takes to be a “skilled musician” and about how he maintains his “zen” like calm through his musical voyage.
ADWITI: “It takes 10 years to become an overnight success” Robin Sharma.
You rattled the airwaves with your soulful voice, your music and captured the hearts of millions of Nepali speaking population all over the world. Besides being a good singer and having great discipline, what skills/personal attributes is most important to being a successful musician?
BIPUL: Thank you. For me, it was more like 15. (smiles) I prefer to use the word, ‘skilled’ musician rather than a successful one. There are some successful artistes in this industry without great skill as well who become famous overnight and disappear in as much time. I wish there was a recipe for success though. And I can only speak for myself when I say that being proficient at what you choose to do is one of the few attributes that will help in the long run. At the end of the day, it is all done through years and years of practicing while trying to perfect ones art. And it is a never-ending learning process.
ADWITI: From small town, sleepy Kalimpong to Delhi and now performing all over the world, did you dream that your voice and your music would take you places? In an interview you have mentioned that “success” is a subjective word. What is your idea of success?
BIPUL: Never in my wildest dreams! For the longest of time, all I wanted was to become was a classical guitar soloist, and then ‘Wildfire’ happened. Success for me is subjective as every single person has his own standard of the bar being raised and scaled at. Some might just be happy with being a recluse, or some might just want a lot of fame. Money and fame are just numbers at the end of the day and is temporary. For me, success means leaving a body of work behind which people would not mind listening to in 20-30 years from now.
ADWITI: There has been a lot of Bollywood/Hollywood/Western Rock culture that has influenced and infiltrated the music of our region. Where in your opinion is our music (Gorkhali/Nepali music) collectively heading?
BIPUL: From the time, the radio, television and the Internet entered our lives; this infiltration was bound to happen one way or the other. But I also feel that this influence has been the cornerstone of Nepali music having survived in whatever forms it has till now. The whole of the 70s and early 80s was deeply influenced by the Ghazal genre and then rock music started making inroads into the Nepali music scene while folk music has always been there but mostly relegated to the background. But I think there is a sort of mini revival taking place in this area with some good artistes coming through and I think it can only get better in the coming days.
ADWITI: Apart from being a singer/songwriter you are currently the head of the Arts Department in Vasant Valley School, a leading school in India. Given your career success, can you share some advice for struggling musicians, to help them keep moving forward?
BIPUL: I have only been in the Nepali music scene for less than two years, so it would be naïve of me to start giving advice. But all I can say is that keep doing what you enjoy doing. Make music for yourself first rather than the world. If the world likes what you produce, good for you, if they don’t, it really does not matter, as long as you are happy with it. And most importantly, stay humble to your roots.
ADWITI: In our society, can an aspiring musician solely survive on her/his art without the support of an actual or a part/time job? If not. Why?
BIPUL: This is a very difficult question to answer. Most artists are constantly struggling to have their voices heard and their music played and to get paid. There are a lot of musicians doing only music and living their life and I have the greatest of respect for such people as I still think it is difficult to manage in the current scenario especially in our part of the world. One only has to applaud their commitment to trying to earn a decent livelihood in this kind of difficult scenario. But I am certain it can only get better in the long run.
ADWITI: Bipul Chettri is a sensation and very few people from our neck of the woods have not heard of you. For some who have never listened to your music, can you explain your sound in 6 words?
BIPUL: Everyone has their own interpretation of their music. For me, it has to be, ‘The Himalayan Pahari Feeling of Nostalgia’. (smiles)
ADWITI: You are aware that you have multi-cultural fans all around the world, some even look for inspiration from you and your music. Will you sing in any other language besides Nepali?
BIPUL: I guess I will eventually, but no plans at the moment. Although one of the first original tunes I wrote, ‘Samsara’ was in English, but including it in an album is still an iffy.
ADWITI: You have traveled in many countries since the release of your Debut album “Sketches of Darjeeling”. Can you share with us your favorite memory or experience so far?
BIPUL: There have been so many. One of the best feelings is the large number of people attending our gigs and singing our songs with us during the live shows. The next thing would certainly be the number of lovely people we met during our travels. Everywhere we have performed, from the event organisers to the audience, have been wonderful to us and have treated us like family.
ADWITI: What five artists/songs would I see on your recent playlist?
BIPUL: I honestly don’t have a playlist. “Ghar ma buri ko playlist matrai baj cha”.
ADWITI: Your music gives us a reason to congregate and interact in an environment of joy, nostalgia and celebration. You have a new album coming up, set to hopefully conquer the airwaves again. What is the name of the album? What is the release date?
BIPUL: Thank you. The new album is ready and sounding good if I may say so myself. The album is called ‘Maya’ and we hope to release it soon. We are trying to tie up a few loose ends after which we will have a release date. We also have a very big surprise coming with it too. So stay tuned.
ADWITI: You are also known for your innovative, experimental way of creating music. What can your eager fans anticipate from your next album that is different from your previous one?
BIPUL: There is bound to be pre-conceived notions about the sound of the album as people have been used to listening to ‘Sketches of Darjeeling’. The only difference this time around is that most of the songs from this album were written, developed and honed on the road, as you would have noticed from the ‘Soundcheck Series’ on our YouTube page. I have had so many influences, be it in writing/arranging and it has been a fun album to make.
ADWITI: Can you give us a sneak peek?
BIPUL: There are 8 songs in this album along with ‘Syndicate’ which was released as a Single earlier is also a part of it. All the songs, except for ‘Kahiley Kahi’ are written by me. Kahiley Kahi is a special song because my father recorded (if I am not mistaken) this somewhere in the very early 70s at the British Forces Broadcasting Station while he was serving in the British Army. A colleague and friend of my father sent me this recording and I felt it needed to re-record and heard by the public as well. It has a very Bossa nova feel to it, which was very rare for a Nepali song to sound like that then. I have kept the lyrics and melody as close to the original and am very happy with the final outcome. ‘Junkeri’ and ‘Nau Lakhey Tara’ are acoustically driven while the rest of the songs are with the complete band.
ADWITI: Your songs have a level of depth and intrigue that make people sit up and notice you right away. Could you please share with us the creative process of your new album? Starting from the concept, the people/work/marketing/promotion/expectations involved.
BIPUL: I started writing for this album without any concept as such. The first one I wrote was ‘Syndicate’ and some others thereafter. I figured that most of the tunes were heading towards ‘love’ in the sense of it being real or an illusion for some, being the central or peripheral theme without being conscious while writing about it. But the ‘pahari’ element in the music will always be prevalent in our music.
I don’t have a process of writing as such. Sometimes, the riff/melody comes before the lyrics or vice versa. ‘Syndicate’ was one of the songs where the lyrics came first and the melody/arrangement later. I had initially planned to record it acoustically with just the guitar and a harmonica, but changed it considerably midway as I thought it justified a much larger sound. I also had a fantastic set of musicians in the band to help me achieve that particular sound which I was looking for.
Our Manager looks after all the marketing/promotions so I really don’t know much about that part of the story. I just make the music. (Smiles) But I do know that since we are independent musicians, without any label backing us, we have to lean mostly towards word-of-mouth and online social platforms to help our music get some form of mileage. As far as expectation goes, I have a theory as I mentioned earlier, that I make music for myself first. If the audience also enjoys it along the way, that is a bonus.
ADWITI: Can you please give us an idea as to what happened with the recent plagiarizing attempt by a certain Bollywood music producer who ripped off the main riff of one of your compositions? I believe something similar was experienced by our famous “Musu musu hasee dewna” song.
BIPUL: I was actually in Kalimpong when all this happened and had no clue until our Manager informed me about it. The said tune had the same guitar riff used in Asaar throughout their composition as well which made it sound alike. Our Manager got in touch with the concerned people in Mumbai and sorted it out after which they removed the track and offered to redo it. So it all ended well. But this is nothing new, especially in Bollywood as you all know. All one can do is to be alert and try and sort it out as amicably as possible. Of course, one can take further action, if they don’t agree with your claim, which thankfully we did not have to resort to.
ADWITI: Who alerted your team of this situation?
BIPUL: There were tons of messages from fans on our Face book page with the link.
ADWITI: This is definitely a “teachable or a learnable moment” for artists? How can they protect themselves from being blatantly plagiarized?
BIPUL: Well… in India you can go to this address http://copyright.gov.in and register your songs or music. I think they charge about Rs. 2000 per song if I am not mistaken. It is essential to safeguard your creations if you intend to keep your Intellectual Property with you.
ADWITI: I believe most of your audience love old/classic Gorkhali/Nepali songs. What can we all do for the curation of our cultural and musical heritage?
BIPUL: All of us love and cherish the past legacy of Nepali music. It is what has helped us get to the point where we are at the moment. I sincerely don’t have a specific answer to this question for the general public but I can only speak for myself when I say that I will keep making the kind of music that I am making and hope it helps in some way preserve some form of it. It would be too audacious to say that I am trying to deliberately help in saving this art form, as there are so many others who are doing much more. But do try and keep listening to our homegrown music is all I can say.
ADWITI: How do you maintain your “Zen” like balance and authentic humility while experiencing your level of recognition and success?
BIPUL: I think I got myself into the public limelight a little later in life than most musicians did. So I think coming into the scene a little late helped in not giving in too much to the hype that most of the newcomers usually face in this industry. I am also by the end of the day, just a simple music teacher in a school and nothing more than that.
ADWITI: What next for Bipul Chettri? The poet/the singer/the songwriter/the musician/the artist.
BIPUL: I think you are being too kind. Like I said, I write my music with whatever little I know of the language and the art. I just hope to get better and learn from all the experiences that I will face in the coming years.
Some time ago I was chatting with a friend about how we, Darjeelingeys have such a great sense of humor and how our gatherings are always filled with music and impromptu witty exchanges that we temporarily forget all our sorrows and setbacks. She said “my perception of humor is that a person who makes people laugh are doing what we Tibetans call “gewa” as for a few minutes they make people forget their sorrows or pains and have a good laugh, without realizing they make people happy” .
This particular word “gewa” or the meaning thereof comes to my mind when I listen to Bipul Chettri’s music. He is servicing us, the listeners with a nostalgic sliver of our hometown. His music, his songs and his voice has the powerful ability to connect us directly to our emotions and our lives back home – the place where we belong no matter how far we go.
Thank you Bipul Chettri for the “gewa”, for providing us with the experience of being home without actually being there. We wish “ Maya” to reach far and wide, to make more people happy and for you to feel fulfilled and rewarded with more songs that remind us of “home …calling…home”.
Photo credit: Sonam Tashi
[Adwiti Subba Haffner is an entrepreneur, social worker, writer, freelance journalist, world traveler, mother, wife, yoga/meditation teacher. You can find her at https://www.facebook.com/AdwitiHaffner and her website is www.alivewithadwiti.com]
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