Oct 29th, 2009 - The night after we returned to Kathmandu from our rafting trip a group of us met up for a couple of drinks. One of our guides happened to be in attendance and he brought a friend and fellow guide who was even more incomprehensible than the two that guided us on the river. He would speak, we would nod. Not a clue. Granted, the bar atmosphere did not exactly help but I get the distinct feeling that had it just been the two of us in a soundproof room I would have been equally bewildered…..again.
The close of the evening is worth noting. After Armid (our guide) was sufficiently snockered he took us just outside the over-touristed Thamel area to a bar of his choice. We had understood that he was a bit of a singer and for all the reasons mentioned previously (i.e. language barrier) were under the mistaken impression that he was possibly in some sort of band. Negative ghost rider. In reality he brought us to the Nepali version of a karaoke bar.
Nepali music is…well…unique. To me it all pretty much sounds the same, almost as if someone wrote one really long song that is constantly being played on the radio or television. The songs usually involve a man/woman combo and a constant back and forth between the two. The woman’s voice is normally very high pitched and after a while starts to sound like someone is constantly kicking a lovesick cat in the ass. The man’s voice is normally a bit effeminate in nature and almost resembles someone who has just rebounded from a heroin induced stupor. I won’t say I dislike it but it is not something I would play around the house.
So we found ourselves in a local hangout filled with mostly gentleman save the wait staff and the performers. Yes, instead of a sound system accompanied by a ‘follow along’ TV monitor apparatus there is a group of men and woman operating synthesized instruments and providing vocals. If you want to sing you simply fill out a slip of paper and wait your turn. The interesting part is the fact everyone who does this already knows the words (this feeds into my single track theory).
This is mostly a male endeavor as they were the only ones I saw sign up to sing. Except for the waitresses and female employees in the stage area I saw only two females who appeared to be patrons. So it was basically a bunch of plastered Nepali males dancing around like Robin Hood’s merry men to the voice of an equally smashed companion while a group I presumed to be employed by the bar provided background music and vocals.
The sequence normally goes like this: woman with high pitched voice sings a capella which leads to a sudden explosion of music cuing the male to begin singing. It is a constant ebb and flow of energy that ends only between songs. I’d be lying if I said I did not find the whole thing rather enthralling. A few rum and cokes facilitates the hypnotic nature of the experience. We sat, we watched, we drank, we engaged in communal spasmodic outbursts. It was grand.
Did I mention the dwarf (or perhaps little person would be more appropriate)? A rather minute Nepali woman with a voice nearing soprano level (coincidence?) provided a good portion of the singing. And why not?
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'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim