SOAS University (Islington)
On the second of February, I went to the Rich Mix to see the band Namlo, fronted by Ganga Thapa, perform at their album launch. Namlo is the only Nepalese touring band in England. I was taken aback by the versatility of their tunes, spanning from their opening bass driven funky song, totheir more serious emotive slower songs. Knowing very little about Nepalese music, I decided to ask Ganga if he would mind meeting with me to have a one on one chat about his music, Nepals music, and his journey to the Rich Mix. Sure enough, an efficient week later, we met at SOAS University for a one on one conversation. Here’s what happened that day…..
A Sunny (but windy) Thursday….
I was working in the SOAS radio station when everyone abruptly dropped what they were doing to rush downstairs to the SOAS steps. I was alerted that the King of the Yoruba people (Southwest and North Central Nigeria) was to be arriving at SOAS within half an hour with twenty of his court musicians. The reason for this was apparently to make stronger alliances with the SOAS research department. I happily left what I was doing, grabbed my notebook and camera and ran with the crowds to see what all the fuss was about.
I was here to be meeting Ganga Thapa, leader and front man of all-Nepalese band; Namlo. I asked him if he would mind taking our meeting outside into the sunshine and explained the added drama of the supposed royal visitor. Also rather excited by the prospect of seeing a King, we agreed to set up outside in the beautiful sunshine. We each first grabbed hot drinks; a coffee for me, and hot chocolate for Ganga.
We firstly exchanged pleasantries, and I told Ganga how I had been at his album launch in the Rich Mix, how enjoyable I found the evening and how I found the versatility of the music amazing. It was immediately apparent how easy it was going to be having conversations with Ganga, friendly and chuckling, Ganga was open to sharing and also open to laughing.
Together we sat outside for over an hour awaiting the royal arrival and chatting about all manner of things.
S.D: Let’s talk firstly about your time before moving to London and before Namlo…
Ganga Thapa (G.P): Growing up in Nepal you’re surrounded by the beautiful Himalayan mountains, and so, that’s what everyone automatically thinks about. I found no-one thinks about the music there.
I studied Ethnomusicology in our capital city Kathmandu. I enjoyed it, but decided to carry on my studies elsewhere, somewhere a little more versatile. That’s why when I was twenty two I moved alone to London, England. Here I continued my studies in Ethnomusicology at degree level at the University of SOAS (otherwise known as, the School of Oriental and African Studies). Ethnomusicology is the study of music and cultures. I realised that there was very little focus on the musics of Nepal.
I was very lonely at first. The cultural change was crazy, London is such a big busy city, it made me feel very lonely. The adjustment period for me never quite seems over. I dearly missed the open spaces of Nepal, and found it hard in London with the lack of sunshine. Sunshine energises you and there is very little of this in London. I think perhaps how much I missed Nepal effected a little of my studies. I would sometimes miss class’s, and had the teachers emailing me to ask where I was.
When I was studying in Nepal, I had picked up playing the Sarod, which second to the sitar, is the most played instrument in traditional Indian music and classical Hindustani music. I also learned to play classical guitar, something I continued in England, and now offer classical guitar lessons also.
A great deal of the musical focus in Nepal is on Indian music. I therefore started off learning Indian Ragas’s (Indian melodic modes). I found myself more interested in the folk melodies coming from the classical Nepalese musicians. This became important to me. The radio will always be playing new ‘pop’ music. Indian pop is most prominent on the radio’s in Nepal, other forms of music are somewhat discouraged and less important. This fed me further into the desire to play the traditional folk musics from all over Nepal. I have childhood memories of the folk musics played, and it is these memories that I wanted to remember in my music.
S.D Have you faced any difficulties?
G.T: It has not always been easy in England, being from Nepal, it is sometimes hard to travel around, and consequently I have had a lot of distressing issues with living in England. I am sure these are not unique to me, but they are not easy. It is when facing these difficulties that music really becomes the driving force behind not just my creativity, but everything. It’s music that keeps me happy, healthy and able to continue through the tuff times. Sometimes these unfair things that get thrown at us, sometimes maybe they help. Maybe sometimes we need a little pain.
S.D Can you tell me about your musical inspirations?
G.T: My primary inspirations came from the folk melodies in Nepalese music. This is something that I wanted to present in my music; all the Nepalese folk areas of music. In England, the Nepalese music is very bad, terrible, I wanted to make sure that the subconscious cultures from all over Nepal are being played and represented.
However saying that, in Nepalese music, the vocals are technically very very good, this is something I wanted to harness, however the vocals can also be very boring, there is too much happening in their music, and they stay within the melody all the time. Very boring. Also Nepalese songs tend to have very long lyrics, in my songs, the overall structure of the lyrics aren’t as long.Itake the technicality of the vocals and make it my own, make it interesting.
I also very much like African tonality. That’s why I take some inspiration from West Africa as well, such as from Mali.
Many Malian artists inspire me, I particularly love mystros Bassekou Kouyate and Toumani Diabate, as well asAli Farke Toure and Habib Kouyate. Habib Kouyate actually has the guitar that I had always wanted, and finally got for myself. The guitar is a Godin guitar and has a midi output built in, very cool indeed.
S.D What is your song writing process?
G.T: Inspirations for me songs come in all places. When I write my songs, the melody will come to me first, perhaps I will play something on the guitar, then the lyrics will come second. This is how I write my music. Very often inspirations will come randomly when I am travelling, and I will need to write a song there and then, but always I will mainly be inspired by the folk traditions, the rhythms and melodies of Nepal. From the North and the South, all over, I want to take the little differences in their cultures, and play them all.
S.D Can you tell me about your music and Namlo?
G.T: I was originally in a band in England called the Yak Attack when I first moved, but now I am playing with Namlo. I am also a teacher in classical guitar. However Namlo is what I am doing full-time.
Together in Namlo we represent all of Nepal, with four of us directly from Nepal, our double bass player is from Wales, and our clarinet player is Australian. We recorded the percussion on our debut album in Nepal. Another of my inspirations if of corse Bisso Shahi whose produced our album. He has been a constant influence to me and Namlo as a band. I feel our sound would be rather different without his inspirations. He has guided me very much so.
Namlo in Nepal is actually the name we call to the strap. A strap that holds our ‘Doko’ baskets. It is a very strong strap that is used in everyday life, it is an integral part of out lives, and everyone from Nepal knows exactly what a Namlo is. It helps us to carry things easily. I like it because it represents what we are doing with our band. The basket you see is weaved together for strength. Just as we are weaving our cultural bonding together in support of the Nepalese community worldwide.
We want to create cross cultural global music. From all the different folk scenes and melodies from different parts of Nepal, to London UK. I want to fuse these Indian and Nepalese and Western influences in order to raise the profile of Nepalese music in a global context. I want to represent our diverse community.
When there was the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, we knew we had to show our solidarity and try and help our people. Therefore we arranged 10 gigs all around England, and all the money we made went straight to those effected by the earthquake. It was very difficult for us to see the suffering, so we had to do something to help.
S.D: Do you have help organising your schedule?
G.T: To help us tour and play gigs everywhere, we managed to get some Arts Council funding. This helped us dearly, as we have no band manager. I book all the concerts myself, which can be very challenging. Also keeping our social media up to date is also a task I find sometimes difficult asI feel my English is not always the best. Never the less, we find venues, promoters who want cross cultural performances, and we travel around the country playing these gigs.
S.D: Where can we listen to your music?
G.T: Our Debut album self titled Namlo is now available after our album launch in the Rich Mix on the second of March (2017). It has been produced by my good friend and guide Bisso Shahi. The launch at the Rich Mix was one of my favourite concerts. The sound in the venue was really good, same as when we played in Union Chapel. As our music has a story, it is nice to have venues that have good quality sound as we can really feel as though we are portraying our message and our story to the audience. You can also listen to my catalogue of music on my website: gangathapa.com
After a good couple of hours of chatting, we decided to call it day. For those wondering, we did manage to see the King of the Yoruba people during our conversation. He arrived with all the gusto and grandeur expected of Royalty. with twenty musicians playing and singing for his as he walked fro his limo to the SOAS steps under a large umbrella propelled by two of his men. After witnessing this arrival, we made our way inside to warm up from the bitter London ‘summer’ weather.
Having listened to the Namlo album, I found it hopelessly catchy and infectious. I listened to the album for the first time back to back. It is certainly a product of fusion. The beautiful sounds such as the flutes playing Nepalese melodies, and the voices being used sometimes as just harmonium drones. With up-beat feel good songs such as ‘Kauda' with more obvious Indian influences and the stunning voice of Shreya Rai, to the more emotive ‘Pida’ (translated Grief) taking us on a journey, and using near to no lyrics in doing so. The whole album from beginning to end captures the fusion Ganga speaks of so desperately of wanting to portray.
When times are tuff I listen to the Namlo album, it’s soft and pulsing groove allows me to travel to a happy musical space. I can listen to the album from start to finish with ease and pleasure. It’s lovely to hear and recognise the wonderful Nepalese rhythms and melodies spoken so highly off. I would buy this album for my nan and also for my best friend. Truly a beautiful piece of work, it has an appeal to the great majority.
Conducting this ‘one on one’ with Ganga was an absolute pleasure, we laughed and smiled and talked of all things good and bad. His honesty and openness was an absolute pleasure to work with. I like to think I found a friend in Ganga that sunny Thursday afternoon.
You can catch Namlo play on: May 26th at the Southbank Centre (London), July 6th at the Folkestone Festival and July 9th at SOAS for the South Asian Festival. You can also buy the album ‘Namlo’ on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. Be sure to follow them on all media platforms to follow Ganga and Namlo on their journey to spreading Nepalese music globally.