Pop Playground
Get Miles: Jhumi Jhumi

y friends and I (yes, I have friends out here too—we’re quite a cosmopolitan bunch. We tend not to discuss that) arrived at the Malla Hotel early—complimentary drinks seem to have that effect on students and volunteers. Tonight—that night—was Deepak Bajracharya’s exclusive “Evening With…” half drawing attention to the imminent release of his seventh studio album, Jhumi Jhumi, and half marking his lucrative new sponsorship deal with Bagpiper Whisky. The latter has seen him adorn 20-foot billboards all over Kathmandu, guitar in one hand, bottle of popular Indian scotch in the other. His omnipresence is such that when I arrived here six weeks ago, one of the first things I asked a Nepali friend was, “Who’s the guy on the advert? Is he just a model or a real rock star?”.

Hum’s reply was certain to the point of ridicule: “He’s a real rock star. He’s very famous, very popular here. Everybody likes him.”

Strange then, that within a month I’d find myself sat opposite the man himself, trying to conduct a short interview while an old Italian musician plays blues guitar in an attempt to impress, and so he later tells me, to get a visa extension and a job in the star’s band. Deepak himself seemed a decent bloke, though. He told me about his roots in classical guitar playing, his transition into blues, Latino and salsa music, and the seismic effects that shift had on the Nepali music scene. Before the cynic get their claws out, yes it seems his popularity even kicked in before the advent of Ricky Martin’s week in the sun. Deepak Bajracharya’s first record was cut in 1992, and his rise to fame was as steep as the mountains that surround the city he moved to, the city that made him what he is today. Coming from a Newari background (this being a well-regarded, high caste—something which people seem very keen for you to know around here), what might seem like publicity overkill in the West is welcomed here in the valley; so when people see those billboards they don’t think ‘sell out’, they think ‘shit, that’s cool.’ They probably fancy a drink, too.

Before my interview though, our man had a crowd to warm up. After the obligatory introduction from the event’s sponsors, Deepak started with the slow, seductive balladry I’d seen him peddling on one of the music channels the other day, before launching into the South American-influenced stuff that I’m assured forms the backbone of the new LP. Some songs (obviously new) were received courteously but without much warmth, whilst clear favourites (previous singles, perhaps), went down a storm. The thought had crossed my mind, as we stood to absorb the force of his eight-piece band, that it might be boring. After all, the opening numbers had sounded like Bryan Adams-esque soft rock, and nothing like what I’d been told to expect. One of them began identically to Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” and then turned into something else, however pleasant and inoffensive.

But these up-tempo numbers, the ones that closed his first set, they were something else. Again thinking to myself (everyone else was far to preoccupied with dancing to have listened anyway), I realized he’d played his set exactly right. Christ, this guy knew how to work a crowd. He knew how to work a crowd in fact, not only by his music and his presence and his threads—he was practically topping up their glasses, too. Why on earth would you play the fast, the popular and the catchy at the beginning? Why would you waste good dancing material on those still standing too far from the stage and wondering whether or not to order some food? Patience is most definitely a virtue. Seduce and pour, seduce and pour. Then slap them on the back, tell them to “drink up,” and hit them with the good stuff. I realized then that Deepak Bajracharya was one of the most popular musicians in the country because he categorically knew his stuff. No, he wasn’t a puppet used to sell alcohol, and he certainly wasn’t a sap. Deepak Bajracharya was a man that could make a crowd do this:

by doing things like this:

not to mention this:

After our interview, he took to the stage again to work more magic, whilst my friends and I took to celebrating the event/interview/change from the usual pseudo-hippie scene, danced with the fans and mingled with the organizers. Altogether we were treated to a top gig, an education in performance and the sort of treatment I’ve never even had at home (the show was held in the garden grounds of a five-star hotel). The 600 people there that night were well looked after too: we left halfway through a closing DJ set that had included a wicked mix of Eminem’s primal screams from “Just Lose It” into the opening bars of “Billie Jean.” After that though, we were beat; Deepak Bajracharya had seen to it that we could dance no more.

Photography: Paddy Davies

By: Colin Cooper

Log In to Post Comments
Posted 02/18/2005 - 05:44:49 AM by ijkidd:
 Nice one for covering a different cultures music and stars, I for one would like to see more of it!
Posted 02/21/2005 - 02:14:03 AM by rgreen83:
 another good column. i'll have to add dancing at a pop concert in nepal to things i should do before death.
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