The Happy Kind of Sad Songs

December 14, 2015 , by Sewa Bhattarai, Leave your thoughts
It’s been a long time since Bipul Chhetri first exploded into the Nepali music scene, with a fresh take on Nepali folk music. His music had elements of every genre that you have ever heard, and yet, seemed to be authentically Nepali. In no time, this singer from Kalimpong had won the hearts of Nepali listeners, whether young or old, urban or rural. Everyone seemed to find something to like in his songs that play an important part in reviving folk music in new, fresh forms. More than a year later, his songs are as fresh and as timeless as ever, if that is possible. Sewa Bhattarai is in a freewheeling chat with this talented singer, lyricist, composer, and not to forget, music teacher, about what makes his music so universal in appeal.


How did you get interested in music?
I was interested in music from childhood. Since my father was also a musician, I was exposed to music at a young age. As I took part in concerts and events in school my interest in music deepened. Later, as I finished college, I decided to take up music professionally. I have a licentiate degree in Western Classical Guitar from Trinity College.

Though you are trained in Western Classical Guitar, your music sounds like Nepali folk. How would you classify the music you play?
I call my music contemporary folk, Nepali folk with a contemporary arrangement.

When you write and compose songs, do you set out to create folk music?
No, I don’t really set out to create folk music. But maybe I have a kind of attraction towards folk, and my songs eventually go in that direction.

"I don’t really set out to create folk music. But maybe I have a kind of attraction towards folk, and my songs eventually go in that direction."

Why do you think folk songs are not so popular among youngsters these days, and are only popular in modern arrangement like yours?
I think there are still a lot of folk songs, and people listen to them. But perhaps youngsters are not so much exposed to them. It’s not like the olden days when folk songs got played in every household. Plus, Channel V and MTV culture also had a huge impact on people’s taste in music. But when youngsters hear it in modern arrangement, they perhaps see it in a new light and like it.

Did you write and compose songs before Dadhelo (Wildfire), the first song that you put out in public?
Yes, I used to write and compose songs before this, but not so much. I was more of a classical guitar performer. I did not really believe that I could write and compose songs. When I composed Dadhelo and put it on soundcloud, I got lots of positive feedback. And that encouraged me that I could do well.

Did you expect your first song to be so popular?
No, I did not. I had just uploaded it online as a hobby of mine. Within a couple of days it just flooded over the internet, and a lot of people listened to it and responded, I was stunned myself.
The song Dadhelo later became a part of your first album. Had you planned an album at that stage?
I had not even thought of an album at the time. But after the first song became popular, I wrote other songs: Asaar, Mountain High. And when they also became popular, I realised I could make an album out of them.

How is your album doing?
My album is available on most online distributors like itunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc. It is doing well on all these forums, and was the best selling album of 2014 on one of the distributors, oklisten.com. Within two days of putting up on oklisten, my album had climbed to the top 10. The high response on oklisten is probably due to the fact that oklisten has users in India and South Asia.

Already, your album, written in a little known language like Nepali, is so successful.  Do you ever entertain the thought that you could become even more popular if you wrote in English or other international languages?
Writing in Nepali is a choice for me. Previously, I mostly wrote songs in English. But when I started writing in Nepali, I felt a kind of satisfaction, a kind of originality. It felt like me. I haven’t really thought of writing in another language at the moment. Even more than the lyrics, music crosses all boundaries. Many people from India and elsewhere, who don’t understand Nepali, have heard and responded to my music. They like my music, and for me, that is more important.

"When I started writing in Nepali, I felt a kind of satisfaction, a kind of originality. It felt like me."

How is it possible that you write the lyrics and compose the music for your songs? Most people are only good at one thing, but you are equally good at both!
(Laughs) No, there are people who do both. To me, it came naturally. When I compose music to my own words, I get more satisfaction. This is how I like to work. I also arrange music in my songs, apart from writing and composing.

Which of these many parts of a song do you prefer?
It depends on the song, really. Sometimes the music is more prominent and sometimes the lyrics, but I am interested in both.

You also teach music at a school. Which of these roles is more important to you? Singer, composer, lyricist, teacher?
I think all these roles are important. You don’t understand the value of one in the absence of another. But perhaps I like to see myself as a composer, the most.

To change track, you have used nature as a motif in a lot of your songs, from your first song about a wildfire, to your second one about monsoon rains and the third one about mountains. Why is that? Do you find more inspiration in nature than in other things?
I was raised in Kalimpong. And as you know, Kalimpong is full of natural beauty, from trees, rivers, and bank to hills and mountains. Since I have been seeing that around me from my childhood, perhaps I had the impression that nature is a very important part. And from that I could draw a lot of inspiration.

Do you set out to write about nature, or do these images just come to you as you write?
I do write about other things too. It’s not that I focus solely on nature when I write songs. But I do draw inspiration from it.

"It’s not that I focus solely on nature when I write songs. But I do draw inspiration from it."

Since your album came out, you have performed in many concerts. Which was your favorite?
Every concert has its own specialty. But my first ever concert is very special to me. It was in Club 25 Hours in Kathmandu. It was the first time I was performing in front of a live audience. First time ever performing my songs in front of public, I had no idea how people would respond. And I was also a little nervous. But by the time the concert was over, everyone was on their feet, they gave me a standing ovation, people were singing along. I felt really very happy. That concert is very memorable to me.

What kind of music do you listen to and are influenced by?
I listen to many kinds of music, not one particular genre. I have studied classical music, jazz, blues, and rock. I take them all in. All of them influence me in some way. In my music you feel different elements, some country, some folk, some jazz and a little bit of classical.

There is a song in your album called Ram Sailee. What do these words mean?
Ram Sailee is the name of a lover. This is my father’s song actually. He composed the song in the 1960’s. It was probably not recorded. I had heard this song as a child. But I only knew half of the song. I could not find the recording anywhere. I decided to create the other half, and sang and published the full song. In future, I plan to sing more of my father’s songs.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am recording my second album at the moment. I hope it is ready by the end of this year. This album will have 7-8 songs. Only one of the songs, called Syndicate, has been published till date. The rest of the songs will be published in the album itself.

In an interview, you had called one of your songs ‘happy kind of sad song’. Can you please explain that theme in your songs?
Again, I don’t really set out to write these kinds of songs, but they just turn out that way, and it’s very difficult to explain.

Finally, why do you think your songs are so popular?
I don’t really know specifically. But I assume that it’s probably because people identify with the kind of music I make. They feel culturally proud of that music, that, you know, Nepali folk music can also be presented this way.

Words and inline photos by Sewa Bhattari.

Banner photo: Bipul Chhetri’s Facebook page.

Follow Sewa on Twitter @sewa_ditee

To read more from Sewa, please click here.


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Categorised in: Arts, Interviews

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