New kid in town

May 24, 2013 , by Bibek Bhandari, Leave your thoughts
New kid in town » My Dreams Mag
Photo: Ayush Shrestha/Lydia Grace (below)
Mumbai-based Nepalese singer-songwriter brings a fresh musical taste coupling his songs with the six-strings.  An MBA graduate turned independent artist, Ayush Shrestha boasts the potential to make it big.  

“Do you see what I’m drinking,” said Ayush Shrestha sipping his glass of lukewarm water minutes before his rare Kathmandu performance at Moksh. Though suffering from fever, he said he hoped to create a “musical fever among the audience” that evening. 

Shrestha, a 28-year-old singer-songwriter who calls himself “a struggling artist” didn’t have much time that night nor did he have an advantage of anyone knowing his name or music for that matter. As he sat and watched the funk band What The Funk perform in the moderately filled small space, people really weren’t expecting a five feet-five inch-tall guy in shorts, t-shirt, sandals, and a fedora—for most of his shows, Shrestha usually dons the traditional Dhaka Topi—to pick up his guitar and give a recess to the well-known band in Kathmandu.

“Hi, I’m Ayush Shrestha,” he introduced himself on the microphone in a soft tone, holding his guitar and making himself comfortably seated on a small stool. The room was abuzz with people just until he hit his notes – the sound of his guitar and the song “Mad Man’s Mind” soon filled the room making all ears listen attentively to every word, every note.

“I usually start all my shows with this song,” he said during the sound check hours before the show started.

“It helps set the mood; it’s like a warm up,” he spoke of the song which is inspired by Mahakabi Laxmi Prasad Devkota’s poem Pagal.

Though he starts most of his sessions with this song, he doesn’t particularly remember if that was the song he started his first gig with at Blue Frog, a live music venue in Mumbai.

It’s been three years since he first stepped on the stage at Blue Frog on April 11, 2010 after passing an audition to sing at the restaurant cum music venue  where current superstars and many would-be stars of tomorrow have performed.That’s a tough question,” he said as he paused and pondered upon that. “I really can’t remember.”

Shrestha belongs to the latter category, but he has high hopes of reaching the musical height that was once buried in the basement of his future goals as an MBA student.

After studying in Dubai and Singapore and graduating in the peak of the global recession in 2009, Shrestha said it was difficult for him to find a job. But he saw it as a “blessing in disguise,” which actually prompted him to take a detour and deviate from what he studied.

“Some people told me I looked better with a guitar than a laptop,” he said.

After some consideration, fresh out of the university then, the recent graduate told himself to listen to his heart and follow his future – music. He then had the tough task of breaking the news to his parents, who he said weren’t happy at all.

“But there was small room for negotiation,” he said with a smirk.

His parents had given him a three-month ultimatum to prove himself right. He told them that he would not let them down before boarding the flight from Singapore to India’s entertainment capital Mumbai without even stopping by Nepal.

During the first month, the aspiring artist lived the life most struggling artists were living in the “city of dreams” – spending nights on friends’ couches and desperately seeking means to make a living.

After the first month, he found a job at a non-profit organisation, which he said helped him pursue his music during spare time. He didn’t have to think much of his livelihood, and he could stay back in Mumbai.

Meanwhile, he started writing and composing his songs. With no formal training in music or any musical influences among family and friends, he said his songs are a product of his life experiences and also that of others.

“I consider song-writing to be one of my strongest points,” he said. “And throughout these years what I’ve realised is that it [songs] come out really well if you’re honest with yourself.”

His words are in fact a composite of honesty, which he validates with certain anecdotes.

“Let the River Flow” is one of the 24 songs that he has written so far—he has written in Nepali, English, and even Hindi—which directly delves into a subject matter that he has rendered his voice to.

“We may try and hold back her tears/ By building a big dam of lies/ But beware in one of these years/ The river will decide to cry … Let the river flow,” his words marks one of his friend’s fight to save the Teesta River in Sikkim. It highlights the effects of the increasing number of construction of hydro project plants in the area.

“Once I have an idea, I always stick to it,” said the songwriter of his thought process. “Most of the time, the beginning is an accident – in terms of writing or composition. Sometimes I start with the melody and fill in words.”

Unabashedly Shrestha also admitted that he likes rhyming his lines.

He shrugged his shoulders with a smile and said, “It sounds fun,”

Soft-spoken and witty, though he might come across as a reserved person initially, the singer has a tendency to make others laugh and he mingles with his audience. He said he likes to interact with his audience, which was visible during his short, three-song performance at Moksh.

Sharing the story behind his song “Kotha Bhitra,” which he wrote when his roommates accidentally locked him in his Kathmandu apartment, he asked the audience members, “So what would you do if you were locked inside a room?”

“Oh, I would listen to you sing all day long, honey” swooned a female voice from the audience.

The singer blushed and flashed a smile before he concentrated on his musical notes to start off the very song.

That, he said, is one song he extracted from his personal experience.  But he doesn’t want to be limited in a musical cocoon where he would only write songs and produce albums to make money.

He said he wants to experiment with music and lyrics – through his social business, a plan he is currently persuading, Shrestha seeks to merge business and pleasure. He talked about his business model, the social impact it will have, and also the revenue it could yield, a clear indicator that he has not left behind what he studied in his MBA.

A part of the plan he developed as a music fellow at the Dekeyser and Friends Academy in Germany, it is currently in the implementation phase.  In coordination with the non-profit Muktangan in Mumbai, which adopts government schools and runs them with a different approach, he teaches music twice a week to students and also teachers to incorporate music to interact with their students.    But his ultimate plan is to compose educational songs about series of topics to enhance the educational experience.

“It could be songs about the nine planets, road safety, real life skills …,” he listed. “Also songs about classroom management for teachers.”

He added, “Music can make a difference.”

While Shrestha is planning to make a difference through his music, he said it has certainly made an impact in his life, personally and professionally. He believes coming to Mumbai to pursue his musical interest has been one of the best decisions. Had he returned to Kathmandu, he said he would have been stuck with a job and unhappy with life.

In the four years since he moved to Mumbai, he has been able to groom himself as a music artist. Though he doesn’t have an album, his voice has traversed through different Indian cities and across the border to his homeland. The journey that started from Blue Frog, has led Shrestha to perform at different music festivals in Indian including one of the country’s biggest, the NH7 Weekender in the Indian city of Pune. His band, Ayush Shrestha Trio, though sounds “narcissist” in his own words, plans to jointly hit the recording studio and release an album soon.

“Or just release a single,” said the singer who now wants his polished work in the market.

Happy and satisfied with the choices he has made and the future that it holds for the young artist, Shrestha said he has nothing to regret. Music, for him, defines his identity.

“Music is a path for me, it’s a job for me,” he said. “It’s life for me.”


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