The Ganga of music

April 22, 2013 , by Sanyukta Shrestha, Leave your thoughts
The Ganga of music » My Dreams Mag
Photo: Keshav Maharjan
Most Nepalese in Britain are either looking for a job or working too long hours to enjoy their life. But there are rare ones like Ganga Thapa who decided to live life in his own terms making music his career choice.  Is that the only reason that makes him one of the most successful young Nepalese musicians in the UK today?

From the remote Badh Khola of Syangja, a heartbroken mother entered Kathmandu with a dream that her five-year-old son’s paralysed left leg could be treated. That didn’t actually happen but little had she known that the precious gem she had left at SOS school, Jorpati, would one day flow the ganga of Nepalese music across cultures and beyond borders.

“… Aama used to say, even as a five-years-old, I loved listening to radio all the time,” says Thapa. “Once I even tripped on the stone of which I still have this mark here,” Thapa adds as he  shows an old scar on his forehead).

 At SOS school in Bhaktapur, Thapa was a good student and it was only as a ninth grader that he started taking guitar lessons from the folk singer, and writer of Nepal’s first guitar guide, Ram Thapa. Learning from Ram was what Ganga describes as his “formal introduction to the world of music.”

 Ganga went on to become one of Ram’s fastest learning students and after five years he was already assisting his first teacher in Sargam Academy, a room rented to teach local music students.

 “It was there that I developed an ability to find chords of any complex piece of music I would listen to, which is one of my key skills even till date,” recalls the performer in several music bands today. 


Aama used to say, as a child I wouldn’t get tired of singing this song all the time- Foolera laal bhayo, aaja mero jogiko chaal bhayo… narou mayalu!

Success hasn’t come to Ganga easily but as in his favourite childhood song from above, he had his own set of difficulties from which he eventually emerged with sheer determination.

 After completing his Intermediate studies at the age of 20, partly because of his disability and partly because he was not making enough out of maths and music tuition, he took up pharmacy. After starting pharmacy shop with two other partners, while in one hand he was proud of his students becoming good performers, he himself suffered the slow death of an artist within him.

Dhatt! Is this the kind of life I want to live? Waiting all day long just waiting for customers and not actually bringing out the creative quality I had in me? I asked this to myself after rotting for two long years in that shop,” Thapa shares the regret that changed his life completely thereafter.


In 2004, Ganga made up his mind to join what he considered the best music institution in town – Department of Music at Kathmandu University (KU). That was but not the end of all his problems. In fact, unaware, he had knocked the doors of all the hardships that followed.

 “I used to play electric guitar and thought I’ll learn some advanced jazz music at the University but it was totally different there. To my dismay, they required me to play classical guitar and made me learn musical history from most parts of the world,” Ganga says.

“It was there that I was introduced to ethno music. I fell in love with classical guitar and my life was totally devoted to music after that,” adds the man who eventually topped the university with all A-grades for which he is remembered in his department till date.

 When asked how he gathered the courage to back such a strong decision in life, he remembers his mother as initial source of inspiration, his sister (Maya Ale) who supported him and Shankar Pradhananga, Director, SOS school.

 ‘Shankar (Uncle) raised a fund of 1 lakh towards the instruments for my first band ‘Samyog’, Ganga says modestly. “Looking at my deep interest in music, later on, he even supported my University fees.” In the UK,  he was supported by his friends and family including Suraj Thapa, Nur Thapa and Jaym Magar Thapa.

 While in the Second year at University, Ganga got married to who was destined to be his true life-partner, Anu Khapung Thapa. She was the one who actually encouraged him to travel to the UK.

Before his big move, how the young musician planned despite the need to go back to the basics, speaks volumes of his commitment to music.

For his Diploma, Ganga had taken up classical guitar, which needed growing nails, and piano, which needed him to clip his nails. While in a dilemma to pick a new instrument for his degree, his teacher Suresh Vajracharya introduced him to what would later fetch Ganga the best offers of his career.

“The first strike of Sarod’s strings touched my heart! It had this unique melody with some kind of depth in it,” Ganga recalls his love at first site with Sarod.

As soon as he decided to make it one of his key strengths before heading to the West, he also realized that the transition would be far from smooth.

Committed and hard working he was, in mere two years, Ganga was selected for KU’s annual concert to play his new instrument, which would otherwise take about six month for a learner just to hit the right chord.

For someone like Ganga who was already giving guitar lessons and even performing in concerts, playing Sarod needed learning from scratch and hence a lot of patience. When he started with Sarod, a fretless instrument unlike guitar, a concert as such was a distant reality but today it has proven to be a boon for him.

“Sarod has led me to the biggest of stages including Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th anniversary in London, Dorset Festival, South Banks Festival and recently the BT River festival With ARUN GHOS , one of the biggest music festival in Europe where I represented Nepal For Olympic and Paralympics and in front of an audience of 30,000 at Battersea Park along with 40 World musicians who had spent their life in music,” says a proud musician. He considers the overall experience as “simply extraordinary.”

When playing Sarod, of which he has not met more than eight players in the UK so far, he incorporates Nepalese tunes to compose his original melodies.


It was only in September 2007 that a more music-literate Ganga decided to make a move to the UK to further his knowledge and career in music.

 “If one gets 3.5 GPA in KU, one can apply for scholarship for a third year at the internationally reputed School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS). So far, only four students have been selected in about eight years under this scheme and I’m the only one who has passed this toughest course in music,” Ganga’s eyes reflect not only pride but also the hardship he had been through.

 “I actually ended up reading so many textbooks and reference materials in libraries for endless hours! I had neither gone through something like this earlier, nor will I be able to redo in the future. It was that challenging,” he adds.

“There were many hurdles when I started my course,” recalls Ganga. “My English was not good as other students; I could hardly make sense of what the professor explained in the first few lectures. The course structure was completely different; while students’ presentation was rare back home, I was required to do weekly presentations.”

There was no alternative for Ganga but hard work, and he knew success has no shortcut. 

However proud he was of his grades back home, studying in Britain made Ganga understand ‘the real meaning of ethnomusicology. He realised how low his music proficiency was and how high a level his course expected him to attain. 

“I was in awe to see how my level of students cross-questioned the lecturers and fluently read the music notations. Also, my computer skill was nothing compared to theirs,” Ganga makes a shocked face. 

Thanks to the British education system, Ganga could consult his course advisers at school for guidance who even advised him to join a computer course. 

“I was determined to improve in every way I could and every attempt was really worth it,” claims Ganga. “Today I have my own recording set-up at home and I have been working for last two and half years for my first Sarod album which should be ready in a year’s time from now.”

Ganga compares the music education of Nepal and the UK as “completely different” and at SOAS, he couldn’t get best marks but he did secure a 1st division.


What could be more discouraging in the first year of a musician’s graduate life than to get an offer for concert once in several months and that too for nothing in return, not even cab fare.

Ganga went through all the disrespect for his music where artists were made to sit on the floor listening to dignitaries speaking from the stage about cultural preservation and even forcing the musical portions to be chopped off the show to accommodate longer speeches that urged to respect one’s culture.

“I stayed strongly focused at my ultimate aim, and kept practicing and performing wherever and whenever I could. Gradually things did start changing for me’, recalls Ganga who finds himself doing 2-3 shows a week these days throughout London.

“I am happy that my work is enjoyed by the classes and masses alike,” he adds with a smile of content.


Most Nepalese come to the UK to study technical and business courses and it’s hard to find those who are here to learn music. However, Ganga’s career does prove something important – if one can identify where one’s interest lies, and cannot be bothered by initial failures, success is just inevitable.

While Ganga’s first UK performance was for a Dashain get-together at Welling in Oct 2007, his first income came from a 10-minutes-long performance at Brunei Gallery, SOAS.

In his 2008 Graduation Show, as a first step to systematic professional singing, Ganga was expected to make posters, invite guests, distribute leaflets and perform in front of some 1000 guests at Logon Hall, SOAS.

With his in-depth knowledge of music, which he thinks is an endless journey; he has but a point to prove in his current town London where he is steadily carving a niche for himself.

“London’s popular music network, Asian Music Circuit has a list of Asian countries they recognize,” informs Ganga.

“I could see India, Bangladesh, and other Asian countries but Nepal was nowhere to be seen. I got really hurt and decided to work towards building Nepalese music’s own identity in the UK,” he shares a very personal experience.]

“Although Sarod had opened the doors to Indian and British audience for me, Nepalese audience was a bit unwelcoming to this instrument so I picked up maadal.” reveals Ganga.

After a year of his graduation, Ganga brought together a number of youngsters from around London who were good at playing traditional folk Nepalese instruments like dhimey, maadal, flute and harmonium to form his first band in the UK – Sangeet Sutra. The band went on to do a couple of charity shows for reputed Nepalese voluntary organizations.

The same year, Ganga teamed up with a young Afro-Asian band called Yak-Attack which toured numerous London music venues with it’s fusion tracks and in three years’ time, also released it’s first EP with four soulful compositions. Ganga contributed both as a composer and performer.

Early 2012 saw Ganga also jamming with a new team which they named FGV with two more musicians, one Indian and another a Pakistani. The band is now highly sought after in Asian and British weddings for the charismatic performance by these three vibrant Asian musicians.

While Ganga is definitely on his way to explore new grounds retaining his Nepalese roots, he has already laid a strong foundation for Nepalese music to flourish in the UK -  a band of local Nepalese music talents called CHORUS.

Formed in January 2012, this extraordinary team of Ganga on lead guitar, Amit Reshami Magar on lead guitar, Roshan Gurung on base guitar, Sanoj Thapa on Maadal and Tablaa, and Alen Shrestha on drums, has already proved its mettle by a mere four days’ of rehearsal to provide back-up music in UK tour of legends like Deep Shrestha and Nabin K Bhattarai, and more recently in two of the concerts by Bibek Shrestha (Kandara).

The Ganga of music has really flown though many ups and downs so that all of us music-lovers today have every good reasons to be happy and hopeful about Nepalese music in the UK.

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