A band named 1974 A.D might stump you the first time you hear about them, as they stumped me. But only for a moment. Nirakar, one of the founding members of Nepal’s most cutting edge band, has an explanation: 1974 was the benchmark before really good Seventies acoustic music started giving way to electronic mixes. Calling from Houston, Texas, where his band just finished a performance, he explains: 'We are all very influenced by 70s music, both Western and Nepali. There were a lot of guitar driven bands in the West, and Nepali musicians were also doing great acoustic music in the seventies as well.'
Before it all abruptly stopped. Synthesizers started to take over in the mid-Seventies and Eighties, and electronic beats become the order of the day. Acoustics was relegated to the attic as a remnant of the past. And yet for this band of eight musicians, playing everything from bass, guitar, percussions, flutes and even a trumpet, acoustics is more than history - it is what makes them come together. In 1994, six of them came together in Jhamsikhel, Kathmandu, realizing they all had the same taste in music. 'We don't like electronic music that much. I think you should hear what you play, directly. You can't spruce it up in the computer.,' says Nirakar.
Ranging in age from 40 to 24, the disparate group of six quickly became good friends. Their first public performance, in the Tundikhel khula manch during the 1995 International Music Day, drew a crowd of 6000-7000 people. Musicians all, they handled the performance with aplomb. Before long, their records (they have released 4 so far) were selling 100,000 copies. Some of them hold down day jobs, but most of them rely on their love for the music to support them, which it has so far. Fusion and experiments have been warmly received, leading to gigs across the world for the band as well as for individual musicians.
The purist dedication to acoustics, oddly out of step with the times, belies their fiercely international vision of what their music is like, and who it is for. 1974 A.D does not just play for a Nepali audience, although they are very much based in Kathmandu. A recent collaboration with Ani Choyeng, a Tibetan nun who chanted Tibetan mantras while they mixed it with their music, was well attended by the expatriate community within Nepal. Their two month tour in the US, their first, has already gotten them audiences in college towns and San Francisco bars, where they were last seen playing for some local musicians. 'Our music is for more than Nepalis.' says Nirakar. 'We play for everybody.' Their goal, eventually, is to sell to an international market. After the US, 1974 makes it way to India, Ceylon and from there to Hongkong inbetween Dashain and Tihar. Ever enterprising, the band has already appointed a manager, made a portfolio and a website, and are already booked for the next year.
And yet this local band with the cosmopolitan zing also has time to arrange concerts in their local hometown, where they raised money from instruments for jail inmates as well as sports equipment for a school for the handicapped. A portion of the money raise from the US concert is being donated to The Widows and Orphans Fund, which gives to victims of the current civil conflict.
Nepal’s youth, under assault from a Maoist movement that demands revolution and an Army bent on repressing them, can take a breather from all the violence with a few hours of creative jamming from this group which sees inside and outside, traditional and modern, fusion and folk all as part of the same grand design. And they, like the band, can pay a tribute to all the great heros of music who were washed away after 1975 in the tsunami of synthesized sound.
© Sushma Joshi and Chakrapath.com