04 October, 2008

Funding artists

The Kathmandu Post

The Patan Museum courtyard, was at first empty, then quickly full, by 5:10pm on Saturday evening. The event was a fundraising concert, and the musicians in questions were Kutumba and a sibling duo, Barta and Binod Gandharva. Binod is still in high school, and Barta is yet to go to college. The event was aimed to raise funds for their education.
Kutumba is a name I've heard a lot, but keeping with my rule of avoiding events in which musicians who play traditional instruments congregate, I briefly considered not attending. Traditional music played just on instruments has too many strings and too much melancholy. I prefer my traditional music on the radio, where it rightly belongs, paired with a nice vocalist. Of course I was wrong.

Kutumba turned out to be a group of nice young men, dressed in rather funky red and black Nepali style blouses and trousers, with a phenomenal repetoire of music. Yes, indeed, the instruments they used were mostly traditional (although the rainstick from Australia may have been slightly less than “indigenous” in the Nepali context) but the way they played it was much more than what we've ever heard from tradition. From sounds that ranged from Kitaro's Silk Route to a funky jazz improv number at the end, the musicians were clearly drawing on musical history and fusion that avoided the usual Nepali classics, canons and clich├ęs. The atmospheric numbers we heard seem to have echoes of the Himalaya film soundtrack. Indeed, we learn from Nayantara Gurung, who hosted the event, that the band has recently been involved in creating the soundtrack of a new film “God Lives in the Himalayas.” Without doubt, this is going to be one phenomenal soundtrack.

Binod Gandarva, who was studying for his SLC exams, gave such a good rendition of Bhakta Raj Acharya and Gulam Ali that the audience sat in pin drop silence. The sibling duo then sang a lively duet together. Barta later sang a song of her own composition. Titled “Born Poor,” the song is a chant that repeats a woman's lament of being born poor and having to live as a slave. Barta received an enthusiastic audience response. At the end, she thanked her mentors, including Kutumba, for supporting her academic goals to finish her music education. Nayantara reminded the audience that the two young singers were committed to music and could very well be the Ram Dhakal and Aruna Lama of the future, and that supporting the two young emerging artists now would be investing in history-in-the-making.

The Patan Museum fundraiser seemed to highlight a trend in the New Nepal-artists supporting and mentoring other young artists to fulfil their dreams. What is heartwarming about this trend is that Kutumba themselves are young artists-most of them are in their twenties. Artists contributing their skills to raise funds for education is not new (Asman, the St. Mary's alumni network, held a concert with a well-known singer Shuba Mugdul to raise scholarship funds a day ago), but what is new is the desire to support education in the arts.

Art education is poorly supported in Nepal, especially in communities already struggling to provide children with education. Even with scholarships, students still have to struggle to pay living expenses in a city that has quickly become untenable for students. With most of the art colleges and universities centred in the capital (the Kathmandu School of Music, where Barta could potentially study, is located in a quiet, beautiful corner of Bhaktapur), students like Barta often have to be exceptional to stand out and reach the critical level of community support generated by the fundraiser. But for many other students, this kind of educational opportunity still remains out of reach.

The crowd at the Patan Museum was a testimony of the popularity of arts, and how people, when given the chance, will open their hearts and their wallets to support both young, emerging artists, as well as their dreams to get more qualification needed in the modern world. No doubt, events like these will continue to lead the way for more funding for arts education. Of course, ultimately the aim should be to establish regional higher educational institutions in art, music, and theatre in different parts of Nepal. Until that happens, Nepal will nurture its next generation of artists haphazardly, more through luck than any regular support. Let's hope this event, a sign of things to come, and that more formal circuits will be established to raise private donations and support which currently exist only through non-formal networks and in an ad-hoc fashion in Nepal.

Posted on: 2008-09-26 20:02:04 (Server Time)

No comments: