Bostonians more familiar with the indie rock scene may not be aware of this, but our city is home to a large Nepalese community. The Himalayan Heritage Cultural Academy is at the center of this growing community, founded by master Nepalese musicians who wanted to give the traditional music and arts of Nepal a formal presence in the Boston area. The academy is also home to the Himalayan Heritage Band, an ensemble of virtuoso musicians and educators whose collective mission is to keep this noble tradition alive.
Shyam Nepali, one of the founders of this wonderful band, came from an impressive musical pedigree — one of the most prominent musical families of Nepal’s centuries-old Gandharva musical caste. Throughout history, the family earned their living as traveling musicians, composing and performing songs that conveyed the day’s news to villagers who lived in the mountainous areas. Their music was also inspired by nature and by the rural landscape. Shyam’s father and grandfather are accomplished sarangi musicians in the Gandharva tradition. The sarangi is a bowed string instrument that is carved from a single log of wood. Notes are played by touching the sides of the strings with the fingernails.
Music of the Gardharva tradition, while popular in the ’60s and ’70s, is now endangered, though through the work of the Himalayan Heritage Band and Cultural Academy, the tradition is being revived.
The Himalayan Heritage Band features Shyam Nepali on sarangi, Sushil Gautam on murchunga (jaw harp) and madal (hand drum), Ranjan Budhathoki on bansuri (bamboo flute) and Raj Kapoor on madal. Kapoor also performs the Lakhe Mask Dance, a traditional part of the Indra Jatra, a religious street festival that takes place every September in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley.