Asian Music and Dance

Ani Ukali, Sangai Orali (Ascents and Descents)

Nepal is close to the hearts of walkers and climbers who seek to scale the glittering peaks of the Himalayan range. Equally the magnificence of its architecture, like the medieval township of Bhaktapur sadly severely damaged in the recent earthquake, is well-known to travellers. However, we know much less about Nepal’s rich musical heritage. There is where Night, a new school folk music band, comes in. Night will have played their first UK gig on 1 September 2015 at Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston.

Recalling the sensation that folk musician Raghu Dixit has achieved in India (and now in the UK) playing a new style of folk rock, Night’s founder members Jason Kunwar, Bibhushan Basnet and Niraj Shakya have been searching for a distinctive sound since 2006, when they messed about with avant-garde metal. They then decided to look closer to home and undertook an extensive tour around the mountainous country, seeking regional musical traditions. They were deeply impressed with what they discovered and felt a compulsion to both honour the ancient instruments and use them in a totally contemporary manner. “With my new interest in traditional music, we started producing contemporary music with classical Nepali instruments,” says Jason Kunwar. 

Their debut album, Ani Ukali, Sangai Orali, released in Nepal last year, bears testament to the success of that enterprise. The album, with ten tracks and forty-one minutes’ length, is a collection of original songs, traditional ballads and trance/new age-like instrumental sections along with straightforward passages of five traditional kettledrums and a reed-like Indian shehnai called mahali in the track ‘Bhaktapur’.

The stand-out number of the collection is ‘Kalhor’, where the band comes into its own. It has the most entrancing arrangement, drawing out the nuances and inflections of the Nepali instruments. Opening with the clear and clean-as-a-bell voice of Sumnima Singh, it builds a tapestry of bells, flutes and strings, with underlying rhythm on kettledrums supporting the structure. The voice hovers above, as the rich textures of sound coalesce and dissolve. This number is followed by ‘Suseli’ which is a soundscape, evoking the acoustics of the hillside at dawn: the babble of a mountain stream, the call of birds, insects and crickets. Close your eyes and you can breathe the mountain air! The little clay whistle, the pilhru, is used to effect, as is the paluwa, literally two leaves put together that are blown through. Such is the simplicity of the objects and instruments used to make music along with the modern acoustic guitar.

Night have hit upon a unique sound, a vision and a passion. As they push the boundaries of composition further and deeper, they will make new discoveries and give a new lease of life to traditional instruments. In a country with such skilled craftsmanship and fine aesthetics, Night reinforce these principles in the artwork of their covers and in the videos that can be seen on YouTube. Night have a bright future, and their journey has only just begun.



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