My 16 year old son recently returned from 3 weeks in Nepal as part of his school’s World Challenge expedition. They spent their time helping a primary school near Pokhara with some painting and wall-building but also got a chance to trek around the Annapurna region as well as visit the Chitwan National Park. It was for him a life changing experience. An opportunity to see that the rest of the world doesn’t live connected to Spotify, Instagram and Snapchat. And to appreciate what its like to be a visitor in another very strong, old culture.
On one of their first days in Kathmandu one of the boys took the others to visit a family friend, Suman Thapa. Turns out this man was a musician and before the end of the evening he gave a copy of his group’s latest CD to my son. Which my son gave to me for Christmas.
The group is The Blue Fret. The name of their album is Jiri Blues.
I’ve been listening to this all day and I have to say my socks have been blown off. It is NOTHING like I expected it to be. Nepal is full of garage bands who do (better or not so good) covers of 60s-90s pop and reggae. There are also a lot of folk bands and outfits that blend Nepali folk/Hindustani classical and jazz. But nothing quite like this.
Jiri is a small village in the mountains of Nepal. Historically, it used to be the starting point for the early explorers of Mount Everest. Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay started their historic ascent of Mt. Everest from Jiri.
At one time, Jiri used to the hub for all trekkers and mountaineers. With the passing of time, motorable roads went further out from Jiri. That’s when the trekkers and mountaineers moved further on, and that’s when Jiri got the Blues!
The Jiri Blues is an album of songs in the western sytle of music incorporating the sound of Nepali folk instruments, ‘bansuri’ and ‘sarangi.
Part of the proceeds from the sale of the album will support Project Sarangi which was founded by one of the band members, Kiran Nepali. Project Sarangi is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of indigenous Nepali folk music craftsmanship.
All songs were written by Suman Thapa and most of them in Jiri.
Thapa and his group sing in flawless American accents and write songs that reveal a real intimate knowledge of Western pop. When was the last time you heard a Nepali song with titles like “Lincoln Town‘ or ‘Melissa on the Rocks‘? Thapa has a warm, supple voice and plays nice guitar (mostly acoustic but he does have a few tasty licks on the electric as well). The rest of the band support each song with piano/keyboards, bamboo flute (bansuri), bass and drum. Kiran Nepali, turns in a gorgeous sarangi solo on Slow Down and leaves you wishing he had been given more space.
The sound is a blend of soft rock, roots with a slight twang, a touch of reggae beats and folk. Thapa is a solid lyricist who manages to mix local imagery within a western pop-song frame such as the following from Lincoln Town.
Prayer flags and a block of cheese/They are my lifetime guarantees
I’m headed to the home of the bees/Oh won’t you come with me
The Blue Fret is the first real discovery of 2020. Perfect for a mountain sunset or a rainy day inside with a cuppa tea.
01 Lincoln Town
02 Jiri Blues
03 Some Reason Why
04 Shadows of the Night
05 Don’t Say Hello
06 Melissa on the Rocks
07 I won’t Cry for You
08 ‘Konjo’ Taxi Lady
09 Slow Down
10 A Moment in Jiri