Among all the restaurants and bars in Jhamsikhel, Beers N’ Cheers (or BNC) stands out. The drinks, cosiness and assorted food menu is definitely a niche of the bar but there’s something else that provides uniqueness for BNC. While bars and pubs around Thamel and Jhamsikhel play out the same songs that have been playing in Kathmandu since the 2000s, BNC has been offering something completely different: original music by Nepali artists.
The haven for original singers
“That’s always been our goal to promote original music and with talented Nepali artists,” says Ritavrat Joshi, one of the owners of the place.
For the past three years, this place has been a haven for these artists and bands who have wanted to play original music. Artists like Jhilkey and the Company, On Acid, ASM, Ishan Onta and The Elements have benefitted a lot from here as they have had a place to hone their skill and play to an audience that wants to listen to original music.
Since the bar started doing live music, it has conducted over 500 shows and hosted popular Nepali artists like Bartika Rai, Jerusha Rai, Diwas Gurung and Dibesh Pokharel and international acts like Daniel Waples, Ser ó duo and Gauley Bhai. Now, it hopes it can continue to do what it has been doing and promote more artists from the country who are looking for recognition.
“BNC has definitely helped music and the musicians that create them. It has created a warm and approachable platform for artists to have the confidence to just be themselves without any inhibitions to let their art flow through them,” says the band kidsandheroes.
Steve Dewan from Jhilke and the Company echoes kidsandheroes and says that if there were more places like BNC, Nepali artists would not have trouble sustaining themselves by doing music.
“BNC has done a lot for us as they provided us a platform to perform our music, helped us raise funds for our EP launch and connected us with other venues in and out of KTM. They gave my band JATC our first show and believed in us when no one even knew us at all,” he says.
BNC was initially started in 2015 by Parbat Thapa and a few others as a pub. It was doing well, but around 2017, Thapa’s partners decided to leave and Joshi and Karan Shrestha joined Thapa and made a few changes.
As the place was transitioning, Joshi, who is a musician himself, put forward the idea to rebrand the place into a bar that played music. But wanting to offer something different, he suggested they play originals instead of cover.
“There were already many places that did covers. We wanted to be a place that was going to be a place for original music,” says Joshi.
Jerusha Rai, who’s been playing at BNC every time she’s in Nepal says that to her BNC is the best bar in the city. “I feel really comfortable there. It’s a place where I can witness fascinating live acts, and it’s where I met some of my dearest musician friends. I hope it continues to be a space for the weird and the unpretentious,” she says.
Rising from risks
The start was not easy though as they had a hard time finding artists. The first few gigs were done by people that the owners knew. But, doing an entire show with only original music seemed a bit far-fetched.
“We did have a leeway as bands and artists did have the option of singing covers too.”
One of the first few people who performed there was Abishek S Mishra, the frontman of ASM and vocalist at the 2 Gunslingers. He says that having a place like BNC in Jhamsikhel that had no original music venue was a breath of fresh air.
“As it is also run by musicians and music lovers, they understand the want of original music and how it is way more important in the long term than just having cover artists,” he says.
“This place has contributed a lot to growing Nepali music scene. In a city where a musician finds it hard to find a venue to play, BNC provides opportunities to bands, new and old, for their love for music is eternal,” says Nikita Shrestha from Space/ Trees.
It was hard for them to get in the crowds too as Nepal did not really have a scene for original music as many still opt to go to a cover show rather than an original show. So, initially, the people who came there were from the music community only. The owner’s friends and the artist’s friends and fans were the ones who frequented these live shows. But, as word spread out, people started to come.
“It was mostly by word of mouth. It feels great that people come to listen to original music,” says Joshi.
Logistically, it was quite a hassle too during the start. Knowing how hard it was for a musician to carry musical equipment like amplifiers and drums, they decided to manage it themselves. For that, the BNC crew, every Friday, rushed to Mr Music Recording Studio (Divesh Mulmi and team) to get drums, amplifiers and other musical equipment. The studio was five floors up. He did this for over two years.
“It was only in late 2019 that we installed the PA system (public announcement system) along with a full backline and sound system. Sadly, we haven’t had the chance to do more gigs there since installing that,” says Joshi.
Growing number of events and, hence, popularity
As it started to host more shows, more people started to know the place. While in the start, it was hard for them to find bands, gradually the bands started to contact them. That meant it could do more shows. Hence, it started doing shows on Wednesdays and Saturdays as well.
“Last new year, we did shows seven days in a row,” he says.
Apart from that, It also hosted comedy open mics and shows along with the occasional screening of cult movies. “We’ve tried other things too.”
It also conducted a session called Pin Drop Violins on Saturdays which was dedicated to the artists. These intimate sessions gave the artists the chance to tell stories to those present along with performing.
“I feel this has been one of our best sessions. Jerusha, ASM, Diwas dai all have performed in this session and all have loved it as there aren’t many sessions like this happening in Nepal.”
Mishra from the ASM says these sessions are special for musicians as their true fans turn up to these shows.
“They immerse themselves in the session in such a manner that it’s great for us, musicians,” says Mishra who loves the storytelling aspect of the session.
Ishan Onta from the Elements says that this is the first place that comes to his mind when somebody wants to play an original set.
“Probably the only venue in town that actively seeks new artists. The work they’ve done is quite amazing,” he says.
When asked if the bar gets sponsors, Joshi laughs it off. He says that companies only want to sponsor popular artists and are quite shy when the bar approaches for deals for shows with upcoming singers.
“They give us some cheap deals which just aren’t worth it. That is why we’ve done shows where we’ve incurred losses,” says Joshi.
He adds that most sponsors don’t have people who understand music as they do not have a long term vision when it comes to music.
“It’s only during new years day or Christmas that they want to support us. Other times, they don’t care,” he says. “Had we received proper support, we’d have done a lot more.
This is why it has tickets for the shows, and the tickets to some extent help them support the artists. Joshi says the reason why bands and artists want to play at BNC is it is fair to them in terms of the sound in the venue and payment.
“I personally know how it feels when you’re underpaid; we want them to feel welcomed.”
Just before Covid-19 hit Nepal, it had major plans including bringing bands from across Nepal to perform there. It had major talent exchange plans with the neighbouring country to bring in their bands in exchange for Nepali bands performing there.
“The plan will definitely resume once the situation normalises,” he says.