Many people believe music is a universal and timeless art. However, time apparently matters in music composition and consumption in any country. That is the reason why, the Nepali society is flooded with hundreds of new songs every September because Nepali women celebrate the annual Teej festival that month, and the festival is known for a particular kind of song that the merrymakers sing in celebrations.
September is still five months away but the Nepali music industry is flooded with a new plethora of songs now: the coronavirus songs. In different styles and structures, from rap to traditional dohori, there appears a long list of Nepali ‘coronavirus songs’ on YouTube.
One of the first Nepali coronavirus songs was sung by popular singer Pashupati Sharma. This song was out for the audience on YouTube in early March, roughly two weeks before the lockdown was announced in Nepal. Sharma claims that the major purpose of this song was to make people aware, on time before it was too late. He states, “The number of coronavirus infection cases was skyrocketing in many countries and various truthful, as well as misleading, information about this pandemic were everywhere. That is why I felt the need for some initiatives and decided to make a song. This song is solely for the purpose of awareness.”
Sharma adds, “Until any problem becomes serious, we Nepalis rarely care or give attention to it. And, when it becomes serious, we literally get traumatised. Acknowledging this tendency, I made this song using simple day-to-day language that can be understood by everyone.”
Accordingly, he urges his viewers and critics to view this attempt as a public service message about coronavirus prevention rather than a typical song. He claims, “I was aware that some sections of the audience, as well as critics, would criticise this, accusing me of moneymaking out of a disaster. But my sole aim was to make people aware, as many as I could. That is why I have webcast it on others’ YouTube channels though I own one myself.”
Dozens of others followed Sharma in the next few weeks. In the form of songs, they have talked about symptoms of the infection, preventive measures, and other problems associated with it. Other people behind these creations also say that they had the same purpose in mind: awareness.
Goma Pariyar, a radio journalist who had written a song about the virus, says she had been constantly receiving information about the infection and presenting news about the topic, which made her worried about the appalling situation created by the pandemic in the world. So she thought of doing something from her side, apart from her regular job of informing people. That was when the idea of spreading awareness with a song hit her mind. She says that at the time when she had thought of making this song, there were very few such songs including one by Sharma. She then called her friend, Naresh Khati Chhetri, who became the singer, editor, music arranger, and director for her.
Reception and remarks
Both Sharma and Pariyar inform that their songs have drawn both positive and negative kinds of comments. Further, Pariyar says she is ready to accept negative comments as well. She admits that her song could not be as good as it could be, adding she has received some genuine and logical criticism from her well-wishers. At the same time, she also clarifies that the scarcity of time and the situation during its making could be the possible cause of this outcome.
Many mainstream musicians and singers have also perceived their songs positively. Abhaya Subba, a popular musician and singer, thinks the coronavirus songs are products of the time that the Nepali society is currently going through. “What time or situation demands, music or any piece of art tends to give the same,” she says, “Before the New Year, a number of party songs are made and celebrated while during the hard times, songs of the same emotions are out in the public. This has always been in practice. So, at this uncertain time of the pandemic, the presence of such songs is not surprising.”
Another popular Nepali singer Yash Kumar views such songs as an alternative and effective way of making aware those people who otherwise do not have access to news channels or those who do not prefer to follow the news medium. He says, “Creating songs for awareness is a good thing.”
However, this singer is also critical of such trends. He fears that such a practice of singing songs about anything people talk about may make people liable to utilise serious or critical issues as an opportunity for earning instant popularity. He says, “I do believe no one would use or would have used this critical issue of the Covid-19 as a medium for being popular.”
Sanup Poudel, another talent from the Nepali music industry, stays rather neutral about the trend of Nepali coronavirus songs. “I am not at all interested in the songs which are about the plight the world is going through. Meanwhile, I am also not against the artists’ contribution to the world.”
Going through various comments such songs have received on YouTube, one can see that the majority of the viewers have liked and praised the songs as well as their messages. But there are also some audience members who have criticised the songs from many perspectives.
Kalpana Sharma, a student who is fond of songs, praises such songs for taking the approach of infotainment. She explains, “Whenever one is stressed or worried or exhausted, they generally prefer to listen to songs. So I feel that such songs can relay the messages in an effective way.”
She further adds, “The same messages delivered through an awareness speech or a news story may bore many people. For such people, such songs would be the best and effective way to spread information about this pandemic.”
Shanti Kandel, an aspiring singer, shares, “Whichever the songs I have heard about the coronavirus until today, I find them very informative and I like them. I feel like this type of music would clarify people about the symptoms, preventive measures, and other issues related to the disease.”
Prabin Dhungel, a university student, feels ambiguous about such songs. He feels that these songs are a good initiative to spread awareness among people, but also comments that most of these songs are not well executed. For example, the lyrics and visuals are not synchronised well, according to him.
Meanwhile, he also fears that this trend might be another vehicle of ruthless moneymaking business rather than awareness service.