Discover how Hong Kongese musician Heidi Li composed music for a Nepali film

Heidi Li
Heidi Li

In the first week of June, musician Heidi Li arrived in Nepal for the third time. This visit was exceptional for her as she was here to attend the premiere of Nabin Subba’s film Gau Aayeko Baato, on June 5. In this film, Heidi, a native of Hong Kong, made her debut as a musician. Earlier she had only done independent music. 

In 2023, Amod Rai, the movie producer based in Hong Kong, reached out to Heidi Li. Then she watched the movie a few times and composed a few demo pieces. The filmmakers were pleased with her work and believed that she could oversee the music for the film.  

“I think that they (filmmakers) were looking for someone who has cultural sensibility. They intentionally searched foreign composers because they want music that can reach a global audience,” says Heidi Li.  

Connecting Chinese, Jazz and Nepali music

Furthermore, Heidi Li believes that her background in music has become a significant advantage. She has experience working with various cultural music. Many of her music projects are related to diverse cultures. Since childhood, she has been involved in Chinese traditional music and Chinese opera. Her parents were also artists and she got inspired from them. Later, she moved to Italy and began learning Jazz. She also has an album dedicated to Italian folk songs. Heidi Li is a multilingual Jazz vocalist, composer and teacher.  

Heidi Li, who has always been doing music independently, says that she had to learn a lot of things from scratch while doing the music for the film. However, she is grateful for her jazz background which always helps her to improvise.   

The other important thing that Heidi Li had to do while composing music for Gau Aayeko Bato was she had to do a lot of research about Nepali music, especially Rai music. 

Amod and Nabin sent me many materials and I also explored Nepali music through the internet, she says.   

After doing research for a month, Heidi Li began improvising the music with her voice by looking at the visuals of the movie. 

Until she completed the project in two months, she immersed herself entirely in Nepali music. During this time, she discovered several Nepali musicians whom she found interesting to listen to, one of them was Jhuma Limbu. She even met with Limbu. 

Heidi Li holds a background in Chinese and Jazz music, while being asked if she has done any different kinds of experiments with the music of Gau Aayeko Baato, she said, “I have incorporated the melodies from folk song from rifle songs one is called Hiyari, a folk music of Rai community.” 

With that, to render a jazz flavour to the theme song of the movie, she has used guitar and drum brush on drums.   

While working with Nepali movies, Heidi Li merely did not listen to Nepali music, but she also got the opportunity to work with Nepali musicians whom she found talented and easy to work with.

“I just let them listen to my demo and they play it quickly,” says Heidi Li. “I don’t even need to write the music  because they play it by hearing.”

Working with Nepali musicians

Heidi  Li

While talking to Onlinekhabar, Heidi also appreciates the singing ability of Rajesh Payal Rai, who has sung the theme song of the film, composed by Heidi Li. 

Rajesh is a big name in the Nepali music industry, and working with him was fun, she says.     

“When I knew I would work with such a big name, I was so stressed,” says Heidi Li. “I was also worried about the theme song being in a low scale, as he had never sung in such a low scale before.”

It took Rai six hours to complete the entire recording. Otherwise, as said to Heidi Li by Rai, he would complete the recording usually in 10 minutes. 

“He sounded great in the low range.”

Understanding creativity from challenges

Heidi Li
Heidi Li

While Heidi Li had fun working for a Nepali cinema, she also went through some challenges during this time.   

The main challenge for her was communication. Since she could not watch the film together with other people, she could not exactly understand what the director was expecting.

“When we need to go into more detail, it used to be very difficult, for example, let’s say if the director says in this part we want something more intense. How do we interpret what intense exactly means ?,” says Heidi Li. “ Such things used to create trouble.” 

The other challenges for Heidi Li were the limitation of resources and her lack of experience in working with films. However, she believes that such challenges did her good things. She realised that the limitation of resources helped her to be creative. 

So to avoid all the kinds of challenges Heidi Li kept things simple. “Keeping things simple is better because when you try to do a lot of things it poses a risk,” she says. 

She further says that her commitment to the work is another aspect that helps in overcome challenges and creating music.  Despite facing various challenges Heidi Li says that she is very satisfied with her work in the film.

“Working for a movie that belongs to a different country and language was a great learning process for me,” she adds. Heidi Li also says that she further wants to work for movies in the coming days. 

“I think I would want to pursue more cinema, more about writing music for cinema in general,” says Heidi Li. 

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Prasun Sangroula is an Onlinekhabar correspondent, mainly covering arts, society and sports.

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