Nepal Music Archive: How some musicians are leading an ambitious project for their shared future

Nepal Music Archive
Photo by Namroud Gorguis on Unsplash

When a group of musicians and music scholars started Echoes in the Valley in 2017, it instantly realised the need to archive the music and sounds heard during the festival. As the aim of the festival was to uncover and revive local music, the musicians soon felt they needed to start archiving or at least documenting the sounds played during the festival.

“We immediately knew we needed an archive and that’s how the idea of Nepal Music Archive began,” says Rajan Shrestha, the executive director of the archive.

But, it has not been as straightforward as they would have wanted it to be as it took them five years to execute their plans. What started as a research and documentation wing of Echoes in the Valley, Nepal Music Archive has come a long way. By now, they have been able to archive 450 hours of audio, 650 album covers, 1,000 photographs, 166 publications and 45 hours of video footage. But, this is just a start as they hope to create a base for musicians, scholars and the general public to know about the history of Nepali music.

“We feel it’s important because Nepali music goes well beyond what was mainstream and that’s what we want to do: to archive works of people who aren’t known to many because their role in Nepal’s music scene is quite important,” says Shrestha.

The need

The main need for an archive like Nepal Music Archive was primarily for research purposes. There have been hundreds of books and research papers written about Nepali music. But, if a person wants to read them, it is almost impossible to find.

To make sure it is easier for people to find them, the team has visited colleges and universities, gone through the libraries and clicked photographs of books and research papers, and put them up in the archive, which they feel will help potential researchers in the future.

“There’s a lot more that we still need to do, but we’ve been to Padma Kanya Campus and Ratna Rajya Campus and have archived most things related to music we found there.”

The Nepal Music Archive team also realised that digitising was not going to be easy. So, it is adding metadata, a set of data that describes and gives information about other data, to the sound, videos and photographs it is archiving. For that, the team has ethnomusicology graduates.

“We even have added the names of the beat to some sounds. So in the future, if people research say about a madal, they will have a list of beats that are played on the madal too.”

Nepal Music Archive also wants to create a bibliography of artists outside the mainstream. Take Nhuchhe Bahadur Dangol, a veteran musician, educator and folk dance expert, as an example. Most of his tapes have been destroyed and that creates a major issue to archive his work. But, the team has still managed to collect pictorial memories of his performances and travels, video documentation of his performances and documentaries made on him and created a bibliography on him.

“We’ve even prepared a list of academic documents and research papers prepared on him. It sucks that there aren’t many audio sources on a person like him, but it is what it is.”

The team is thankful for the grant they have received from Goethe-Zentrum Kathmandu which has helped them with the project.

Technological challenges

Nepal Music Archive
Photo by Ingo Schulz on Unsplash

The Nepal Music Archive team faces a lot of challenges too. The first comes in the form of technology. The tapes that it finds from old musicians are obsolete. Even the ones it finds in Nepal are old and rusty, which poses a major threat.

But, that is where the urgency lies.

The team members once came across a spool tape from an old singer named Champa Rana. They looked for the tape player everywhere, but they could not find one. When they did finally get their hands on a player, they could not operate it.

“This is going to be a major challenge for us as people don’t tend to keep old music players with them. We’ve had to buy some from pawnshops in Europe.”

Collecting data has also been an issue for the Nepal Music Archive. For most living artists, they go meet them and get their collection. But, in case someone’s collection has been destroyed, they talk to them about it and meet people who’ve interviewed them in the past.

“That’s what we did for Nhuchhe sir.”

In this process, Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya has also helped the team a lot. The library has an extensive collection of both text and audio. As it is one of the oldest archives in Nepal, the team went to see if it had audio samples.

“We found they were archiving audio too but had stopped after the 2015 earthquake. When we went there, they were more than happy to share with us what they had.”

Another collection that has helped Nepal Music Archive is that of Anil Sthapit, a designer who was the go-to guy for singers and record labels to make album covers. Through Sthapit’s collection, which is over 3,000, the team has been able to learn a lot as these covers have lyrics, names of arrangers, record labels and lyrical trends.

“This is major data and we can do a lot of research from it.”

Nepal Music Archive is also cataloguing research papers and documents found in libraries of colleges affiliated with Tribhuvan University and Kathmandu University and are also scanning magazines like KTM Rocks and Wave. 

The road ahead

Nepal Music Archive
Nepal Music Archive is currently facilitating research on Nepali women in music.

It is also facilitating research on Nepali women in music as the team feels that women have not been given the due credit when it comes to music.

“We hear a lot about Narayan Gopal’s contribution, but we don’t hear anything about Melwa Devi Gurung’s contribution to Nepali music. We want to change that along with talk about other people who’ve played a role in developing music in the country. We want to create a parallel history that goes along with mainstream history.”

Next, the Nepal Music Archive team wants to conduct workshops at the university level, so as to collect further resources, facilitate publishing music journals and create opportunities for scholars/researchers.

“We want to facilitate as much research as we can.”

And finally, it wants to reach out to the masses. The team at Nepal Music Archive says it does not want to be a traditional archive. Sure, it wants to help academicians, but it wants to go beyond that. To raise awareness, it wants to use Echoes in the Valley and spread information about the archives. It wants to call musicians and hold regular interaction programmes and also conduct public exhibitions.

“That is how we will grow.”

Apparently, the Nepal Music Archive team has done a lot of work. But, the team is well aware that a lot of work is still needed. 

“We’re an archive and archiving never stops, which is why we will keep carrying on.”

React to this post

Pant is a journalist currently working for Onlinekhabar. He writes on movies and music, travel and mountains, and culture among others.

More From the Author


New Old Popular

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to Onlinekhabar English to get notified of exclusive news stories.