When a young Raju Lama came to Kathmandu sitting on top of his father’s shoulders, he never thought he would become one of the most popular pop stars in the country. But, through hard work, determination and persistence, not only did he become that, he became a singing icon whose songs still reverberate around Nepal as his legacy still stands strong all these years later.
Wherever he goes, he is adored. In the late 90s and early 2000s, every nook and corner of Kathmandu would be playing his songs. His fans would throng the concerts where he and his band, The Mongolian Heart, played. At a time where bands like 1974 AD, Nepathya, Kandara and The Axe were doing their thing, Lama and the Mongolian Heart had a special place in the hearts of the people of Nepal. By the love they get, one might argue that they still do.
Passion into profession
“I never thought that I would ever become a singer, I was just passionate about it,” he says. “Little did I know that my passion would turn into my profession.”
Lama came to Kathmandu because his father wanted him to have a better future than the one he had in the high hills of Sindhupalchok. But, Kathmandu was a different world from where he came from. The trails in the hills were replaced by tarmac while the mudhouses were replaced by concrete ones. Even the language was different in the city as a young Lama struggled to blend in.
That said, he did miss home. He missed his friends there, but, most importantly, he missed his mother and her affection.
But, things gradually changed. He started to make friends and play with them in the open fields near Bouddha learning Nepali on the way.
In school, he had a different hobby – music. Every time he was free, he would sing for the class while his friends played the guitar. In every school event, you would see Lama in front of a microphone entertaining the crowd with his soulful voice and a bright smile on his face.
It was in class eight that he shifted his focus to music. That was when he met Chandra Gurung, with whom he learnt the guitar. He formed a band with Gurung and a few others. As most of them came from the Mongolian descent, he named the group The Mongolian Heart.
The group played in many shows in school and locally. The feedback he and his band were getting was so positive that they started to dream about recording an album. In 1994, when Lama was just 16, they did exactly that. Using money they had earned from playing deusi-bhailo, The Mongolian Heart recoded their first album–Soltini.
Since then, Lama did not look back. The album was not as successful as they had hoped it would be, but it did not bother them. They were happy that they had all worked hard to create an album with only originals.
The album and its response from their peers made Lama and the band more confident. They started to take part in various competitions winning a few, which landed them a contract with Music Nepal, the country’s first music company. That started the band’s journey into stardom.
With Music Nepal, they recorded their second album – Mongolian Heart. Prior to the release, there was scepticism about how successful the album would be. But, in a few weeks, Music Nepal sold out all the albums. They were so successful that they sold over 400,000 cassettes of the second album.
Encouraged by it, Lama and the band continued to make music. As the listeners wanted more, the band gave them more as they released six more albums, the latest coming out in 2018.
By the last 2000s, Lama had become the heartbeat of the band. With a bright smile on his face and silky hair, he was capable of wooing anyone.
Preserving and passing on talent
But, things are different now as people’s musical taste has changed. Lama, who came from a cassette generation, has had to evolve. The band, accordingly, have changed a lot of members as many had to leave the country for better opportunities while others were tired of doing this.
Lama, however, persevered. Even though he is not as active as he was before, he still lives and breathes music. A few months ago, after he climbed Mount Lobuche in Khumbu, he was seen jamming with American sensation Mike Posner.
He has re-established himself through the singing reality show Voice Nepal, where he coaches young and upcoming singers. He is also busy recording songs as many have been asking him to do tours across the country.
Even though the Mongolian Heart’s golden era might have come to an end with the end of cassettes, Lama through various ways is still carrying on their legacy. At a time, when many pop singers like Nabin K Bhattarai, Dipesh Kishor Bhattarai and Anil Singh have been lost in oblivion, Lama remained intact. Not only did he persevere, but he also thrived in their absence as he became more than a singer. He became a singing icon which the country will remember in the years to come.