UPDATE: I linked to this on a FaceBook group named “Kathmandu Expats” and the first few replies came from Nepali guys who said they didn’t like this style, panch baja was better. I am writing for the videshi audience, not the Nepali guys. Also, if somebody wants a blog on panch baja music, they should write one. I am not stopping anybody.
This blog is mainly to focus on my second book, The Sacrament of the Goddess. It’s a novel, written to bring to life the issues and challenges of medical care in a Low Income Country. The medical side of the novel directly reflects the medical reality of Nepal. For narrative purposes, it is set in a small hospital run by Missionaries in the rural Hill Country, which is why so many other blog entries here are devoted to Beni, Nepal.
But today let’s look at a different side of Nepali culture. Brass bands.
I didn’t get the name of this band, and the photo omits the percussion section. At the wedding of a friend. The guy in the middle exhibits “Gillespie’s Pouches.”
Everyone wants a wedding to go like this:
The song is a sentimental one that covers the feelings of the dad as he watches his daughter grow; any father who has ever given a daughter in marriage is guaranteed to get teary-eyed. But the band in the video? Everest Band Baja. Of course.
The above is one I took in 2011 at the wedding of a Nepali friend, featuring the Nepali Police Band. They are more “military” than the usual band in my opinion; most of their members have degrees in music.
You see these wedding parades in Kathmandu, especially in winter during the auspicious season for weddings. It is customary to hire a brass band to serenade the groom at the house the morning of the wedding, then to lead a parade from there to the venue for the wedding ceremony, playing background music while the puja takes place, and finally to play at the feast.
Traffic in Kathmandu is chaotic even on a good day, but there is a rule that not even the King could stop a wedding parade (they still follow the rule even though the last king abdicated a few years back).
Everest Band Baja
There are dozens of bands, but I want to focus on The Everest Band Baja, based in Patan, possibly the grand-daddy of all such bands. They have been in business for about fifty years. They run two 16-person groups to handle the demand.
This tells how to hire the band and a bit about the history.
I have put together a playlist of bands. Everest Brass Baja is well represented but the list includes others. I was told by Everest Band Baja they prefer not to be video’d because then the other bands steal their arrangements.
Here is a tease:
About six years ago I worked with Everest Band Baja to make a FaceBook page. They were the very first Kathmandu wedding band to have one. I am not a fan of FaceBook these days, but we all found out one thing: FaceBook seems to have helped them get gigs.
If you think about it, the young people getting married are the generation that uses FaceBook every day in Nepal (everyone has it) so it is natural for them to search for a band there.
There are many styles of music in South Asia, and in Nepal there is also such a thing as a “paunch baja” which features the Shennai. The Everest Band Baja guys always ascertain whether the employer wants Nepali, Newari or Bollywood tunes.
The key to the clarinet? it is always mimicking a woman’s voice, and the better players are able to add the melisma the way Shreya Ghoshal would do. ( on that link, be sure to focus on the last fifteen luscious seconds!)
Other Brass Bands
You would think that FaceBook would never intrude on such a traditional activity. But though Everest Band Baja was the first to get their own FaceBook page for purposes of publicity ( and is still the best band, in my opinion), it seems that everybody else has now followed suit:
https://www.facebook.com/Band-Baja-Golfutar-402186263582275/ here is video of them playing “Chumma Chumma”
I will add more
The above list was easy to gather. I’m sure there are more out there and when I get them I will add them. Some of these guys are new at this – their FB pages do not always give actual contact information as to how to hire them!
Directory of Brass Baja in Nepal
I was delighted to see that somebody else began a directory. Click here.
In Western consciousness
This is a genre that remains on the edges of western consciousness. I suppose two items need to be mentioned. The first is the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band of India, which put out a CD of Hindu wedding music in 1997, Fanfare Du Rajasthan This was an enlightenment for many interested in world music. The second is a bit older and more obscure: Frozen Brass, a musical anthology released in 1993. At the time, Smithsonian Magazine ran a feature on the musical anthropologist who collected the tunes.