Nabin K Bhattarai’s staying power

Nabin K Bhattarai has stayed at the pinnacle of Nepali pop music for over two decades and he is not stopping anytime soon

Prasun Sangroula

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: Nabin K Bhattarai sits on a chair and plucks the familiar intro of Ankhama Timilai on his acoustic guitar, donning sunglasses and his signature baseball cap. Bhattarai, however, is not performing the hit song, he is teaching how to play it. Since the lockdown to contain the second wave of the pandemic began, Bhattarai had received a number of texts from fans on Messenger and Instagram requesting he make a video tutorial to the song. And so he is about to do just that. “I will try to teach you the song the way I composed it,” he says, before laying out the four major chords used in the song. Not long after that, Bhattarai goes on singing along a portion of the song.

It is the same unmistakable nasal-tinged voice that propelled Bhattarai to the pinnacle of pop stardom. There is another element to the tutorial too where Bhattarai comes across as a humble dai next door trying to teach some music. Since he rose to prominence in the 90s, Bhattarai’s fame has waxed and waned, but his passion for music shows no sign of declining. Many of Bhattarai’s contemporaries have either migrated to other genres of music or settled into quiet middle-class existence, but Bhattarai has stayed on, true to his roots. 

This doesn’t mean he hasn’t evolved as a musician. And while his recent tutoring gig may just be a pastime, it also shows Bhattarai’s commitment to devote his life to music and all aspects of it.

One can find many tutorials of his songs on Youtube. “But I found that most of the guitar tutorials [of my songs] did not provide exact chord progression and finger positions,” Bhattarai says. “I sprang up to action myself to provide better ways to play my songs and also to make listeners more intimate to my songs.”

Bhattarai has so far released 16 studio albums–the first of which, Raharai Raharma, was released in 1997 and the latest, 37, came out last year. The songs adhere to the pop-rock genre, championed in Nepal by singers such as Om Bikram Bista and Deep Shrestha before Bhattarai.

With the pandemic putting a brake on live shows, Bhattarai has turned to the pixelated universe of the internet to share his music.

The thing that is making him active in the pop music scene is he wants to “pass the legacy of Nepali pop-rock to a new generation”. He wants the new generation to listen to those kinds of songs and enjoy them. And he has been successful so far. Before the pandemic, Bhattarai was still playing live to packed venues across the country.

There is a certain charm to playing and listening to music live, Bhattarai says. The sonic atmosphere tends to be raw and charged and that allows the musician to build a rapport with the audience. For Bhattarai, those interactions in live shows are “one of the most beautiful parts of music”.

With the pandemic putting a brake on live shows, Bhattarai has turned to the pixelated universe of the internet to share his music. He not only posts his old videos and tutorials but also covers of artists he admires like Pink Floyd and Deep Purple.

Born in 1974, Bhattarai’s musical journey had already gained momentum by the time he was 20. He composed his debut, Ankhama Timilai, when he was only 16, on a guitar gifted to him by his mother. Bhattarai is one of those rare artists whose very first song is a staple in the country’s music scene.

“Back then, being a musician was very tough,” Bhattarai recalls. “There were very few platforms, there was no access to the internet and no technology except for the CD player. The whole system relied on analogue technology. If a minor error occurred at any point of time during the recording, you had to repeat the whole song from the beginning.”

But although music technology has progressed a lot, Bhattarai says, musicians these days still lack originality. “The contemporary singer-songwriter needs to focus on their lyrics, find their voice, and stop making songs for the sake of making it to the trending list.”

Music is something that should not be messed up with. “Music is a feeling and a combination of notes that gives pleasure to both listener and performer,” Bhattarai said.