Sanjeev Baraili: “In music, things cannot happen overnight”

From playing at ghazal nights to releasing an original song, the prolific guitarist is taking gentle strides towards cementing his legacy in Nepali music scene.

Prasun Sangroula

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: Sanjeev Baraili was 10 years old when his brother went to a guitar class in Jhapa for the first time. After returning from class, his brother shared his experience of learning guitar. They didn’t have a guitar at home then. But his brother ventured to display some strumming patterns using a landline phone, handling the receiver as if it was a real guitar, and producing sound from his mouth. Baraili was bewitched. He started tagging along with his brother to the guitar institute.

In the ensuing years, he devoted himself to honing his skills. And when he came to Kathmandu for further studies, after his SLC exams, he applied to play guitar at a band in an upscale hotel in the capital, responding to a vacancy notice. He was called for an audition but he didn’t have a guitar.

“Luckily, when I was roaming around I saw a guy who looked like a junkie playing the guitar on the street,” Baraili recalls. “I asked if he would sell a guitar to me. The guy said yes. I bought it for Rs.700.”

He was selected at the auditions. “The guitar had very unprofessional looks, it was covered with black tapes and weird stickers,” Baraili says. “But it came in handy at the auditions.”

Baraili is today one of the most prolific guitarists in the Nepali music scene. He is behind the catchy riffs behind such hits as Kutu ma Kutu, a new version of Phul Butte Sari, Gojima Daam Chhaina, and many others. He has performed to eager fans across Nepal and abroad, notably at the Royal Albert Hall, an iconic venue in the UK, an experience he cherishes. Baraili is a familiar presence among the viewers of Kripa Unplugged, a musical TV series, where he was a guitarist and a music coordinator. Recently, Baraili released an original song called Baaf, a lively ballad bookended by a wistful poem in rhyme.

Certainly, Baraili has evolved a lot from the man who auditioned for a hotel band guitarist. When he went for that audition years back, he recalls, he was very unfamiliar with the songs that used to get played at hotels or ghazal nights. He only knew how to play the song Neele Neele Ambar Par by Kishor Kumar, he says. Before that, he only used to play rock songs by Nepali bands with his Jhapa-based band, Peace. Despite that, however, his guitar playing was liked by the singers of the hotel band, whom he was supposed to play with.

Baraili is today one of the most prolific guitarists in the Nepali music scene. He is behind the catchy riffs behind such hits as Kutu ma Kutu, a new version of Phul Butte Sari, Gojima Daam Chhaina, and many others

“Playing the guitar in a hotel for eight years was great practice for me,” says Baraili. His band used to play various songs but mostly ghazals by such ustads as Ghulam Ali, Manna Dey, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, among others. “I explored many aspects of guitar back then, and alongside it helped me to build a relationship with many other people involved in the music fraternity.”

To further hone his skills, Baraili took guitar lessons from the veteran guitarist Gopal Rasaili in Kathmandu.

Now after years of navigating the fretboard, he has a song of his own. He has not only played guitar but also lent his vocals to it. “I was supposed to play only the guitar on it but as I liked its composition so much I tried singing it and it sounded well,” Baraili says, matter-of-factly. “After that, the team of this song decided to release it in my voice.”

In the age of electronic music, auto-tune, and YouTube, it has become easier than ever to produce music and release it. He recognizes the pitfalls of this brave new musical world. “These days people are using shortcuts to become viral,” he says. “Even small kids who are not musically literate get famous at present. For the sake of getting popular, meaningless songs and vapid videos are being made, which is not a good thing for the music industry.”

“Instead of training, they are running behind trending,” he adds, cheekily.

Baraili believes that to become a successful artist, one needs to have originality, dedication, and patience.

“It takes a decade to become a well-rounded musician or singer,” he concludes. “Things, when it comes to music, cannot happen overnight.”