Cover Story

BIPUL CHETTRI : BEYOND THE FAME

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30 minutes to sound check and we’re trying to wrap things up with our shoot. In the next hour or two, the gates will open and hordes of Bipul’s fans will flood the Tangalwood premises to see him perform on stage.

I stumbled across ‘Wildfire’, Bipul’s first song on Soundcloud, relatively early in 2013. And like many others, I was immediately hooked. Bringing a contemporary touch to Nepali folk music was a feast for the ears; and it was probably what set the pace for a legendary journey of a teacher from Kalimpong. His first album, Sketches of Darjeeling, came out in 2014. The album transcended his love for his home town and laid the foundation for his career as a music artist.

Mid 2016 saw the launch of his second album ‘Maya’ which cemented Bipul as the face of Nepali music for many. Yet, his demeanors don’t reflect the effects you would expect such fame and success would have on him. Introduce him to a fellow oblivious to the world of music as a teacher and he’d be none the wiser. To some extent you’d be correct to introduce him in that manner. He still holds his profession as a teacher in school and pretty much continues to live his life as he always has.

And that adds on to the persona that makes Bipul Chettri who he is; a passionate man who remains true to his roots. That was the same vibe we received when we interviewed him two years ago. I had a chance to talk to him once again about his second album and how that journey has been.

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HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED FROM YOUR FIRST ALBUM?

It has not changed much personally. I am still a teacher in a school. The only thing that may have changed is that the studio visits and the live gigs have increased. Otherwise, it is still very much the same.

YOU REACHED A CERTAIN LEVEL OF MATURITY IN LIFE BEFORE YOU ENTERED THE LIMELIGHT, HOW DO YOU THINK THIS HAS AFFECTED YOUR EXPERIENCE AND IN DEVELOPING YOU TO BECOME THE PERSON THAT YOU ARE TODAY?

I think it helped, in a way, for me to not take everything too seriously or to buy into the hype surrounding the limelight. I am also doubly aware of it being something that comes with the territory. So, I am thankful that I got into it a little late. But the pressure to write and compose remains the same regardless of age.

WHY DO YOU WRITE YOUR MUSIC? IS THERE A DEEPER MEANING TO WHAT YOU DO? HAS IT CHANGED THROUGH FROM YOUR FIRST TIME WRITING?

Music has always had the same impact for me all my life. It keeps me sane, grounded and gives my life some meaning I guess.

The process of creating a tune has not changed much either. The only things that have changed are the lovely people in the band who are helping me now in this process; as opposed to writing the first album where I had to pretty much do everything myself.

HAS YOUR MUSIC CHANGED FROM WHEN YOU STARTED?

As far as I am concerned, my music is progressing pretty much on it’s own. I don’t force myself to sit down and write a particular type of music. I just let things happen and am pretty happy with it.

LAST TIME WE TALKED TO YOU, YOU SAID THE FACT THAT YOUR FAN BASE WAS LARGER THAN THE POPULATION OF KALIMPONG AMAZED YOU. THE NUMBERS HAVE CERTAINLY GROWN, DO YOU FEEL ANY DIFFERENTLY? ARE YOU USED TO IT OR DOES IT STILL HAVE A STRONG IMPACT?

The numbers sometimes overwhelm you, but at the end of the day I feel happy that the music we have produced has touched so many people, which is the only thing that matters at the end of the day, isn’t it?

THE SONGS CAME RANDOMLY AND KEPT ON EVOLVING TILL WE REALIZED THAT MOST OF THEM DEALT WITH THE BASIC CONCEPT OF HUMAN NATURE, WHICH EVENTUALLY LED TO SOME FORM OF MAYA OR LOVE IN ITS SIMPLEST FORM.

DO YOU FEEL DIFFERENTLY WHEN YOU PERFORM IN NEPAL OR THE DARJEELING HILLS? DO YOU GET DIFFERENT REACTIONS FROM THESE CROWDS?

The crowds come for the music regardless of geographical locations.

The Darjeeling hills are home so the love from the people there will always be special. Nepal has also always shown us so much love and so have people from everywhere else we have performed. And for this, we remain extremely thankful.

DO YOU PREFER PERFORMING LIVE IN FRONT OF A CROWD OR IN AN ISOLATED AREA LIKE A STUDIO?

Definitely live, no question about it. The vibes from the audience in a live setting cannot be replicated by the coldness of a studio atmosphere.

‘SKETCHES OF DARJEELING’ WAS ABOUT YOUR HOMETOWN, WHAT IS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR SECOND ALBUM: ‘MAYA’?

When we started out on the songs for ‘Maya’ we didn’t confine it to a specific theme. The songs came randomly and kept on evolving till we realized that most of them dealt with the basic concept of human nature, which eventually led to some form of maya or love in its simplest form.

THEY SAY THE BEST WAY TO LEARN IS TO TRAVEL. WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM SO MUCH TOURING?

Visiting new places and meeting so many new and lovely people across the world has given us a fresh perspective in the way we look at life, which is evident in the new album ‘Maya’. In fact, most of the songs in the album were penned down when we were on the road.

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HOW HAS THIS CHANGE IN LIFESTYLE AFFECTED YOUR WAY OF LIVING?

My lifestyle has not changed one bit. I still live in the same rented house and drive the same car, just like I did before the albums happened. I wake up early every morning to attend school to teach every single day when I am not touring. I try and settle down with a good book at the end of the day after I finish my guitar exercises, as I am not much of a TV person although I like to watch feature films and documentaries as well.

I STILL LIVE IN THE SAME RENTED HOUSE AND DRIVE THE SAME CAR, JUST LIKE I DID BEFORE THE ALBUMS HAPPENED. I WAKE UP EARLY EVERY MORNING TO ATTEND SCHOOL TO TEACH EVERY SINGLE DAY

YOU INTRODUCED YOURSELF AS A HOMETOWN BOY FROM KALIMPONG, TRUE TO HIS ROOTS. WOULD YOU SAY YOU INTRODUCE YOURSELF DIFFERENTLY NOW? IF NOT, WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO CHANGE THAT?

Everyone has a special connection to where they were raised; you will always believe it to be home regardless of where one settles in for a period of time. Kalimpong will always be home and I, its homeboy. I cannot change that if I tried.

WHAT AFFECTS YOUR WRITING STYLE AND MUSIC? WILL YOU BE CHANGING ANYTHING IN THE FUTURE?

As I mentioned earlier, I write whatever comes to my mind and don’t have a stringent process. It is the same for the kind of sound that also develops while I am at it. I let the song take whatever direction it wants to take and hope to come to an eventuality that I am happy with.  I have no idea what the future sound will be like.

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WHAT DO YOU HAVE PLANNED FOR THE FUTURE AND WHAT CAN FANS EXPECT NEXT?

We don’t plan anything in terms of music and pretty much go with the flow. I am always writing and composing something or the other, some of which I may decide to record or just leave it for later. So that’s the way I like it to be. This is one of the joys of being an independent artiste as there is no pressure of someone breathing down you neck to put something out in a certain time frame. There are a couple of tunes which didn’t make it to the new album so I might start revisiting them and see if I can redevelop them. They might just be a spark or an idea to an entirely new tune too.

GOD FORBID, IF THINGS DON’T GO AS EXPECTED WOULD YOU BE OK WITH GOING BACK TO LIFE BEFORE SKETCHES OF DARJEELING?

I sincerely did not expect much but am humbled that it did. And like I said earlier, I am still a teacher and not much has changed actually, except for the number of live gigs and studio sessions.

IS THERE A PARTICULAR MOMENT THAT YOU FONDLY RECALL DURING THE MAKING OF YOUR SECOND ALBUM, MAYA?

There were quite a few. But one of them was while writing ‘Nau Lakhey Tara’. I had started writing this song on a totally different premise, tempo and melody but during the process of composing, it took an entirely different route and space by the time I finished it. It ended as a happy surprise.

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IT HAS TO BE ‘KAHILEY KAHI’, A SONG WRITTEN AND COMPOSED BY MY FATHER WHICH I ENJOYED RECREATING AND RECORDING

WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE TRACK IN THIS ALBUM?

I am always uncomfortable while answering this question, but if I was forced to mention one, it has to be ‘Kahiley Kahi’, a song written and composed by my father which I enjoyed recreating and recording.

IF YOU HAD THE CHOICE TO PERFORM WITH ONE ARTIST, DEAD OR ALIVE, WHO WOULD IT BE?

There are so many that I could fill this whole page with those names. So it is nice to surprise oneself if it happens at all.

WHERE IS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO PERFORM AND WHY?

We have always been given so much maya at every place we have performed that it would be unfair on our part to single one out. But performing in the Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Sikkim areas and in the towns and cities of Nepal is always special for us.

WORDS: ANKIT SHAKYA

PHOTO: PRITAM CHHETRI

LOCATION: CALM, TANGALWOOD

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Ankit Shakya

Ankit Shakya

Editor at Autolife and TNM Magazine

Ankit Shakya is a talented writer who generally focuses on the intricacies of pure storytelling in his writings. Besides, he loves eating, drinking and spending time with his loved ones.