FLUTE MAESTRO: MANOSE SINGH NEPAL’S MAGICAL FLUTE PLAYER
THE MATERIAL THINGS IN LIFE TEND TO LOSE IMPORTANCE WHEN YOU START LOOKING AT THE BIGGER PICTURE.
The sound of Manose’s flutes, are the sound of the Gods. There is a direct link. If you’re open to it, they will speak through him.”
— John Densmore, The Doors
Always content with the simple pleasures of walking barefoot in the vicinity of Boudhanath and Pashupatinath, and playing his flute in the streets, Manose Singh has come a long way from the happy-go-lucky eight year old. Fast forward 26 years and a lot of things have changed. His childhood connection with the flute and love of spirituality has now taken him around various corners of the world. And now here he is, featured as the cover story of TNM Magazine.
Manose’s love for the bamboo flute or bansuri began when he was enraptured by the beautiful sound at the tender age of eight. He describes the day as an out of the world experience where a beautiful sound wafted in through his bedroom window in the silence of the night and entranced him into a possessed state of mind with the soothing melody. Now, he would like to believe that it was Lord Krishna himself playing the flute to entice him into a helpless love for the music. He then began carrying around a two-rupee flute that he bought from a street hawker, and as the years rolled on, his passion for his music only increased. Having studied the art of music under the guidance of Guru Mandan Dev Bhatta, it wasn’t long before he was recognized as a child prodigy. At fifteen he was named as Nepal’s “Instrumentalist of the Year”. By seventeen, he was teaching the art of playing the bansuri.
A number of things happened after that. He briefly played for popular band 1974 AD, moved to the US, released five solo albums and contributed to Grammy nominated artists and performances all across the globe. Manose has now decided to return to Nepal and continue the progress here for good. Now, for someone who seems to have it going pretty well in the US, it was perplexing to comprehend the reasons as to why he would return to Nepal. I am as much of a patriot as the other guy, but surpassing a successful career path at a young age is a befuddling decision. However, he gave us some convincing reasoning when we briefly caught up with him, before he went off on another tour.
TNM: How did your love affair with the bamboo flute start?
MS: It may all sound like a tall story, but you’d have to be in my shoes to completely believe it. I was eight and on my bed. It was dark. The silence was then broken by a beautiful sound that took me to euphoric heights the moment I heard it. It had a certain seductive aura that completely overpowered me. Soon after learning that the sound that enticed me was that of a bansuri, I got hold of one immediately and slowly started to learn how to play it. And the funny thing is, even when I held it the first time, the bansuri did not feel like a foreign object in my hands. Before I knew it, I was a regular flutist in the streets of Boudhanath and I loved it.
(A smile spread across his face at every pause he took while telling us his story. The gleam in his eyes never wavered throughout.)
AT FIFTEEN HE WAS NAMED AS NEPAL’S “INSTRUMENTALIST OF THE YEAR”. BY SEVENTEEN, HE WAS TEACHING THE ART OF PLAYING THE BANSURI.
Back then, there used to be full moon concerts taking place in Pashupatinath where different artist came and played devotional and classical music. Maybe that’s where my love for classical music started, especially with Indian classical music. Obviously, this was not the “trend” with the kids I was around with and consequently I was not the most popular kid of the lot. But, I couldn’t help it.
Things then really started picking up for me. Although I had been playing the bansuri on my own, I hadn’t really taken up any formal classes up until I met Guru Madan Dev Bhatta at one of the concerts. He taught me my ‘Saregama’. Slowly, I started meeting other great artists and these encounters opened up the paths for me to become who I am today. By age 16, I was playing at studios and a professional musician making three to four grands a day! Can you imagine that!?
Having seen a very good scope in the United States, Manose Singh went abroad. There, he met two types of musicians: those who made music for a living and those who made music in search of something else, a bigger picture.
MS: My first tour took me to Germany and Switzerland, where I tagged along with senior artists. Then I found myself in USA, collaborating with different artists to make music before coming back to Nepal for a stint with 1974AD. This was during their recording for Samjhi Baschu, maybe around 2000-2002. Then things really started opening up. I felt that I needed to express myself through various genres. So I did not confine myself to just classical music. I performed with a fusion band, performed at Jazzmandu and many more performances.
At the prime of his teenage years, Manose was at the top of his game. Making more money than doctors at the time, he was doing what he loved, and he was doing it well. However, the material things in life started losing its grasp on Manose and he began longing for something that had more meaning… something more valuable. After coming into the commercial scene, Manose always felt something missing, like the joy achieved in playing in the streets of Boudha.
Impressed by the lifestyle that he saw of some of the musicians, Manose was inspired to making his music more spiritual than commercial. In the US, he teamed up with famous musicians like Jay Mittal (Grammy Nominee), Deva Premal and Miten, and even met John Densmore – the drummer from The Doors.
MS: Even though I was right there, it felt like I was missing something. I did not want to be enslaved by the material things in life; I did not want to take part in the rat race. When I played the flute here in Nepal), it was never about that… it had a sense of pureness. I just couldn’t let that pureness fade away to nothing. So I decided to come back to Nepal.
AT THE PRIME OF HIS TEENAGE YEARS, MANOSE WAS AT THE TOP OF HIS GAME. MAKING MORE MONEY THAN DOCTORS AT THE TIME, HE WAS DOING WHAT HE LOVED, AND HE WAS DOING IT WELL.
His decision to come back to Nepal took me by surprise. Let’s face it. There are very few people that would voluntarily decide to come back to Nepal without making the best use of a prospective career in the United States. Yet, he wanted to come back to Nepal!
MS: It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was born to play the flute, but I also realized that my heart resides in Nepal. So I have decided to come back. Sure the country has it set of flaws, but there is no reason to not fall in love with this beautiful country.
Think about this. The serene and spiritual structures at Boudhanath, Swayambhunath or Pashupatinath could have been built anywhere else in the world. But why was it still built here? It’s because Nepal has that beautiful pureness and when you realize this, you will open up to a whole new way of seeing life.
TNM: A final message for our readers?
MS: First let me share a personal story. One evening, I was in front of my house looking at the Boudhanath Stupa, gazing at the Buddha’s eyes, and playing my flute. An American gentleman who had been listening, then began reciting poetry to the sound of my flute. Later, I invited him back to my house to eat with me and found out he was an English professor and poet named Joe Shakarchi.
Joe and I kept in touch. I remember him mentioning at that time that he had a friend who was quite popular in the Western Musical world but I was oblivious to. It later turned out to be John Densmore of The Doors fame. Few years later when I was in California, I got a call from John! Joe had played some of my CDs for him and he had called to invite me to join him and perform at a poetry conference with some amazing American poets. He and I hit it off immediately and became friends. We’ve done some fun collaboration together, including giving musical accompaniment to a CD that Joe created of some of his poetry.
Now coming to the point, when I first met Joe I was only sincerely practicing my flute like I did every evening without any expectations. So always remember the popular Nepalese saying, “Karma gara, phal ko asha na gara”. Work sincerely without expecting returns and you will definitely succeed at some point in life.