In Conversation with Bipul Chettri
In the midst of a period where the dearth of good music was only occasionally interrupted by one hit wonders and tunes jarringly reminiscent of Bollywood item songs, Bipul Chhetri came as a breath of fresh air. His music swept over the lands in a calmingly welcome fashion, and Nepali people around the world fell in love instantly.
Bipul’s melodies tapped into the crooks and crannies of the Nepali hearts replicating an effect only a few select artists had been able to produce. His ‘Wildfire’ introduced the world to his music and before long it became a sensation getting close to 240,000 hits on Soundcloud.
Transcending his love for his home into his music, Chettri nailed him- self a position as a popular artist in thousands of playlists across the globe. His magic spread like his much appreciated track, Wildfire, which did justice to its name.
Originally from Kalimpong, West Bengal, Chettri composes and sings his own songs which talk about his love for his hometown, its sounds, sights, and people. His songs man- age to make you remember the warmth of your own homes, stir- ring old memories that have been carefully folded and buried deep in your heart. Today, amidst all the worship that is given to pop music, Bipul has made a bold statement in expressing his love for his roots and helped his fans revisit the folk culture that was long lost.
A musical journey that began in his school days at St. Augustine’s School in Kalimpong, looks to have finally spurred on to a commend- able start. Putting his work as the head of the Arts Department at Vas- ant Valley School in Delhi on hold, I got a chance to talk to him hours before his first live performance in Nepal.
I come from a family where music has always been talked about over dinner. My grandfather, a poet, was good with words. My grandmother accompanied him with her music as her fingers plucked away at the sitar almost magically. My father picked up on both of my grand parents’ traits, a rare talent when it came to music, and was popularly staged in Darjeeling and Kursheyong. But he passed away when I was very young. Although I wasn’t able to learn about music from him his in- fluence alone has played a crucial role in me being where I am now. One of the tracks from Sketches of Darjeeling, Ramsailee, is an ode to my beloved father. He wrote the track when I was a toddler and because there was no recording of it, I added the second half on my own. However, I believe he would be proud of me carrying his lega- cy -but like every parent, I bet he would criticize it too; just for the sake of it.
Wildfire, the first track that was recorded and uploaded on Sound- Cloud in February 2013, laid the foundation for my debut album, ‘Sketches of Darjeeling’. Sketches of Darjeeling, on which I started working on in 2013, is a collection of songs that explore the different elements and essence of my life and culture amidst the lush green hills of Darjeeling- the place that I call home. I tried to blend in the Ne- pali folk music harmonically with the contemporary western musical elements. The songs have a special place in my heart and I believe it has the rare quality of touching the heart and transporting the listeners to the land where the songs were born. Now that the album is out, I am hoping that it will be loved and appreciated.
I have always been an avid reader and my bookshelf is stacked with several dozen books on poetry. But if you ask me how I managed to write down the lyrics to my com- positions, I wouldn’t know! The only thing I remember writing on a regular basis were love letters to my present wife who has ruled my heart for the past decade.
Music is something that defines me perfectly and there was never a need for milestones that had to set in re- gards of music composition. I might have been chasing rainbows for Zo- ology – the subject I graduated in, but music came to me like a pleasant surprise. For someone who breathes, eats, and dreams music, being able to communicate through music has definitely been the best thing that has happened to me. I did not have the luxury to have a proper band but I got along with a few friends – who still play with me- several years ago for jam sessions and shared our mutual enthusiasm for music.
For me, categorizing my music in a certain genre is very difficult. The music I compose is something that is an outcome of all the years I have lived meeting people, trav- elling, being in love and following various genres. A practitioner of classical guitar, the music that I create shapes itself with time and circumstances. However, I believe my songs have a bit of Jazz, classical blues influence but folk takes the limelight because I am a Nepali by heart. But if I have to classify my- self in terms of music, I would call myself a cosmopolitan.
The music I compose is something that is an outcome of all the years I have lived meeting people, travelling, being in love and following various genres. A practitioner of classical guitar, the music that I create shapes itself with time and circumstances.
Wildfire is my favourite among the tracks I have composed till date. It was the first song that I wrote for my album – it was ac- tually ‘the’ track that was the driving factor to write more songs. I have a connection with Wildfire which is not as prominent with the others. When people listen to the track, they will be able to draw a faint resemblance to what I am – someone who is searching for a meaning, someone who desires and wishes to achieve things in life that are overpowering.
Sanju, my wife, was the first one to hear Wildfire. Putting it in her words, “It has a very different sound and no one can asso- ciate it with any other genre – because it is different like you!” And once it was ready, I put it up on SoundCloud and within a few days’ time, I was flooded with messages from people around the world who appre- ciated my music. I checked my Facebook every few minutes and the response was overwhelming! It was a pleasant twist of fate that the song that was entitled ‘Wild- fire’ spread like one.
WHAT HAS CHANGED?
I have not witnessed any major transforma- tion till date – apart from having a massive fan following for which I am extremely thankful. I was a mature individual who had seen life, lived it as a conscious person whose reality was grounded. But artistical- ly and creatively, the new chapters of my life has have given me a lot to look up to.
Most of the tracks from Sketches of Dar- jeeling revolve around the word Kalimpong because it is home to me. But even if you replace Kalimpong with Kathmandu, it does not make a difference since it is not the place that I am singing about but the love I have for nature and culture. My music today is what I chose to become through the travelling and the exposure I got. I wouldn’t say that music is about a certain place or a person but what you perceive it to be. While working on the album, I was never sure what the next track would turn out to be like, but it has been heavily influenced by Wildfire and you can also call it a de- liberate arrangement of music. A passing thought that changed tracks and got along with the right lyrics and tune to compose a final product – the whole journey that my album witnessed was fun.
My manager often tells me that the number of my fans is more than the population of Kalimpong which is so hard to believe at times! I receive so many emails but, due to time constraints, I am unable to write back to all of them. As a performing artist, the whole idea of me singing out loud to the world as a medium of communication and getting feedback for the same completes the journey. I often get links to the cover tracks which makes me smile from ear to ear- it still is difficult for me to believe that people know my songs by heart and sing them word by word!
THE LAIBARILAI TOUR
Lai bari lai is the promotional tour for my debut album Sketches of Darjeeling. It might be a promo for the album but I am thrilled to get so much love and support from people. The first performance for this tour is in Kathmandu and will be followed by Gangtok, Sikkim, Kolkata and New Del- hi. I am yet to perform in Kathmandu as I speak to you but knowing that the tickets. have been sold out, I am thrilled and ner- vous at the same time.
1. Money or fame?
Money- that is something that we all need but it comes with fame. Confusing is it?
2. Where would you want to retire?
Kalimpong- no doubt!
3. One song you love to sing?
4. Whose concert would you like to at- tend?
Miles Davis, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix.
5. Songs in Nepali or English?
I believe Nepali literature is more expres- sive than English!
6. Who would you like to collaborate with, musically?
A.R. Rahman- someday.
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