Mukti Shakya: A Walk Through The Memory Lane With The King Of Blues
Perched on the slopes of Sitapaila, Mukti Shakya’s home is something straight out of my imagination. Tucked away from the bustle of the city, the peaked roofs of a traditionally designed home, slant at an angle. A small iron grid door leads to a sloping pathway flanked with shrubs and small trees. Standing in the center of his yard is a large pine tree; smaller trees perimeter of the grassed space. The morning sun shone through the patio door that had grapevines growing around it that were yet to blossom. It’s not a mansion of grandiose proportions, but it is the type of abode I’d like to reside in when I retire. The subtle tranquility of Mukti’s home is the type of home I could definitely see myself in. For the time being, our team and I had to make do with coffee and breakfast there.
Mukti Shakya is a man that requires little introduction in Nepal. Touted the King of Blues, Mukti is the front man of Mukti and Revival, a band that laid the foundation of rock music in Nepal. They’ve been around for more than two decades now, and are showing no signs of slowing down. The band has been working on their new album and we were lucky enough to listen in on one of their songs that Mukti (Dai) performed for us. He hasn’t skipped a beat.
After talking for a bit, he offered us some coffee so we’d have something to talk over. He prepared the Moka Pot, an Italian coffee making utensil, with some ground coffee beans from Marcilla: a town in Spain. We could tell, the man loved his coffee. We ended up talking for quiet some time and Mukti Shakya reminisced his yester years. He took us along a trip down memory lane and we delved into the 80’s where Freak Street was still pretty lit and the a legend was paving his way to the history books of Nepal.
TNM: Do you always brew coffee this good Dai? You must be used to this by now, does anything else even compare?
MS: I like brewing my own coffee, but don’t get me wrong, there is good coffee in Nepal too.Things are different in Nepal now; the things you get can compete internationally. It’s just a question of money. But I think it’s a little too expensive here. Just that you need to have the money.
TNM: What do you do for fun?
MS: Apart from music?
MS: I like to be with my friends and family. I go to Jhocchen, call my friends over for a coffee or lemon tea, fresh lemon soda… whatever. We talk about football, sports, and anything we feel like.
TNM: But we take it that music is still the biggest part of your life.
MS:Of course. Both my sons are all grown up; one of them got married last year. I have little to worry about, so my focus in now completely on my music.
TNM: Mukti and Revival have been around for over two decades, but you were into music way before that. Care to reminisce?
MS: It was a long, long time ago. I was barely a few years into my teens, I think. There was a band called Radium and I was part of it. There was Bishnu Shrestha, Niranjan Bajra and Suchandar was on the drums. I was a junior artist compared to them, and I was able to learn a lot from them.
We had a lot of fun together with Radium, but you know how the rock and roll story goes. You struggle to get success, and if you’re lucky enough, you eventually get there. But it comes spiraling down when you start having too much fun. Once money comes into the picture, it brings along negativities, like drugs, alcohol and egos.
I was the youngest in the band, and I think there was a little too much of everything in it for me. We were together for two years I think, until I started my own band. We named our new band ‘The Elegance’.
TNM: What sort of music did you play?
MS: Elegance was more rock music, Radium was more classic. With Elegance we were proper stage performers. We played what the people wanted and we loved every moment of it.
Friends from Bangkok brought us records to listen to because we wanted to up the game. We were listening and playing songs form Queen before most of the people in Nepal even heard them. We even performed numbers from Michael Jackson, because people wanted that.
TNM: This was a long time back, how were things different back then?
MS: Back in ’86, ‘87 there was a very significant divide in the crowd that came to our performances. People who listened to Radio Nepal never came to our shows (chuckles). The people who did come had similar attitudes and mindsets. It was usually the same people and we could tell who was who; there was the Indra Chowk gang, then the guys from Thamel. They didn’t get along well together. But it was still a lot of fun.
TNM: That’s part of the attitude you need to be in a rock band then?
MS: I think we were amongst the few bands that truly embodied the rock attitude. This was way before musicians were put on a high pedestal. We were funding everything from our own pockets, but we did not compromise. We used to tailor make our clothes for each of our performances, because this was part of who we were.
TNM: Were you always popular with the audiences?
MS: Sort of. Back then, people loved our performances, but they wanted us to play popular songs instead of our own compositions. Every time we played our own songs the crowds screamed for Bob Marley hits or its sorts. But we were stubborn and always played our songs. Have you heard the songs Meri Meri Mayalu, Basanta Udayo? Those were the songs we squeezed into our performances.
I have no hard feelings though. If you look at it, this was the beginning of Rock and roll in Nepal. And when things start out it’s always difficult. We had it tough too… anyone with a guitar slung around got an earful for no reason.
TNM: What helped you stay true to music despite the negativities?
MS: I loved music, and that helped. But the support of my family towards what I did was also very important. My father gave me money to buy a guitar and I went to Calcutta to get it. He told me to pursue my passion, which was rare at the time to hear from your parents. My aunts were always on my case for not getting a conventional job and settling down though, but that was the way it was.
I was lucky to have grown up with a supportive family. Even luckier, my father was also into music. He played the tabla, the harmonium and he sang. He took part in the gulan, you know what that is right?
MS: Gulan, it’s an occasion in Nepalese Buddhist tradition where one member of the family goes to Swayambhunath accompanied by a band of community musicians during this month. My father was part of it, which is why music was always a big part of my life.
But he was also a family man, and while he supported my passion he wanted me to make something out of myself, and that is how I first got into business.
TNM: And how did that work out?
MS: I made the best of the connections with the last remaining Hippies from the era. I was into export of handicrafts, but it never really panned out. Business was never really who I was. But I did fall in love with a Spanish woman who I married.
TNM: That’s when you went to Spain.
MS: I knew there was so much more to music than what I already knew and I wanted to learn more about what I could do with the guitar. Interest and talent can only get you so far. So I went to Spain in ’86 to learn more of guitar.
I was doing a lot of back and forth during this time. I did business for a couple of months, came back to Nepal and did some work with the band and went back again. We came back in 1990 to settle here, which is when I ended up making this house.
I also got into the tourism sector. I learned the Spanish language and completed a course in Hotel Management. Long story short, this too became a part of my life and I became a licensed tour operator.
TNM: How long did you work for?
MS: Ten years. I actually went back to Spain around the early 90s; I wanted to catch the 1992 Olympics. As soon as that was done we came right back and got back to our lives.
Music took the back seat for a long time but in 1993 me and my friends started playing again, which led to the start of The Revival. And man was I happy to be back in it again. So many things had changed; there were so many new faces from pop stars to super stars. I was really looking forward to it, and this time I was really serious about my music. But my band members had other priorities and couldn’t commit to the band full time. So I summed up another band, young people who were fully committed to making music. We were mulling over a name when a friend, a renowned bassist, Daniel Karthak suggested the name Mukti and Revival. His argument was that I was the only one consistently in the band, and other members came and went. And it made sense. Because soon after, several of the new band members left, and others came in.
So now, it’s Mukti and Revival till I die, and I’m okay with that.
TNM: It’s been a long journey, what would you say was the most pivotal part of it all?
MS: I knew what I wanted and I knew I would never let go of music. I loved everything about it, from the beauty of the music to the feeling I get when I go on stage. There was a time when I was part of the orchestra in Spain too.
But I think it was our album Kalanki ko Jaam that set things on course. It took us two years to complete it, but it finally felt like things were on track.