SKIN & BONES: FUSING WESTERN WITH EASTERN TO MAKE A BETTER SYMPHONY
Music is an art and undeniably one of the best sources of entertainment. Music has the power to move you in the feels and touch your soul. Each part of the world has their own version of what music is. They have their own tune, their own symphonies, melodies, and the musical instruments of their own.
With so many variation and genre of music, is beautiful form of art in itself but when two genre of music come together, it elevates the beauty and art even more. Following this fusion of music trend, a band was formed; ‘Skin and Bones’ by a duo of Mr. Tunna Bell Thapa and Mr. Manish Gandarbha and they play a fusion of western songs with a fair bit of Eastern-Nepalese folk influences and instruments. While Tunna equips guitar and Manish with his choice of instrument as Sarangi, these two from younger generation are moving towards promoting and preserving the classical and folk music and instruments through their work and the songs they play.
Here is the conversation with the skin and bones of the band and their journey till date as ‘Skin and Bones’.
STARTING OFF, COULD YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELVES, THE BAND – HOW IT ALL STARTED AND WHAT WAS THE IDEA BEHIND SKIN AND BONES?
TUNNA: “Well, when we first began this journey, it was Manish who came up to me and said he wanted to make a YouTube channel. He said he wanted to cover songs and upload them to the prominent media. I asked, ‘what kind of covers?’, to which he said he wanted to cover Nepalese folk song along with other genres from here and there via Sarangi.
Sarangi being the most famous Nepalese folk music instrument, Manish desired to promote the instrument to the global audience, and I shared the same desire. Then we began to ask ourselves what would be the best way to have it reach the global mass. We came up with the idea to cover songs that were popular worldwide; the songs that are global hits through Sarangi. While giving priority to those western songs, we had no intention to undermine the Nepalese songs. To make the local songs here known over the world we wanted to show Nepalese music and the instruments are capable to play music of international level. We wanted to make the music here as no less than the music being produced and played in the other parts of the world.
When it comes to covering songs by other artist, one of the most famous choices of instrument is the Violin. Sarangi being similar to violin and other string instruments, but has not been able to reach the people outside our country and some parts of Asia. Frankly, if we were to compare the two instruments, Sarangi is no lesser violins.
While on the idea to promote Sarangi, we made a cover through it, and it took off pretty well seeing we just had started. It had accumulated around 2k – 3k views on YouTube. It was after then, I came up with an concept like a bolt of lightning. What I had in mind was to go to places like Basantapur, Durbar Squares, Kritipur; those places built over ‘Nepali soils and stones’, gather some crowds in a circle where we will play in the middle of it. It was Manish and Deepak Dai; our cinematographer, who suggested we wear the traditional clothes – Daura Surwal while performing. At first I was feeling odd and awkward about it, but after we perfomed in them something just felt right to me. After that we knew in our hearts that Skin and Bones is happening and we started going in this with more dedication and seriousness.”
THE NAME ‘SKIN AND BONES’ FEELS LIKE A NAME FOR A GREAT ROCK BAND. HOW DID YOU GUYS COME UP WITH THE NAME? WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS NAME?
TUNNA: “To be honest, there isn’t much history or personal connection while we were naming the band. The story behind the name comes from a band I follow and admire – Switchfoot, based in San Diego, California. One of their song, ‘Where I belong’ has a line in the lyrics, ‘this skin and bones is a rental’ which means as humans our biggest debt to ourselves are our skin and bones and only after that it is everything else. I was instantly drawn in to the meaning on my initial listen of the song and deeply related to the line. Coincidentally, I and Manish were two members the duo band, ergo we thought it would be appropriate to have the band named Skin and Bones.”
WHAT/WHO WERE YOUR INSPIRATIONS WHEN YOU ENTERED THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?
MANISH: “The person I looked up to for inspiration is my uncle, Bikram Gandarbha, as he was the one who influenced and taught me to play sarangi. He used to play the instrument since way before I came to the understanding of music and instruments. The place I come from there were ten Gandarbha families, and Gandharbha are the people who are famous for playing sarangi. However, in our case apart from my uncle no one else played sarangi. He desired to preserve and promote the sarangi heritage and I came to share his perception on the instrument and started learning eastern folk instruments and playing them.
The Gandarbha people’s choice of musical instrument is Sarangi as they are linked to us. I continued moving towards the eastern folk instruments to have it preserved and make it known to the outside world just like my uncle.”
TUNNA: “Since early age I was influenced by the western music and songs. There are some bands which I listen to with utmost dedication and among those, I have been following the albums and songs of the bands for more over 20 years now. Like I mentioned before, Switchfoot is among those bands that I listen to unconditionally. I used to get drawn in with their lyrics and the meaning behind them with them being based around life, reality and the things happening around the world. But if you were to ask my major inspiration, I would have to say it’s the Switchfoot Band.”
AS CLASSICAL FOLK INSTRUMENTS SUCH AS SARANGI, ARE INTEGRATED TO OUR HISTORY, CULTURE AND NATIONALITY, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO PRESERVE THEM IN PRESENT DAY? AND ADDING TO THAT, HOW DO YOU THINK YOU CAN ACHIEVE THIS?
MANISH: “It is vastly important and of utmost necessity. At present, the number of musicians who play sarangi could be counted as a handful only. This style of music and the instruments used in them are slowly fading in usage and are being forgotten by the society that is rapidly progressing to the western influences. These instruments are what make us Nepali, so I believe these should be preserved and promoted as they are a part of our identity.
With this belief, I strive to preserve this art by anyhow possible. Either by passing the skills to others or making the sarangi a cool instrument so that the youths get drawn in towards sarangi. I am always thinking of new ways to promote and play sarangi like I have started using guitar pedals in sarangi and trying out new things and experimenting with them. So that when the younger audiences who are heavily influenced by the western music can see that you can achieve the as guitars with using Sarangi. It is like bringing best of both worlds together of which the younger audience can relate and motivating them to get into the folk instruments.”
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE GOAL/ MOTIVE BEHIND SKIN AND BONES?
TUNNA: Manish is more influenced towards the eastern classical folk music whereas I and inclined towards the western classical. We wanted to come together and make a fusion of the two classical styles from worlds apart. You could say that is the motive or goal behind Shin and Bones.”
TALKING ABOUT FUSION MUSIC, WHAT IS CURRENT SCENARIO OF THIS MIX OF GENRES IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IN NEPAL?
TUNNA: “I believe there are various markets for fusion music in Nepal. Let’s take Kutumbha, they are the most popular – if not one of the most famous fusion bands in our country, even if there are many other bands that came before them. Kutumbha has its own place in the market, with them using the classical instruments and adding Newari cultural flare to it. But what we as Skin and Bones are trying to achieve is also a form of fusion music. If we were to go abroad and play any popular Nepalese songs they would still be Nepalese fusion music but we only would be able to gather Nepalese there with a few of the foreign audience. With the songs we cover and perform to that mass the foreign audience will also come to a realization that Nepalese folk instruments are not just used for Nepalese songs and music and can be used in a diverse way.
However, in my personal opinion there is not much when it comes to instrumental market at present in our country’s music industry. But I do believe this culture of fusion music and instrumental market will grow prominently in the coming days to come.”
WITH YOU JOURNEY TILL DATE AS SKIN AND BONES, WHAT SORT OF DIFFICULTIES/ CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED SO FAR? AND HOW HAVE YOU TACKLED THOSE CHALLENGES?
TUNNA: “The first difficulty a band has to overcome at the very start is the investment and finances. There will always be struggles on the production the videos and the audios. In our case it was a bit easier as I used to produce the audio myself, but even then we used to have challenges such as lack of resources. For example, when we started out, we did not have proper equipments such as mic stands and you need a mic stand while playing sarangi. What we did was we taped the microphone to a table and continued recording that way for some time. However, it all circle backs to lack of investments when we first began our journey as a band.
Through my personal experience, I believe the challenges and difficulties never stop in a life of a musician. There will always be some sort of problems here or there but that a given life for anyone who is in the music industry or any other entertainment industries. Like when you are about to perform on a stage, everything goes according to the plans before you reach the stage but all of a sudden the mic may not work or the jack stopped functioning or other technical difficulties. We as humans are not perfect beings and cannot ensure everything to go as perfectly as you planned. However, we can take these difficulties that are thrown our way and learn from them so that they similar instances do not arise in future. It is like working along those difficulties and making them a stepping stone for your path – that’s life.
HOW HAVE THE RESPONSES FROM PEOPLE BEEN SO FAR WHEN IT COMES TO SKIN AND BONES?
TUNNA: “The responses we have been getting are pretty great and positive. However, it is not the same for everyone as we have had a few negative responses as well. Apart from that it has been a smooth sailing till now and we are trying to live up to those expectation and positivity as well.”
SO CONCLUDING THE CONVERSATION, WHAT PLANS HAVE YOU MADE FOR THE BAND FOR THE FUTURE?
TUNNA: “Rather than future plans, our goals for the future is to promote the Nepalese fusion music, along with the folk instruments. We want to make Nepal known all over the world with our music. That is our goal.”
INTERVIEWED BY BAIBHAV SHRESTHA
PHOTOS BY GAURAV XHOMPATE SUNUWAR
LOCATION: REEF LOUNGE AND RESTAURANT