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In conversation with Bipul Chettri – Score Short Reads

Bipul Chettri’s music, bewildering in it’s uncomplicated profundity, is known for achingly addictive melody and slice-of-life lyrical imagery that stays with you for days. His third EP Samaya, however, walks a few steps away from vignettes of mountain life, and takes on the existential dread and ennui driven home by the pandemic. 

In the span of five songs, Chettri dwells on the iron-fisted supremacy of time and fate. It ponders upon Man’s constant and fruitless battle against whatever Time decides to dole out to Life. He does paint in specks of hope, but more often, he practices, with distractingly beautiful soundscapes, the art of acceptance. 

The Score Magazine caught up with Bipul as he talks about what Samaya means to him, and what he hopes it could mean to everyone else.

What was the most difficult part of creating Samaya?

Samaya was almost wholly written during the lockdown of 2020. As the world went into quarantine and struggled to control the virus, most countries were looking at a humanitarian crisis. 

It was especially difficult for those who lost their loved ones to the virus. So the atmosphere and the state of one’s mind wasn’t exactly the best with the world going through what it did. 

So writing about it was not very easy with us waking up to some kind of upsetting news every morning. But then, art for me is also a reflection of the times we are in when we were looking to cope and struggle with tragedy.

Bipul Chettri
Bipul Chettri

How have the last two years changed you? And how much of it is in the EP?

This pandemic has reinforced the idea of impermanence for me. We are and were all aware of it but these philosophies were hugely heightened during this particular period of time where so many of us lost someone or the other to this dreaded virus. 

It has personally taught me to value family, friends and their friendship, and not to take anything at face value which may have led me to consciously or unconsciously incorporate them in this EP. Like ‘Samsara’ is my way of accepting this impermanence and contemplating the cycle of life, death and rebirth – in which each one of us is served our quota of suffering (dukkha), desire (ichha) and karma (deed).

What is getting you through this unprecedented time?

The last year and a half has been extremely difficult but the positive side to this has been that since there were no tours, I got to spend quality time with my wife and our two year old daughter who keeps us both on our toes all day long.

Bipul Chettri

Now that Samaya is out, how are you spending your days?

I am a teacher at a school in Delhi, so a good part of my day is spent teaching children, most of which is online these days. And now that the lockdown has eased here, the band has just started to meet and have started playing together and working on some ideas for new music.

What are your hopes for your music? How do you want your songs to affect their listeners?

Music is hope, regardless of what genre it is in. I personally have a very selfish motive towards making music. I usually write and compose for myself and if I am happy with the result, I let it out to the world. How the listeners accept or reject them is beyond my control. 

It is a great feeling when someone  connects to even one line of lyric or a single melody. Art is subjective and is usually not created by the artist expecting it to be appreciated by everyone while consuming it, unless someone is deliberately creating it for commercial value.

If it does get appreciated, well and good. It’s also okay if it doesn’t. That’s also one of the advantages of being an indie musician. There is no one telling or forcing you to create a particular kind of music. 

Bipul Chettri

Tell us about your fellow musicians and collaborators on Samaya. 

It is a fully stripped down, acoustic and organic set of five songs written and composed while we were physically distanced from the rest of the world. So each and every song was mostly composed and written on a solo basis with just one more instrument accompanying my guitar as I didn’t have the luxury of meeting bandmates as easily and frequently. 

Thankfully, Pranai Gurung, our guitarist who lives close by was there to help with additional guitar parts on a couple of songs and Rohit Prasanna helped out on ‘Bhaans Ghari/The Bamboo Grove’ with his flutes.

Anindo Bose who has been our friend and engineer since the first album recorded, mixed and mastered this EP and also chimed in with some organ parts on a tune.

Sonam Tashi , our manager doubled up as the Executive Producer, Nima Namchu wrote the liner notes and Manohar Rai who art directed the first album design also came in for Samaya as well.

I’m very thankful to all these wonderful people who gave their time and creative help to present this work out to the world.

What makes Samaya different from everything else you have sang and created?

The whole premise of the pandemic on which ‘Samaya’ was themed didn’t make for an ideal and affable picture, so the songs tended to become melancholic and escapist compared to my earlier works. But at the end of the day, music as an art form must reflect the times we are living in and experiencing life as it is.

Does the EP have a single message you hope to put into the world?

There is no particular message but as I mentioned earlier, it is a reflection of a particular time the world and I went through. Having said that, there is a song ‘Naya Din/New Day’ which talks about the hope of looking to a future when we get back to what we called  a ‘normal’ life.

What was it like recording without a studio? What hurdles did you face?

Recording this EP was not the ideal way to have done it, although we eventually got some studio time to record them. But since everyone was socially and physically distancing themselves, we also had to follow those new norms. So when the studio finally opened when the lockdown eased a bit, we took advantage of it and quickly recorded these tunes. 

During this period, our recording engineer Anindo was on his console recording us with him sitting on the 2nd floor while we were playing on the ground floor and only communicating through an internal video link. We also did not sit with him in the same room while mixing the songs which was a first for us all. It was strange times indeed.

Do you ever imagine you will sing in a language other than Nepali? Apparently, you wrote Samsara in English initially.

I grew up singing and listening to western music as the school I attended was a Roman Catholic school which was mostly inclined towards that. Also, the onslaught of western music on radio, tapes, CDs,TV and later mp3s also helped steer us towards it.

And then I took up western classical guitar as my primary instrument and was a student of it for over 15 long years practising to become a soloist and finally earned a degree in it as well.

But as I grew older, I tended to tilt more towards my mother tongue as I realised that it was the language I was thinking in, so why not write and sing as well.

The first song I wrote in the Nepali language, Dadhelo (Wildfire) was as recent as 2013, which shows that I was a very late entrant into Nepali language music scene. But singing in another language other than Nepali is not off the table yet, so one never knows. 

How are you still staying inspired?

Life inspires me. Be it people, relationships, a particular place, nature in general, children I teach, an article or book I read, a documentary I watched….. the list goes on. 

Talk to your listeners. Tell them something you want them to know and haven’t said before. 

Learn a musical instrument. It doesn’t matter how proficient you become. As long as you learn to enjoy it, it will keep you a happy person. 

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