Wherein a tone-deaf MC and a jetlagged headliner fail to derail a sonic ride at the City Museum Kathmandu
After a season’s worth of delays, the City Museum Kathmandu opened discreetly on May 5 with a series of guided tours by its indefatigable Director, Kashish Das Shrestha. Those in the know had already sneaked over for a preview of the Museum, with its reconstructed galli interiors and eye-catching translites of Old Kathmandu, as well as the contemporary Gallery featuring both thangkas and graphic art from across the oceans. But the Khumbila concert and live art event on May 8, fundraising for the victims of the Everest tragedy, was the first real opportunity to showcase its potential as a public space. That a concert in a car park drew such respectable numbers bodes well for those seeking respite from Thamel and Jhamel.
By the time Rahul Giri of Sulk Station took the stage for the ‘tiny set’ that he had promised, I was already underwhelmed by the ‘live’ art in the Gallery and the tepid, overpriced beer on offer. Yet a few beats under the lights made me feel Kathmandu was finally moving in tandem with urban culture elsewhere. It was a tantalizing glimpse: for the rest of the evening – with the exception of pop rockers X-It, whose highlight was a rippingly indulgent exposition of the ‘Purple Rain’ solo – the country came to the city, and the audience was in its thrall.
Both Night and Kutumba are well known to aficionados of Nepal’s burgeoning folk fusion scene, of course. Kutumba in particular has earned the respect of audiences across the country with its upbeat instrumentals, seamlessly blending string and wind instruments with an impressive array of tub-thumpers guaranteed to get people on their feet. The boys were celebrating their 10th anniversary, and they were in a take-no-prisoners mode.
Prior to their crescendo, however, Night went about its business in subtle fashion, offering a Western-influenced, melodic take on Nepali fusion, with vocals lending both dynamic timbre and narrative to offset the tendency of the genre to get ‘jammed’ in an endless loop. Two compositions stood out – the recently released ‘Tuina ko chha hai bhara’ and the old favourite ‘The Rain of Colours’, and both were received extremely well. At times the soundscapes they created recalled legendary German electronic group Tangerine Dream; mostly, however, they mined a seam of cultural nostalgia that Lalitey Prawin Adhikari characterized as ‘a past that never existed,’ to which I responded, ‘or a future that can never exist?’ Whatever the answer, Night’s future looks to be brightening up, with their long-awaited debut album Ani Ukali Sangai Orali set to be released by London-based Subsonic Routes.
The less said about the jarringly intrusive MC the better, of course, but there was some disappointment that Jamie Catto of Faithless and 1 Giant Leap fame performed just the one tune before coming off, apparently suffering from jetlag. Fortunately for most of us in attendance at the City Museum Kathmandu, this evening of aural colour – in a space seeking to push our mental horizons into a future beyond pell-mell modernity – was a crystallization of the here and now.