Anna Marie Stirr was intrigued and thoroughly captivated the first time that she listened to a dohori traditional duet in Nepal twenty years ago. Was it a song or a long playful banter between musicians?
She was a student of ethnomusicology at New York’s Columbia University at the time, and the dohori genre stood out not only for its unique vocal tone and style, but because it blurred the lines between music and drama, delivering a performance that was unlike anything she had ever witnessed before.
Stirr began to delve into the world of Nepali folk music, learnt the language and spent two decades traveling within Nepal, studying and analysing minutely the spontaneous lyrics, the rules governing the musical back-and-forth, and what made dohori such an essence of Nepali culture.
On one of her many trips in 2005, cheered on by members of a local mothers’ group in Lamjung Stirr was urged to join in the singing. She came up with her own dohori compilation: “Aye ma ta yo gaun ma khuruka, sab bhujna sukha ra dukha, mirmireko gham…” (I have come to this village to understand both happiness and pain, the twinkling sun…)
The mothers were delighted by her fluent and mellifluous Nepali, and the way she had grasped the soul of the songs. Ever since, Stirr has been obsessed with dohori. She is now Associate Professor at the University of Hawaii and her 2017 book based on her PhD research, Singing across Divides: Music and Intimate Politics in Nepal, was awarded the Bernard S Cohn Book Prize last year.