Tag Archives: Music

“Summer of ’69” a Nepali Anthem?

A few years ago, when P and I were living in New York, P’s former roommate was Filipino, and like many Filipinos he loved to sing karaoke. I had a projector that I used for work, and occasionally we would have evening/weekend gathering where our Filipino friend’s friend would bring her karaoke machine, and I would hook up the projector and we would project the songs on the wall of our apartment and sing along with the lyrics.

A popular song was Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69.” It didn’t matter how shy one of our Nepali guests might be, when the “Summer of ‘69” came on, it was easy to stand up, grab that microphone, and belt out the tune. I started to think, “Hey every Nepali knows this song!”

Later, when we moved to Massachusetts, there were still more gatherings, sans karaoke machine, but still with singing—sometimes with people gathered around a guitar and laptop (for lyrics), or sometimes in just a room full of people clapping hands and singing together for as long as someone could remember the next line. Although these songs were mostly Nepali/Hindi, occasionally English songs were peppered in, and “Summer of ‘69” was an easy fall back.

So I can’t say I was surprised that the BBC recently had a video feature about the “Summer of ‘69” in the taverns of Thamel. Why do Nepalis love this song? Check out the three minute video to see.

With one of the news clip interviewees stating “the song is basically almost like an anthem” for Nepal, no wonder Bryan Adams made a trip to the country in February 2011, one of very few western musical artists to perform live in concert in Kathmandu.

As a lover of classic rock, I don’t mind jamming to “Summer of ‘69”… how about you?


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Dashain Tikka 2010

Another Dashain has come and gone. It was a good one this year. Good food, good friends, good blessings/wishes, good music, good dancing, and I finally won some taas money ;)

P’s brother U came to visit from Philadelphia and on Sunday morning some friends came over for a morning “family tikka.” P prepared the jamara…

Nice and yellow. Although I left the jamara out all day because I figured it was the last day of Dashain, and it turned green really fast... (it's supposed to be yellow)

… and the tikka (vermillion powder, yogurt and rice). The oldest in the house gives tikka to the younger people…

P gives me tikka

After P was done, the next oldest gave tikka…

KS giving me my second tikka

Finally I gave tikka to a few of the younger people…

I give tikka and blessings to D

Then we had a nice breakfast feast, before cleaning up the kitchen to start round two of cooking for S-di and M-dai’s tikka and party. I did my part and represented both the “American” (by making salad and apple crisp) and “Nepali” (by making rice and mattar paneer) aspects of our household in the cuisine department.

In the past few years, M-dai usually gave tikka since he is the eldest in our community, but this year S-di took charge. I later found out M-dai quietly decided not to give or take tikka this year as an activist measure, since as I noted before his ethnic community did not traditionally celebrate Dashain, but was at one point forced by representatives of the king. He was inspired by recent articles in Republica.

S-di giving P and I our tikkas and blessings for the year

Other party guests with their tikkas...

And of course, there was lots of food...

After tikka and eating, the guitar and drums were taken out and various Nepali folk songs were sung and danced to…

And we rounded out the evening with a bit of taas– not marriage, but “flush” which is another betting game kind of like a simpler version of poker. Although I wasn’t the big winner, I did alright, and finished with more money than I started out with :)

So Dashain this year was a lot of fun. P and his family have started talking about having us go to Nepal next year for Dashain. P hasn’t been home for a Dashain in ten years, and it will be our first Dashain as a married couple. I would love to see the festival in Nepal and take tikka from his family. It’s hard to take off time from work, especially during the school year, but maybe I’ll try…

Hope you all had an enjoyable Dashain! Any good stories? Good tikka blessings/wishes? Fun moments?

Learning Nepali

In my office I have a beach ball with about 150 questions written all over it in black Sharpie marker. I call this “Icebreaker Beach Ball” and use it for new student orientations. It has everything from “do you sing in the shower?” to “if you were invisible for 24 hours what would you do?” Students toss the ball to each other, introduce themselves, and whatever question is under their right thumb they have to answer. The students get a kick out of it, and the game can even be fun at large dinner parties. One of the questions on the ball is “if you could become instantly fluent in another language- what would it be and why?” whenever I get this question I want to yell from the top of my lungs… NEPALI, SO I CAN FINALLY UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING!!!!

Yep, that's my Icebreaker Beach Ball... I'm very proud

Yep, that's my Icebreaker Beach Ball... I'm very proud

I fully admit that my lack of Nepali aptitude is my own fault… there are a million different times that I could have picked up a book and studied Nepali vocabulary or verb tenses instead of watching a movie, or going for a walk, or even writing 150 icebreaker questions all over a beach ball, but heck, I like to think that I’ve had some factors working against me.

First of all I don’t have a natural talent for languages–I do have to work at it–but with that said I’ve taken classes in French, Spanish, Arabic, Kiswahili (Kenya), Wolof (Senegal), and Hindi. I was a French minor as an undergraduate and at one time could write short plays and read short chapter books in Swahili. It is tough to try and keep a descent level of communicability in several different languages at the same time, particularly when you learned them as an adult, and when your language aptitude is being evaluated for a grade, it is harder to focus on a language that isn’t part of your academic curriculum. Plus there always seemed to be something else going on- whether writing a thesis or tired from work, or needing another language for another project at the time. Not to mention that Nepali is not a frequently spoken world language, so Rosetta Stone and other highly rated language programs do not have it as an option (although the minute Rosetta comes out with Nepali- believe you me- I’ll be one of the first to purchase it!  You can actually fill out a “request a new language” form through Rosetta’s website. I did my part, please support the cause!)

Plus, I know how I learn languages. Yes books are great, but I know I need a class, and I need to practice communicating with a teacher who can drill me on conversations for which I already know vocabulary. I can’t tell you how many times P and I have tried to “practice Nepali” on a long car trip, only to have my pronunciation critiqued to the point where the conversation goes nowhere… “its BuddHa not Buddha or BudDHA… can’t you hear the difference??” (no!!!) or an older Nepali neighbor will insist on talking to me in Nepali but will use complicated or sophisticated words that I don’t understand and again the conversation goes nowhere.

The Nepali alphabet uses Devanagri script like Hindi

The Nepali alphabet uses Devanagri script like Hindi

So I often wind up sitting at Nepali get-togethers and I am one of the few if not the only person who can’t understand all of the conversation. While it is not so much of an issue now that I know everyone very well and can easily have my own side conversations, when we first moved I felt really lonely and isolated due to my language bonding barrier, and I don’t want to be in this same situation again.

I can sympathize with the Nepali students, I’ve lived abroad before, and I know how comforting it is to speak in your mother tongue when you are far from home. Plus I don’t want to be the one party-pooper who declares “please, everyone, speak in English for my benefit” (although occasionally I don’t mind being that person when the gathering is a mixed crowd and I see other non-Nepali speakers feeling uncomfortable).

Speaking of these gatherings… In fact, there used to be a trio of older Nepali grad students (R-dai*, M-dai and S-di)  who loved to sing. Once the party was off to a good start you could tell that the eldest, R-dai, was just itching to break into song. Nothing killed a mixed gathering (Nepalis/non-Nepalis) more than R-dai’s singing, and a few of us would be on “R-dai singing distraction” duty to make sure he didn’t start for a few hours to give the mixed gathering a bit of a chance.

It’s not that he was bad, quite the contrary, many of the Nepalis complimented him on how well he sang, but the killer was—once he started he would literally sing for hours–and almost exclusively in Nepali, not even Bollywood hits that other South Asians in the group could relate to. The non-Nepali guests would be polite and listen to a few songs, but when it became clear it would not stop, they would start making their excuses, say goodnight and tiptoe towards the door.

I admit there were many nights where I valiantly tried to stay interested as long as possible (there is only so much you can listen to when you can’t understand or participate) but eventually grew bored after the 12 or 13th song- there were even a few times when I attempted (unsuccessfully) to get some of the younger Nepalis to sing an English song over the Nepali songs, competition style, but it wouldn’t really work. R-dai was into it, half the room would be singing along, S-di would be in the middle of the floor shaking her hips with traditional dance moves while M-dai brought out his wooden flute or his drum to keep up the rhythm.

Although I didn’t know all the words, eventually I recognized a lot of these older folk songs, and could do some of the dance steps if need be. I didn’t truly appreciate this until I went to a wedding outside of Kathmandu in June and most of the music was Nepali folk. I’m sure I got quite a few surprised stares when I recognized one of M-dai’s favorites, jumped onto the dance floor and started crouching over, waving my arms airplane style and stomping my feet while spinning around in the fashion I’d seen him do back in the US (I’m pretty sure its this song below–Chari Ma Mero).

Typical Nepali gathering... S-di (back row- 5th from right), M-dai (front row, 3rd from right) and R-dai (front row, most right). P and I are back row 4th and 2nd from right respectively

Typical Nepali gathering... S-di (back row- 5th from right), M-dai (front row, 3rd from right) and R-dai (front row, most right). P and I are back row 4th and 2nd from right respectively

Anyway, I digress… the point of the story is that I’m frustrated with my lack of Nepali speaking abilities. In fact, at this point, it is kind of embarrassing that I can’t say that much, even if I can understand a great deal more than I ever could before. In one exasperated moment while visiting Nepal P’s dad said, “after all these years all you know is namaste and dhanyavad” and although not true, it was fair enough, since I couldn’t carry on much more than the simplest of conversations. I am fully committed to being a bi-lingual household once P and I have kids somewhere down the road, and even encourage P to talk to our dog in Nepali. At some point, I’m going to have to get my linguistic act together and do some hardcore learning. So I wanted to declare that I am going to make a committed effort to learn far more Nepali this year than I have been able to do thus far, and hopefully the blog will keep me on track. So- enough with the excuses…

* “dai” is the Nepali suffix meaning “elder brother,” used to denote respect for someone elder to you, but not old enough to be considered an uncle. “Di” or “didi” is the Nepali suffix meaning “elder sister,” used in the same way as “dai.”

Other Links…

  • One of my favorite Nepali folk songs and one that I can actually sing along with at the parties… Kehi Mitho
  • I also quite like this one… Resham Feriri
  • S-di would dance similar to this kind of style
  • Another popular Nepali song to sing…especially if you can’t speak the language, just belt out a confident “NE-PA-LI HO!!” at the end of the chorus… Yo Manta Mero Nepali Ho
  • Okay, okay, I’ll stop with the Nepali music videos before I turn into R-dai… but while on the subject of Nepali songs, here is a fun NPR article about an American who became a bit famous in Nepal from singing in music videos with a popular Nepali singer (although if you ask most Nepalis they would hardly call this American a “Rock Star”) “My Brother, the Rock Star in Nepal”