KATHMANDU: Eating just nun, khursani and dhido and wandering around the remote villages collecting words and tunes of songs seem quite crazy an idea in these sophisticated days. But this was exactly how king of Nepali folk songs Kumar Basnet, enriched Nepali folk music.
That craziness enabled him to gift Nepali folk music with popular numbers like Chhori vanda ama taruni, Lapsi ko gedo chusera, Nakkali lai vagai lagyo jhilke le, Kaliyugko belai ma jos ma hunna hos, Kathmandu ki newarni, and many more.
Though born in 1943 in one of the renowned Basnet families of Kathmandu, his fate took him to Dolakha soon after his birth, where he lived till the age of seven and spent most of his time as a shepherd. But it was in Kapilvastu, where he continued his studies and enhanced his passion for singing and dancing. At the age of nine he not only danced to tunes of Nepali folk songs but gave elegant performances to Hindi songs like Mann dole mera tann dole.
“I was regarded one of the most mischievous students as I never attended classes and would rather participate in musical activities,” remembers Basnet. As his family would not permit, he escaped from the backdoor at night after everyone was asleep, to dance at events and competitions around town.
Even the then leaders loved this brilliant boy. “BP Koirala called me Kumar fuche. Dr KI Singh even provided Rs 500 per month for my studies after I sang Dhan ko bala jhulyo hajur desai ramailo, to promote him during elections of 1957,” Basnet recalls. Singh had won the elections that year and became the Prime Minister of Nepal.
Interestingly, Basnet claims to be the first male to dance as a female in Nepal wearing fariya and cholo. “I so much resembled a female in that
attire that young boys would follow me thinking I was a girl. People even called me Nargis.”
As a professional singer
The year 1958 was a fortunate one for Basnet with his selection as a singer for Radio Nepal. At that time there was no recording studio in Nepal and he went to Calcutta to record his first folk song Chautari ghyangla nani kanchha. His first modern song Rimjhim rimjhim pani parla was recorded at the same time. “These songs became instant hits making me popular,” the folk king shares his success tale.
He joined Nepal Rastra Bank the following year. But he was not willing to end his musical journey and came out with his pop number Diula yo joban timilai diula in 1960AD.
He also claims that dohori songs which were heard only in the villages was made popular in a large scale by him, his first dohori song on the tunes of Sara ra, Mann nai dha ra ra brought around this change.
“I sang every kind of song and people liked all these songs equally,” says Basnet. “But after that I concentrated more only
on folk songs,” remembers the folk legend. Till today he is continuously contributing to the field of folk music in Nepal.
This well-known figure has made musical tours to different parts of the world. He has successfully presented himself both as a singer and dancer in countries like China, India, Germany, North Korea and many others.
The living legend, Basnet gives credit for his success to people residing in remote Nepali villages who taught him words and tunes of their folk songs. “I used to stay in villagers houses and learnt their folk music. It would at times take more than a month just to learn one song. All my expenses would be borne by the house owners, I didn’t have to pay any money for the stay.” Basnet never forgets the day when he could not return to Kathmandu from Barabise, as he was unable to pay ticket fare of just Rs 10. “I had to beg the bus driver to take me to Kathmandu and it was really embarrassing,” he summons past memories. “A song would pay you Rs 7; for the month long effort. It was tough to survive only on music,” Basnet recalls his days of struggle.
He is conscious of the younger generation’s musical taste. Most of his songs are ones that the youth can relate to. He has recently remixed his popular number Diula yo joban timilai dilua. “Music has been refined these days giving quality to Nepali music,” Basnet adds. However, he worries, “Piracy of songs has increased a lot these days making it difficult for people in this field to survive.” He has set up Copyright Protection Society of Nepal for safeguarding copyright of artistes. This superstar is also concerned that the present uncertainty in the nation will lead Nepali music nowhere.
“I would probably have become a football player if I was not in the music field,” Basnet reveals who used to play for Sankata Football Club, and was a good player back then.
The 66-year-old singer had a love marriage with Sharada Basnet, in 1966, and now has a happy
family with children and grandchildren.
He accredits his father Ganga Bahadur Basnet and dance director Bhairav Bahadur Thapa for his success. He loves Prem Dhoj Pradhan among his contemporaries.
“Recognition and love from public is all that I
have achieved,” Basnet proudly says. This multi-talented persona has bagged a number of awards for his contribution to Nepali music such as, Gorkha Dakshin Bahu, Tri Shakti Patta, Ratna Record Puraskar, Life Time Achievement Award, etc. He has carved his name with golden letters in the history of Nepali folk music and is content with his achievement.
He enthusiastically says, “I will be working for three more years in this field and probably will take rest after that.”
A version of this article appears in print on June 05, 2009 of The Himalayan Times.