As I sat on one of the judges’ chairs on Friday night in the ballroom of Marriott Hotel in Long Beach, I watched many singers come and go.  Finally the last singer, Nalina Chitrakar, climbed on to the stage.  Singers like Hemant Rana, Nima Rumba and Aastha Bhandari before her were good singers who gave entertaining performances.  They all coaxed the audience to come to the dancing floor.  But the audience hesitated and even resisted.  Nalina Chitrakar, on the other hand, moved the audience by bringing them to the floor.  What did Nalina do that others could not?  I noticed that she sang popular Nepali folk songs to which many Nepalis grew up listening.  Moreover, Nepali folk songs use the drum called a Madal, which keeps a fast tempo—the beat that touches the heart.  A drum, whether it be an African, Indian or Egyptian one, gives the music life.  A Nepali song is incomplete without a Madal.  That is exactly what happened.  The singers that preceded Nalina Chitrakar did not have the beat of a Madal in them.

The origin of folk songs/dances goes back to the dawn of civilization when groups of individuals gathered for a communal interaction by singing and dancing.  The invention of the drum must have taken place then.  Psychologist Matt J. Rossano takes the roots of social interaction through religion back 500,000 years when hominids learned to engage themselves in group rituals like singing and dancing that could induce altered states of consciousness which in turn could enhance social bonding.

            Friday night I felt as though I were witnessing a reenactment of an ancient ritual called dancing when many individuals from the audience came to the floor to dance as if they were possessed by spirits.  Clearly we humans have traces of repressed memories of ancient practices that our ancestors engaged in communal settings.

Madal is that musical instrument of Nepal that is totally magical.  Its beats awaken us, excite us, make us get up from the chair and make us move our bodies.  It is what I call the soul of Nepali music.  Nepali musicians who opt for Western instruments in place of a Madal will be compromising their music.  If they cannot draw the listeners to their music, they should not blame the audience—they should blame themselves.

Remarks by Deepak Shimkhada

Photos by Dhiraj Lama