“If a large number of people make a common wish, their collective power can make it happen” -Yoko Ono.
A large number of 1974 AD fans around the world had only one wish: to see the original members back together again. It seems that Ono’s theory may have been proved correct. The good news was out in July earlier this year; the old members of 1974 AD would reunite and tour again. Coming out of the blue, this turn of events had fans rejoicing all over. Fans don’t appreciate lineup changes owing to their allegiance to a few members of every big band. The official announcement was made on 8th July and since then people had been anxiously waiting for their comeback concert. Their wishes were fulfilled on 21st September, when the band performed at ‘Lord of Drinks’ to a very large, ecstatic audience. We caught them at their practice session at Moksh two days before the mega event which as expected met the fans expectations.
The band’s history goes back to a time when Nirakar Yakthumba and Phiroj Shyangden started jamming at Gyanodaya School where the latter was teaching music and Nirakar’s family owned the school. They even recorded some classical instrumentals before forming a band with fellow teachers. As was the norm back then, they were doing covers of rock bands of the west and played everything from Deep Purple to The Eagles. Even their first album was a compilation of covers but for two Nepali songs. When they presented the album to Hits FM, Sonny Shrestha quite fortuitously told them,” Now do something similar in Nepali!” That simple statement was to change the band’s fortunes. Fun time was over and they were going to delve seriously into making their own music, writing their own songs. Those who could devote time to music stayed and the others left. The new lineup included Adrian Pradhan on vocals and drums, Phiroj on guitar and vocal, Nirakar on bass and Manoj Kumar K.C. on guitar.
From their very first album of Nepali songs, the band shot to fame and 1974 AD became a household name not just in Nepal but also in Sikkim and Darjeeling. Their music touched people’s hearts with their soulful melodies and meaningful lyrics. But that was not all; they had raised the bar in terms of quality. Here was a band of very fine musicians whose class was apparent in their vocals, guitar work, harmonies and compositions. Many couldn’t believe a Nepali band could produce such refined work and their fan base grew rapidly. The Dashrath Rangashala had never seen such a gathering of music lovers as seen at their “Rock Yatra” concert in 2002. Unfortunately, the security force that was hired to maintain order panicked when the crowds kept coming. Declaring it a security risk, the audience was told to go home when the band had hardly begun.
Album after album became hits for 1974 AD and they bagged countless awards at the various Music Award nights. They embarked on their first US tour, something that no other Nepali band had ever done before them, opening up the door for future bands. They went on to tour many countries, making more fans and having fun. While the band was enjoying celebrity status, Adrian was also launching his solo career and came up with his own hits. Later Sanjay was to start his solo project playing reggae music with Joint Family International while also playing with AD. Then at the height of their fame, Phiroj left for the US in 2009 and seemed settled there. It wasn’t long before rumors started circulating among fans that the band was splitting up. It turned out to be true, that Adrian was also leaving the band and going completely solo with his own backup band. Fans were dejected and 1974 AD replaced Phiroj and Adrian with other singers and included additional musicians as well.
It seemed as if the dream was over. This great band that rocked the nation and took Nepali music around the world with songs like “Yo Man Ta Mero Nepali Ho”, “Samjhi Baschu”, “Sambodhan”, “Parelima” and many more had disintegrated. It was hard for people to accept new members in an iconic band that now looked different and sounded different.
Talks of a reunion began between Nirakar and Adrian when they met to do a soundtrack for a movie back in 2017. Then when Phiroj and Adrian toured as “The Original Duo”, they also discussed the possibility of getting back together with their old mates. Fortunately, all grievances were put aside and all the members wholeheartedly agreed to reunite in 2019. “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Greatest Nepali rock band: 1974 AD!”
Phiroj Shyangden’s dedication to music is legendary. Born in Tukvar Tea Estate in Darjeeling, his passion for learning the guitar was so overpowering, they said he walked three hours carrying a Selecta Indian guitar from the distant tea plantation to the town in order to take lessons from the iconic music teacher Jiwan Pradhan. This he did three days a week and yes, three hours back the other way. “Yes, I did!” confirms Phiroj when asked if it were at all true. Then like so many musicians, he moved to Kathmandu.
After moving to Kathmandu, Phiroj found a job as the music teacher at Gyanodaya School in Sanepa. Music brought Nirakar and Phiroj together as the latter was teaching classical music to Yakthumba. The original lineup of teachers that formed the first 1974 AD lasted until the release of their first album of English covers that also included two Nepali songs. The rest is history and the band went on to attain celebrity status. However in 2009, Phoroj decided to move to the US.
“In America, I’ve been playing music with my own band and our usual circuit includes places like North Carolina, Texas, Baltimore, Minessota, Ohio, New Jersey and others. Locally around New York we also get invited to play lots of gigs. Besides the gigs, I also teach guitar to my students,” says Phiroj.
Shyangden lives close to Jackson Heights and has a regular gig at Himalayan Yak in Jackson Heights. Since 2017, he and Adrian had been discussing possibilities of getting back together with the rest of 1974 AD. The two did a couple of tours as ‘The Original Duo’ in May 2018 across the UK and then July/August ‘18 in Australia. They also did a few shows in the US.
“I’ve been coming and going every few years like in 2012, 2015 and 2018. Since 2017, I’d been talking to Adrian about a reunion but had commitments in the US until 2018. When the announcement was made, I was still in the States,” recalls Phiroj. The fans felt an air of uncertainty, but he eventually arrived on 28th August reassuring everyone concerned.
Phiroj will be leaving for the US in November after a string of concerts but will be back in March 2020 to start practicing with the band for their upcoming, much anticipated world tour. But first they will do a tour of Nepal.
Nirakar Yakthumba is the backbone of the band as founding member and band leader. He has been their bassist since inception and remains steadfast and as devoted to the band as always. Although involved in many ventures, his real passion remains music which dominates his life. It was in Nirakar’s family school where Phiroj and he started playing classical guitar, even recording a few tunes. The duo then formed a band of school teachers which later went through major line-up changes which led to their success when they released their first Nepali rock album. Their encounter with the owner of Hits FM, Sonny Shrestha has become the stuff of legend. Sonny launched their musical career with just one sentence.
To go seriously into music the new line-up had Manoj complementing Phiroj on guitar while Adrian became singer/drummer of the band. (Drummer Sanjay Shrestha was to join them in 2000 while flautist Manose Singh had a brief spell with them.) The result was their second album “Samjhi Baschu” which became a big hit. Nepali people became fans overnight on discovering a Nepali rock band that sounded truly professional with songs such as “Parelima”, Timilai Pirathile”, “Chhudaina” and “Samjhi Baschu” which became hits from their second album. There was great excitement among the listeners.
The band embarked on their first U.S. tour in 2002 and were the first Nepali rock band to do so. “Performing in nine different states, it took us three months to complete the circuit,” says Nirakar. Many Nepali rock bands followed in their footsteps to take their music abroad. Their third album “Satabdi” was an even bigger hit with songs like “Sambodhan”, “Hijo Matra” and “Pahilo Junima”. Then on, their fame reached new heights and audiences could sing along. One of their biggest hits is “Nepali Ho”. Their unprecedented success was followed by numerous awards at the many musical award nights by Hits FM, Tuborg, San Miguel, Image and Kantipur FM etc.
Nirakar then opened Moksh Restaurant and Bar with the aim of giving musicians a platform to perform and mingle with fellow musicians to build a network. His friendship formed there with saxophonist Mariano Abello from Spain led the two to establish Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory, now a part of the larger Gyan Mandala in Jhamsikhel.
Yakthumba was one of the chief architects of the reunion, talking with Adrian about getting back together again since 2016. Then when nobody was suspecting, the announcement was made in July 2019. In November, the band will begin their tours. “The tour includes Chitwan, Butwal, Pokhara, Kathmandu and Kirtipur. We also have an album launch at Preve Soaltee on 8th November followed by the big open air concert in Kirtipur on 9th November. After that we’ll be going on a world tour in 2020,” says Nirakar happily.
Adrian Pradhan had a band named Flames which originated in Kalimpong where he was born and raised. His band performed in Kathmandu after which he joined 1974 AD as a vocalist and drummer following the band’s first album release in 1996. It was a crucial time when the band decided to go seriously into composing songs and devoting time to music, unlike in the past when it was just something to do in their free time. Adrian added a new voice to the band’s sound and singing in harmony with Phiroj took their music to another level. There’s always that special feeling when two people sing in harmony. Adrian sang songs like “Sambodhan”, “Yo Man Ta Mero Nepali Ho” which are big hits. You hear the latter being sung at schools as it brings such emotional feelings of belonging together as Nepalis wherever you may be.
“I was also bringing out solo albums and doing solo shows and tours with my back-up band since 2004,” recalls Adrian. Even his solo songs were hits and he was much in demand. Somewhere along the line, something snapped and rumors did the rounds that Adrian was leaving the band. Phiroj had already left in 2009 seeing a new life in the US. Adrian did not leave the country, but went completely solo and built up quite a successful solo career. He got himself a backup band and started touring not only around Nepal but also the west. He had a number of hits “Nabhana”, “Saaraa Khushi”, “Nasamjha” and others and his unique style won him countless fans even inspiring young singers to pick up his vibrato style. His solo tours as Adrian & Friends took him to Europe in 2010, the UK in 2011, Australia in 2012, then Korea and Japan. Later, he was joined by Phiroj for their ‘Original Duo’ tours in 2017.
“I had been talking to Nirakar Dai about reuniting since 2016. We used to meet as we had a project to do the soundtrack for the film “Man from Kathmandu” as 1974 AD. Our fans had been commenting that they wanted to see us all back together. Somewhere something was missing and everyone felt it. As we matured over time, we realized, we’re more like a family where you have differences but belong together. So, we sorted out our egos and all finally agreed to get back together and now everyone is happy,” concludes Adrian.
Manoj Kumar K.C.
Manoj Kumar K.C. joined the band in 1994 and has interesting stories to tell. His first performance with them was at the International Music Day at Tudikhel. Recalling his childhood, he says, ”When I was about four of five I used to play the tabla and also the string instrument known as Dilruwa (played with a bow) and used to win competitions. His uncle taught him how to play and these classes began after football and homework. So Manoj was heavily into eastern classical raag and hadn’t heard western music until he was grown up. A school friend after completing SLC, left a guitar with him and that’s what got him going. He began to learn on his own. “Then my uncle who was also my guru left Kathmandu, so I stopped playing the table and concentrated on the guitar,” says Manoj. How he received his first guitar is very interesting. He was playing football near his house when he noticed someone passing by carrying a guitar that seemed expensive. The guy was obviously a Lahure’s son. He thought, “Wish I could own a guitar like that!” Then someone told him the boy had entered his house down the road. That’s when he knew, it must have been meant for him. So he rushed home to discover that his dad had sent him a Fender Telecaster from Bahrain.
The Tele didn’t remain long with Manoj. He sold it to buy an Ibanez. This incident has yet another interesting story attached to it. Manoj recalls, “A friend told me that there was this guy who would definitely buy my Telecaster. So he arranged for me to meet him out on the road near Jawalakhel. And just like he said, the guy was very keen and so I sold it for Rs. 5,800. That guy was Phiroj Shyangden! And that’s how our friendship began.” Phiroj one day invited Manoj to play guitar with him, which eventually led him to join 1974 AD in 1994. “So I bought an Ibanez guitar and for my first performance with the band, I played second lead on “Hotel California,” adds Manoj. He also plays keyboards for the band.
When preparing for the “Sounds of Spring” concert to be held at Soaltee, Manoj started learning notations from Phiroj which happened to be classical. It was from this concert that he became a permanent member of 1974 AD. “Samjhi Bashu” according to Manoj was the band’s first composition that was composed for this concert.
Manoj has also had a hand in various endeavors like a bar he once owned called 3MB in Jawalakhel. Besides playing with the band, he has his own recording studio and music label Katjazz Records with his brother Manzil at Gyan Mandala and has been involved with KJC from its establishment teaching Audio Engineering. Manoj also wrote the song “Parelima” before he met the band.
Sanjay Shrestha was the last to join the band in 2000. His journey in music began at St. Xavier’s School where he and other school friends started a fusion band called ‘ Shristi’, probably the first fusion band to became very popular and they cut a CD album as well. Although he was gifted with a guitar while in school, his interest lay firmly in percussions and has been playing all kinds of percussion instruments along with drums and table, the latter being the first percussion instrument he learned.
Sanjay joined 1974 AD as a percussionist which added richness to their sound. His first tour with the band was their first International Tour in 2001 when they played 13 cities in the US as well as Hong Kong. They were soon to release their album “Satabdi”.
Sanjay makes good use of his free time from AD; he has his own side project known as Joint Family International (JFI). But this side project of his became very big and has won awards at the various award nights. This is a reggae band where Sanjay plays guitar and sings along with their lead vocalist. Their most popular song to date is “Netaji” which won many awards and, propelled the band to fame. The song deals with corruption and all that ails Nepal’s political system. JFI won three awards at the Hit FM Music Awards: ‘Best Performance by a Group or Duo’, ‘Song of the Year’ and ‘Best Pop Composition’. It was a massive night for the band. Four months ago the band released a single called “Muscuraunu”. Sanjay writes most of the songs for JFI. They are mostly into doing bar gigs and festivals, but have also toured in Thailand and India.
Sanjay was part of the “Playing for Change” project and they just released a video on 19th September this year with Ringo Starr on drums. Fifteen artistes from around the world were involved in recording “The Weight” by The Band to commemorate it 50th Anniversary. Obviously Robbie Robertson has a part in the song and the two Nepalis chosen to take part were Sanjay and sitarist Rajiv Shrestha of Sur Sudha.
Besides playing music Sanjay is an entrepreneur and is the Founder/Director of House of Music, the very popular eatery in Thamel that hosts many concerts and festivals every year. He has also recently opened a very fine upscale eatery in Bakhundole called Musicology. No matter what Sanjay does, it is attached to his love for music!