Despite all the success, Mukti Shakya seems to be firmly grounded. Dig deeper into his psyche and you discover a heart and soul of a true Nepali. Born and raised in Jyabahal, he lived in the neighborhood of Freak Street through the swinging 60s and psychedelic 70s. So it’s no surprise that Mukti became a musician. Kathmandu in the 70s was awash in western music brought in by the hippies, which prompted many to pick up a guitar and start a band. But only the gifted stuck to it and made it. And make it he did!
The Flower Generation’s influence
There’s no doubt that the freaks who poured into Kathmandu through the 1960’s and 70’s had an unfathomable effect on the youth of this city. The ‘good’ they brought with them was the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s and their focus on love and peace. The ‘bad’ was the lifestyle of laziness, irresponsibility and free sex. The ‘ugly’ was the drug abuse and consequent deaths. Thankfully, Mukti chose the good and became a musician playing western rock. But the ground work had been laid long before by his father Bhaju Ratna Shakya, who played many eastern instruments and had a passion for singing. Mukti tagged along when the senior Shakya went to jam at bhajans.
Music in Freak Street
Shakya had been hanging around Jhonchen from the early 70s, despite warnings from elders not to go there. He says, “Some of the better musicians among the freaks would be playing live below the Shiva Parbati temple,” He would go to Snowman’s (one of the eateries from those heady days still around) and Yin Yang to listen to music. But the Stylish Pie Shop was more popular for pies and Kumari’s (still around and still popular) was where they went for tea. “Near my place there was a Rana house in Yangal with a big empty space where the hippies used to play music. They once had an LSD party there,” recalls Mukti. It was a time when the youth preferred western music over Nepali music. And who’s to blame them when a young kid was given the choice of listening to Narayan Gopal or The Doors! Nepali rock had not been born and the dominant Nepali music was aadhunik. The exciting music that the freaks brought with them (cassettes) were blasted from the loud music systems that most restaurants around Jhonchen had back then. The very atmosphere was laden with music and Mukti was soaking it all in. Once he was able to play the guitar, he started jamming at Full Moon parties in Swoyambhu between 1978 and 1981. The freaks he hung out with introduced him to a wide variety of music and were a huge influence.
Early musical career
In 1979, Mukti became the bassist for a band called Radium and they had their first concert at City Hall the same year. He was 19, and there were not many bands back then. But by 1981, just as many bands around the world, Radium had split up. “In 1983, we formed a new band called Elegance with me on guitar, Raju Shakya on vocal, Sudesh Shrestha on bass and Bhanu Man Joshi on drums,” he informs. They became quite popular and Mukti’s star was rising. They would frequently perform at City Hall almost every five to six months. As was the government rule back then, a western rock concert had to have a Nepali section. So most concerts would begin with Nepali singers and Elegance had popular singers like Prem Dhoj Pradhan and Arun Thapa opening the show along with other artistes. The rock concert would begin only after the Nepali half was over.
Life in Spain
Mukti then met Maria Cinta from Spain in 1983 during one of his countless gigs and the two got married after several years of courting. They started a family, and one day Maria left for Spain with their two sons so they could get better education there. Mukti was soon to follow in 1987 and it wasn’t long before he started performing with a local Spanish band there. “I played bass for two years and then I played guitar with a band named Tramontana for five years,” he reminisces. He would often be back in Nepal playing music too. “While in Spain, I took blues guitar classes and had to change my fingering techniques as we’d learnt to play on our own,” he says, “But touring with those guys was too demanding; travelling almost every day, so I quit.”
Back to his roots
Mukti had decided to head back to Nepal but then the Olympics was being staged in Barcelona, so he attended the games and came home immediately after it was over in 1992. He then studied tourism and worked as a professional guide for Spanish and Catalan speaking tourists. “This change in profession lasted from 2002 to 2008 during which time I was in Nepal for three months each year,” he says. One would often see him walking around the heritage sites with a bunch of foreigners.
A House in Sitapaila
Inheriting ancestral land in Sitapaila, the Shakya couple decided to build a house there. “The construction began in 1994 and we completed it in 1995,” says Mukti. Around that time, I was on a short hike up towards Ramkot with my landlord’s son, so we decided to pay them a visit. It was both interesting and amusing to watch the couple argue about how things should be done. It was a European’s perspective against that of a Nepali’s which was so hilarious to watch. “She wants to build a wooden cabinet under the wash basin and I want that space to be free,” was how Mukti explained their argument. “She builds something, I break it down and she breaks down something I have built!” laughed Mukti at the time. A lot of money was squandered in the process but they had fun.
Mukti formed Revival in 1993 with Sushil Sthapit on vocal, Udesh Lal Shrestha on bass and Navin Tamrakar on drums. In 1994, the band played regular gigs at Casino Royale along with Prism, Cadenza and Charisma, but they were to last only until 1996. Then in 1997, Mukti decided to sing in Nepali, which was a crucial decision that was to propel him to bigger fame. “Just when I was looking for a steady band to play with that year, I came across a band named Newaz who were looking for a front man,” recalls Mukti. It all seemed fated and they joined forces to become Mukti & Revival. So with Roshan Kansakar on bass, Binod Shrestha on guitar and Rabin Shrestha on drums, he started a new chapter in his musical career.
When he started composing his own songs in Nepali his fortunes changed, although initially his fans wanted him to play Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix songs like before. Their first big hit was “Chaubandi Cholo” in 2000 followed by “Kanchinani Blues” and “Nahera Malai” among others. Their first album “Kalanki ko Jaam” was followed by “Bujhai Deu”, then “Dekhdai Chhu” and the fourth was, “Sadhai Bhari”. Mukti & Revival had arrived; they became famous nationwide and slowly their fame spread to the hills of Darjeeling and Sikkim where they are often invited to play at music festivals. Seeing a massive poster of Mukti and Bipul Chettri on a wall in Siliguri, India warmed my heart and I said silently, “You’ve made it dude!”
A Star is Born
Mukti soon became a household name and an inspiration to the younger generation that adore him. His mastery of the blues leaves many people entranced and he’s one of the few Nepali guitarists who hit those notes that instantly speak the language of the blues. And the tone of his Strat is a powerful ingredient in his music. But he does bring out his Gibson occasionally, as he did for their new album. That incidentally, was a clever move; the change of tone can change the color of the album. But Mukti is a clever hombre and shrewd in his dealings. With a massive following even in the diaspora, Mukti & Revival have toured around the world, visiting some countries a second time. They have enthralled audiences in Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, UK, US, Dubai, Shillong and Delhi. “We also did a tour for Rebuild Nepal that was raising funds after the earthquake of 2015,” says Shakya.
The current line-up of Mukti & Revival is Mukti on guitar & vocal, Sunit Kansakar on guitar (has been with the band for ten years), Roshan Kansakar on bass (since 1996) Nikhil Tuladhar on drums (the last six years). Their new album that was launched at Patan Museum on 25th May is entitled “Swatantra”, has a brand new sound with a saxophone, trumpet and tungna enriching the overall fabric. “It has a very different sound,” says Mukti. He looks forward to their next big gig which is the ‘Joon Festival’ in the UK on 22nd June 2019.