Rohit Shakya is definitely not a new name for those who are well acquainted with the Nepali music industry, but we take a look at the man who has evolved through the years to become a producer from a musician and so much more. Samyam Shrestha spent a day with this talented man and has put out for us to see what it is like in a day in his life.
Only a few musicians from his generation can match the flair of the young and vivid Rohit Shakya. ‘I am not a prodigy as you call me,’ he says modesty, but I insist that he has always been one. At the age of 27, he is at the forefront of the vibrant non-commercial music scene of Nepal, a musician, an audio engineer and a producer, to a music video director. But what cannot Rohit Shakya do that he wishes he could, I’m quick to ask. ‘Oh, I wish I were good at break dancing,’ he reveals perkily. Shakya is, at the end of the day, a cool bloke, his personality balanced between the gleams of solemnity and absorbing amusement, with a tinge of reticence.
We are at Fuzz Factory Productions, the site where few of the premium Nepali music videos were produced, from Astha Tamang Maskey’s to Rohit John Chettri’s. The room we are in is pretty spacious for the three of us including Factory’s photographer Prasiit Sthapit who is doing some video editing, and for the imposing paraphernalia needed for their job. The computer screens are replete either with green sound waves on black backgrounds or with the splinters of the video being edited. It is his upcoming music video featuring Astha Tamang Maskey. On one of the screens is the gorgeous young lady embellished in a snow white gown, in a lush green backdrop. ‘We shot it yesterday at Ranibari, Lazimpat,’ shares Rohit. Sthapit occasionally demands Rohit’s comments on the video’s details, on which he gladly and conscientiously gives his thoughts. It is clear; he is doing what he loves doing the most.
‘My musical endeavor started pretty long ago when I was in school,’ he shares as he struggles reminiscing, ‘My first performance was when I was 14, in a band. I was the bassist. It was the debut show for all of us, so we were all pumped up. I remember we even rented a safa tempo to get to the gig venue,’ he chuckles. ‘Actually I told my mom that I was going to my friend’s to study, only to be yelled at later after she found out the truth.’ The young rockers who played their first gig together included few who would later become renowned musicians, including Bibhushan Basnet (of Atomic Bush and Night fame), and Abhishekh Bhadra. In due course, Rohit became a part of numerous musical projects playing varied genres from Baking Space Cake to Holocaust, and Jindabaad to Topi. However, his career since then has also forayed and transgressed in many directions. He joined Rec Records in 2008, doing mixing and mastering of songs.
‘That was when I met Astha. She had just arrived from Canada, and was looking for musicians to play with. That’s how my debut production happened, after we decided to establish an in-house independent production company/label to market her first album. At the same time, my friend Prasiit joined us and we commenced making videos just as hobbyists. Jindabaad’s first video “Rewind” went viral, and we have not stopped since. However, it wasn’t only music videos that interested us, but we wanted to explore many different forms of multimedia including photography, documentaries, music production, sound design, film sounds, web designing, etc. That is how Fuzz Factory Productions came to be.’
Finally the sun in the sky makes me feel that Dashain has come,’ he grins, as sunrays penetrate the scarlet window curtains lighting the entire room. ‘This Dashain will be a frantic one though. Jindabaad’s got shows coming, and we haven’t practiced much yet.’ (The supergroup played its first show in two years in October at the Silence Festival.) ‘When Jindabaad started out, we were mostly free. But now everyone has their own job and priorities,’ he laments. Then pausing briefly and musing shallowly, he amends himself, ‘Maybe it is just a self-excuse to cover our slothfulness. I admit that we have been very lazy lately. Maybe, for one thing, we haven’t been able to push ourselves very well.’
Jindabaad’s ride has not been very smooth. Soon after the release of their debut EP ‘Plastic Heart’ in 2011, Rohit left for Bangkok for an audio engineering course for a year and a half. After his return, their keyboardist, Abhishekh Bhadra left for the UK, and eventually their bassist, Rajan Shrestha, too quit. What concerns him now is the direction in which Jindabaad is heading. ‘Firstly, we are becoming more mature, and it should reflect on our music. That’s our foremost challenge now: to rediscover our sound. And secondly, it would do no justice to Jindabaad if we add new members to fill their old spots. Jindabaad was our brainchild, and so we should reshape it ourselves.’
However, in the supergroup, also comprising the guitar whiz Sunny Tuladhar and Kiran Shahi, isn’t there any ego clash that arises? ‘Ego is inevitable,’ he instantly replies, ‘but we take it as a positive competition to improve ourselves. Anyway, more than anything, I feel relaxed when I come together with my band mates.’
Before I met Rohit Shakya for the first time, I remember, I had in mind a set of pictures of his as seen on Facebook and while seeing his bands live – from the Baking Space Cake era mohawker to the appearance a la Matthew Bellamy in Jindabaad and everything in between – one unwaveringly different from and contradictory to the other… may be different angles or dimensions of a multifaceted man. But now, years later, what I see in him is a convergence of all those images blended with a robust glow of maturity.
‘It would have been easier for me to answer your questions through the internet. When I try to put it verbally, I get lost,’ he confesses.
‘But I think it also helps you remember many things as you speak, does it not?’
He nods, smiling, as he takes up a beige acoustic guitar slanted against the wall beside him, and starts strumming some gentle tunes.
‘Sometimes I think that if I were not a musician, I would still be doing something related to music.’ He recalls his college-going days, when all he could see in the books was a ballet of musical notations. ‘With a couple of back papers of BBS, I never actually bothered to reappear for the exams.’
However, the journey with music has been rewarding, he admits. ‘One of the fun things about being a musician is that you get to travel around a lot (…which he recently experienced in his tour to the UK, Australia and Sikkim with Astha Tamang Maskey). I realized during the tour that, in whatever I am doing, I am doing great. People know you and your music, they sing with you, and scream the song titles; that’s an amazing feeling!’
He then tells me about his foray into making movie scores lately, having composed music for five films, including VISA and Kabaddi. So what’s the difference between making music for your own projects and making music for others with their requirements in mind? ‘When I make music for others, it is mostly their ideas merely manifested by my skills. It’s a different process and experience altogether,’ he puts, ‘I think, being a musician, one should explore various dimensions of songwriting, so I should be musically flexible. Sometimes I even get item songs to compose, which is not really my forte, but I should be able to do it anyway.’
‘For a man who has directed some of the best recent Nepali music videos and who believes in telling stories in a more unconventional way (such as Topi videos), how has his experience of being a music video director been? ‘For me, it has never been a one man job, but a team effort. The experience so far has been a steep learning curve and by each new project we are exploring new techniques and ideas. When I’m working on my music it always creates a visual representation inside my mind. So the real struggle is the journey from the mind to the reality of finally making that into a full-fledged audio-video experience.’
The guitar tunes get mellower and my scribbles go more absurd, as his answers permeate my notebook. The increasing absence of empty spaces on it reminds me that we are nearing the end. So, I ask him again, apart from breakdancing, what is that one thing that he feels he is bad at? This time he answers without preamble, ‘Nepali music and instruments. I do not have much familiarity with them, although our musical history is glorious. I wish I knew more about it. I think it will become important later in your career.’
But he specifies, ‘However, it does not mean that you need Nepali instruments to give that Nepalipan flavor to your songs. Your surroundings will certainly come into play to do that. Jhaulkaunai pardaina jhalkaune vanera, aafai jhalkihalchha.’
Then he adds one more. ‘Another thing is that, when I occasionally listen to my old songs especially when I have creative block, it upsets me even more, because then I realize that my music used to be so pure once, and now it is not,’ as he carefully analyzes the tunes of one of his songs being played. ‘Talking about creative blocks, I really feel I am unable to pen down songs these days like I used to,’ he adds another as he smiles.
The tunes go mellower now, this time of Rohit’s music video being played. We march towards the computer screens, and Rohit and Prasiit start exchanging video-editing jargon, all of which seem pretty incomprehensible to me, I'm just mesmerized by the young lady in snow white, and the lush green backdrop.