The hypnotic music takes over the crowd and people on the floor start to move their body to the rhythm, lost in the musical trance. And there she stands tall on the stage, keeping every tune in mind, mixing the beats, and controlling the crowd below. Payal Thapa aka DJ Payal is a known name in the Electronic Music scene and is considered the “First Professional Female DJ of Nepal”. “Music brings souls together and takes them on a journey beyond one’s fantasy, and a DJ’s job is to make that journey interesting,” says Payal. But it’s not just music she adds to life; she plays with colours to enhance beauty as well. She is also a certified professional makeup artist, who has honed her skill in Nepal and abroad. So how did her journey of adding music and colour begin.
For the love of music
Born and brought-up in Kathmandu, music had always been an integral part of Payal’s life. Surrounded by music loving and vinyl collecting parents, Payal grew up listening to soulful voices of Kishor Kumar, Asha Bhosle and other Gems of Indian Music Industry, “My parents love listening to music and so we too (she and her brother) grew up in an environment that appreciates music.” As she grew up, her taste in music changed gradually (all thanks to MTV era) and so did her passion for learning music. But learning any instrument was a far-fetched dream as she found herself unable to dedicate enough time to learning one, “but I always wanted to make a contribution to the music scene in some way.” During this time she was already hanging out with like-minded people who wanted to take music professionally. It was the year 2002 and she was getting the hang of Trance and House Music (highly influenced by DJ Astrix), and the clubbing scene of the Valley, when Stanton organised a DJ workshop she didn’t think twice before signing up for it. “I felt, instead of playing an instrument, I can at least mix music and create something as a contribution to the field I so loved,” she insists.
Learning DJing was not an easy ride either, “I literally cried on returning from the workshop for the first few days because it required dedication, commitment, and knowing every small function of the console.” She realised it was as tough as learning any musical instrument. “But this was something I was very fond of so I pulled myself together and gave my 100%, and gradually by the time the workshop ended out of 20-25 people, who were part of it, 4-5 went on to take DJing professionally and I am one of them.” Nevertheless, to reach where she is today took years of practice, patience, research, and commitment.
DJing as a profession is slowly flourishing but back then it was looked at as a hobby or as “just another new trend”, so how did she manage to stick it for so long? “Honestly, it was all for the love of music. When I started DJs were not paid that well (it is still not that good), I didn’t make much money and DJing is expensive, you need to have the best instruments, you need to research and buy music and you will spend lots of time listening and learning about new music trend. But when you see the crowd lose themselves on the floor when someone comes up to you and says your set worked as an epiphany for them, that satisfies your soul and that is what playing music is all about, for me.”
Born a rebel
“If you believe in something go for it. It won’t be easy but it will be worthwhile,” she says while talking about her struggle with her parents and relatives on taking DJing professionally. Though they were musically inclined spending time and money on this profession which was new to many, was not something they approved. “It’s an expensive hobby to start with and to take it professionally, it involves lots of late nights, travelling to different places and spending long hours practising, which they just didn’t get. They kept insisting I should take my studies seriously and get into a conventional profession.” But she didn’t give up and continued her journey which she had started to love and respect. All that changed when she won the runner-up title at War of DJs Nepal, in 2005. “Once I started to get recognition and my name came in the media, they saw I was being well received by my audience and that I am good at it, their perspective towards this changed.”
Not only did she convincing her family to accept her as a DJ, she also had to face the general perception of people here that women can’t be a good DJ, control the crowd or influence it. “It wasn’t easy. I used to be the only woman DJ in most of the events and it took lots of hard work and time to make everyone believe in what I believed. I feel we need more women in this field and to make that possible we have to create more work and encourage those who are interested,” says Payal.
Meant for make-up
It was the year 2010 and Payal had established herself as one of the most popular DJs in town and was playing in various venues and festivals when she realised she needed a change. “I loved music but I felt I needed a change and learn something that I had always been interested in – makeup,” she gushes. She decided to take a short break and go to India to learn professional Make-up. She enrolled herself at Electra Academy of Beauty and Arts in Mumbai and trained under Cory Walia, a known name in Bollywood and the Indian Fashion Industry. She assisted him for various events and bridal makeup and by the time she left the academy she found herself working for Make Up Forever. After working there for a year, she was approached by Chanel and for the next three years, Payal worked for the world renowned brand. “It was amazing. Working for Chanel and Make Up Forever helped me learn a lot about quality products and professional make-up,” says Payal who travelled to different countries for workshops conducted by Chanel.
Returning to her roots
Life in Mumbai was fast and stressful but she believes, “it was a very good time for her to grow professionally”. And even during that time she had not left music and was “playing at clubs in Mumbai and Pune but mostly for private parties.” In 2015, she returned home for a much-needed break and that was when the devastating earthquake struck. “It was the time when everyone of us felt we need to be here and do what we can to help rebuild whatever we lost to the earthquake.” After helping out with the immediate need of the situation, Payal took a step back to reconsider her return to India. “I felt it was time for me to return home for good,” she shares.
Living in the moment
In 2016, Payal decided to set up her own make-up studio and thus Stellaria, The Make-up Studio was born. She has worked with magazines like WOW and been part of various Photoshoots and music videos as a makeup artist. She has continued her musical journey by playing at some of the most popular clubs around town and at various musical festivals. She is currently taking Music Production course at 909 Academy, “after being a DJ for over a decade I feel that need to push myself further, thus I decided to take music production course and come up with my own music in the near future,” she says. She is also working as Artist Manager at PLUR Events Nepal. “This is an event and artist management company started with some of my friends who are also in the same field. We are working hard to bring more international act in Nepal, send Nepali artists abroad, and give artists the recognition and payment they deserve. In Nepal, we still feel that DJs are not being paid what they are worth. Event organisers make money but they are still hesitant to give a good cut to the DJs who are the actual crowd puller, so through PLUR we are working on equal pay and exposure,” she says.
Spiritually inclined, Payal does not give importance to religion but believes in universal love. “I am a Shiva bhakta but not a very religious person. I believe in kindness and integrity. We are all here for a very little time, if we can make the best of it and make some positive change in the life of everyone we come across and that is my religion. I am trying to do everything possible through skills I have and with all the passion I can come up with. You live once, make a difference in every small way you can.”