“Making soldiers, empowering girls through a platform where they are taught to take more space on the stage both literally and metaphorically; music is the best way,” says Abhaya Subba Weise, the woman behind ‘Women in Concert’. Since 2003 this event has clinched a place for itself in the Nepali calendar of musical events.  ‘Women in Concert’ hxas always had a special place in the minds of the youth. Held on the open grounds of Lainchaur on International Women’s Day, 8th March, 2016 WOMEN in CONCERT 2016: TALENT HUNT created a storm and the participants rocked the stage. 

With the support of the Embassy of Switzerland in Nepal, The Talent Hunt edition of Women in Concert used this opportunity to raise issues of violence against women, the current cases of rape and deaths of women in Butwal and Pokhara. 

Migme, an Australia based social networking company provided the prize money and also sponsorship to make the video and song recording for the winner. Lita Stone foundation has provided the prize money for the runner up and second runner up of the contest. Nirbhaya Manch celebrated International Women’s Day by creating opportunities for young women performers and spreading the message of gender equality and women’s rights.

Conceptualized and organized by Subba, who is one of the most well-known celebrities in Nepal, Women in Concert was initially held as a fundraiser and featured recognized as well as fresh artistes, but mostly privileged women. In 2014, Subba who also serves as the president of the Nirbhaya Manch and founder of Women in Concert  took the concert to greater heights with the help of UNICEF, UN Women, and UNFPA. In the same year 21 artists performed on stage, which was enhanced with workshops and auditions taking place in Butwal and Pokhara. Fresh talents performed alongside established stars such as Nattu Shah and Ani Choying Drolma. Fusing new performers and established artistes helped Women in Concert reach out to a much larger crowd which was more versatile. 

The process to select three winners for this year was long and tedious with several challenges in between. The preliminary audition process itself lasted for a whole week and 12 performers were chosen from 140 participants. Much like the versatile crowd that attended the show the participants too were vibrant and from all over Nepal, including two all girls bands and ten were singer/songwriters. 

Sunita Thegim the first runner up who moved to Kathmandu from Ilam for her studies had an interesting journey regarding her association with the concert. “My overall experience has been outstanding as Women in Concert happened to me by chance. I had done a cover song and my brother asked me to participate because Limbus had not been a part of the show before,” informs Thegim. She says her confidence skyrocketed after the audition and being groomed and mentored by Abhaya Subba was a privilege and she learnt a lot in the process. Along with being a musical performance, the platform is for women empowerment and several examples were used to develop the personalities of the singers. Women are encouraged to take the stage more and spread the message also through lyrics and not just through singing. Thegim who is 19 and has a touch of classical in her vocals performed Shanti Thatal’s ‘Sambhale Rakha’ on the day of the concert. “Women need to put themselves more out there; we are not treated equally and therefore a revolution needs to come. Music is a great platform as it is un- biased,” adds Thegim.

The show started at 2 pm and right from the start, despite the sun bearing down on them, the crowd was energetic and cheered loudly through the show. Sanjay Gupta and Khushboo Pradhan were the masters of ceremony who kept the crowd going. Sanjay who is also a media personality says, “The talent I saw today made me realize Nepal will see great female singers in the years to come and it’s always a good feeling being surrounded by powerful women.” The judges were Robin Tamang of Robin and the New Revolution and Abhaya Subba. 

The Talent Hunt had three winners, who are now being groomed professionally by Nirbhaya Manch for Women in Concert. Winner of the show Megha Shrestha, a 21-year-old Kathmandu resident giggled and smiled throughout the concert even before she knew she would win. She confesses she was nervous beyond measure when she had gone for the audition. “I am not a trained singer, nor do I know any instruments, and from what I had known it was a tough competition.  My friend had asked me to participate but I was quite skeptical. When I reached the site I was thrilled. The way girls were helping each other, cheering and completely dedicated to giving their best. This gave me encouragement and strength,” she exudes. She goes on to add that the support received from judges especially from Subba was overwhelming and says she feels she was fortunate to have been mentored by someone like her. Shrestha sang an original song written with the help of her mother called ‘Parichey’, which is about finding oneself in the journey of life while helping others along the way. Like many 21-year-olds she attends St. Xavier’s college and is full of life. She walked away with a cash prize of 50,000 along with a song and music video recording opportunity.

For the women who were a part of the show, the journey has only begun. Migme is signing all twelve acts as their partner artistes from Nepal. The three winners are also geared to perform for Kumari Bank at the end of the month. The revelation of the day was Kanchan from House of Hope. At 11 she strums her orange guitar and plays the flute and has a perpetual twinkle in her eye. Brimming with confidence and dressed boldly in black were five Newar girls calling themselves Shree Tara, an instrumental band. These girls play instruments that are traditionally played by men,sending out a strong message of breaking stereotypes. Along with providing a platform for women to showcase their talent, migme was impressed by Nepal being one of the few countries in the world that has a national Holiday on Women’s Day.

The ground was packed with music lovers from all walks of life and one of the girls dressed in a pink t-shirt wearing a black bandana declared, “We need to break stereotypes. The fight is within women, we need to develop a sense that we are equal and can do the same thing that men do if we change mindsets and uplift each other”.

Ishara Chamling, 18, the second runner up had an interesting story of how she reached the stage of the final performance. Her original band called Amartya did not get selected. That meddled with her confidence thoroughly and she found it even harder to perform during the audition. But something that has been heard time and again: the help and assistance provided by Abhaya Subba. Chamling says after her own band was eliminated the organizers provided a strong backup band for her and they put in hours of practice. As she works in a consultancy she adds, “Time management was a hassle for me but Abhaya made things as smooth as possible, not just for me but for everyone else too. She was working around the clock and literally taking care of everything along with the show and preparing the participants.”Chamling performed “Akancha” an original song she had writen some time back. There was pin drop silence as she sang and the audience was  deeply moved by her performance.  

The crowd loved the line up of singers, which was a colorful mix of bands, solo artistes, male performers, teenagers and young women. Other thoroughly enjoyable performances were by Sanjima Lama and Pramila Rai who with her song Maya Jaal engaged and wooed the audience completely. Parivartan, the original rap lyrics by Nisha Bhatta was an apt addition to the significance of the day – empowerment. The place was beaming with confident girls who supported and cheered each other. 

The star of the evening was definitely Abhaya Subba who spent 42 days of intense training with the girls. With a limited, stipulated budged the challenges she had on hand were many. Abhaya has brought an unprecedented change in the Nepali music industry and set the bar high. Her constant advice to the girls was,“Don’t be a man or a woman, go there as a person and be yourself.” She also added that she’s had a lot of good times, fun and support from the people around her and wants the same for gen next!