France and Germany during which they performed a total of 25 charity and professional concerts.
The three-man group kicked off their latest tour at London\'s Millennium Dome in early June,"It was splendid. We enjoy being among the few Nepalis spreading news about Nepal throughout the world," said Surendra Shrestha, a member of the band. After London, they moved on to France, where the 240 CD albums they were carrying got sold out. They wanted to fly over more CDs from back home, but, explains Surendra, who also doubles as the manager, "Nepal\'s tax department had some weird reason not to allow that."
Sur Sudha is perhaps the only Nepali band whose albums can be found at the world music sections of music stores in Hong Kong, Singapore and Europe. Their speciality is their unique blending of classical notes with melodious Nepali folk tunes.
The groups frequent international tours have popularised Nepali folk and semi-classical music among international audiences. But back home, the band is coming in for the kind of flak directed at anyone who becomes too popular too fast.
Purists say Sur Sudha plays weak classical compositions and improvised folk music, are not original and that fusing the two is an insult to both classical music and folk. The band has also been accused of selling its soul by performing at media events for big companies.
Sur Sudha\'s Prem Rana Autari doesn\'t seem all that worried by such criticism. "That is exactly where they are wrong. We are melodic bands. We combine classical and folk but that doesn\'t mean we are exploiting the genuineness of classical music," says the musician who is undoubtedly Nepal\'s most famous flautist.
Asked about their most memorable experience since they came together in 1987, the coy and ever-smiling sitarist Bijay Vaidya says it is the appreciation of international audiences. "Lively music awakens everyone. It reaches out to everyone."
The trio make a formidable combination. The most senior of them is Prem, whose sounds have been heard over Radio Nepal for decades. He\'s had experience working with orchestral ensembles in Bombay, and has also been through six years\' training under India\'s flute legend Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia.
With nine years in Radio Nepal and ten years at the Royal Nepal Academy, he is a professional known for his breath-defying solos. "There was always an urge to be on my own. After we formed this band and started playing we were like free birds. Appreciation from many different people from many parts of the world has inspired me most," says Prem.
Bijay has been playing the sitar since he was 16. He trained under Nepali sitar maestros Mamta Pradhan and Tara Bir Singh Tuladhar."I\'m in love with the sitar," he says, a fact that anyone can see when he is in concert. He infects the whole atmosphere with his love and as he sways with the rhythmic build up of the music, the audience can\'t help but sway along. Surendra is the percussionist. On the tabla since eight, he learnt under Raju Agrawal and Horn Nath Upadhyaya in his early days. He finally turned professional after training under Pandit Chhotelal Mishra of India. "Music is my soul. It has been my best companion, my enlightenment and happiness," he says. "While playing the tabla I can actually experience the building up of energy in my fingers. This instrument is the pulse of our soul."Sur Sudha was the first Nepali group to record a CD album in Nepal. Since their debut with "Images of Nepal", there have been 11 more CDs. By now, they have played in every continent (except Antarctica), but it is in Germany and France where they have travelled the most.
They have also raised a fair bit of money for charity from their concerts. For instance, the proceeds of the European tour will go for the welfare of Nepali children. What that amount is, however, will be known only after the European organisers send the money over.
The group has recently begun a music school called the Sur Sudha Music Academy to train the younger generation. Their dream, as they put it, "is that everyone in this country understand and feel the richness of our culture and heritage through music."
It is perhaps in keeping with their ideals that Sur Sudha has been bringing well-known foreign artistes to an increasingly appreciative Kathmandu audience. The Hari Prasad Chaurasia-Zakir Hussain performance a couple, of years ago (for which Sur Sudha was the opening act) was a huge success. Now they are working to organise a concert by famed Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali in late August.