REBECCA VAN OMMEN
"If a desert tribe from Mali can come to London and mesmerise crowds of people with its music, why can't Nepali musicians do the same?"
Shubha Giri, founder of London-based ensemble Yak Attack, has a point to make. It's one he keeps coming back to. Nepalis need to recognise the depth and range of their own musical heritage, he says, and join the conversation taking place across cultures within the loosely defined genre known as 'world music'. Working together collectively, he wants to reach out to mainstream audiences in Nepal and abroad, promoting 'peace and harmony'. As anyone who has seen the Tuareg-Berger band Tinariwen perform, this is not as fanciful as it sounds.
Appropriately, the best advocate of Shubha Giri's mission is Yak Attack's music itself, now available on their debut EP Taal Sutra. With the circular guitar lines that chime through the opening bars of the band's rousing rendition of Nepali folk classic 'Hariyo Dadha Mathi',Yak Attack invites us to that conversation. It's one that reaches beyond the tired tropes of rock, easing us into the seamless blend of the familiar and unfamiliar achieved by the very best fusion.
Shubha acknowledges we have a long way to go. "There's this attitude Nepalis have – we think foreigners won't listen to our music because they don't understand it and won't be interested. So we don't listen to other music either, beyond MTV-derived American rock. We need to dig deeper – rock came from blues, and blues came from Africa, after all."
It's clear Yak Attack has been digging deep, and has built both musical and personal bridges across cultures. The self-declared "shape-shifting musical outfit built around a core of Afro-Asian rhythms" currently includes three Nepalis – Shubha and Gagan Thapa on guitar, and Allan Shrestha on drums – as well as other talents unearthed in the rich cross-fertilisation that is the London music scene, such as John Martin (saxophones) and Robyn Hemming (bass). Add world music veteran Dubulah to the mix, and you have a potent meld of Nepali folk rhythms and Afro-jazz sensibilities that practices just what Shubha preaches.
'Hariyo Dadha Mathi', with melodious guest vocals from Mongolian Heart's Raju Lama, is the obvious candidate to lead Yak Attack's EP. But one can't help but be uplifted by the unexpected Tamang selo that riffs through the track 'Tibet', interlaced with jazzy keyboard and guitar solos, and the unabashed funk blow-up of 'Be Free' makes one yearn for a live show in Kathmandu.
For now, Yak Attack is hoping Taal Sutra will generate demand for a full album to be released later this year. Following the EP's London launch on 25 February, Shubha will visit Nepal to catch up on musical developments and work on music videos. He is tireless in his collaboration with like-minded Nepali musicians, such as Cadenza and Lumbini groove's Pravin Chhetri, and hopes to record with pop star Nima Rumba. Far from feeling disadvantaged by his distance from Nepal, Shubha feels London offers him the opportunities – as a musician, producer and promoter – to bolster the reputation of Nepali music in novel ways.
"One way to start would be to get Nepalis living abroad into it," he says. "There's such a huge community of Nepali youth in London, and they have massive parties. But the promoters only think of club nights. So there they are, 2000 Nepali kids, listening to Rihanna all night long." He laughs. "I tell the promoters: Guys, we gotta mix it up a little!"
Shubha's energy is infectious, and Yak Attack provides ample evidence of his talent for collaboration. And his desire to see his compatriots get their act together: "People come to Nepal from all over the world to see our culture. But many Nepalis abroad are just doing their own thing, and don't see the need to come together. If we're talking of New Nepal and all that," he concludes, "we just need to snap out of this culture of bullshit."