News Column

Divas in jazz

June 13, 2013


Nepal, June 13 -- My grandfather introduced me to jazz," shares Heyshe Dolma, sitting in the lounge of the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory, a music school nestled in a quiet Jhamsikhel alley. She's confident, and looks much older than her age-15. Last week, she and two other singers, going by the name 'Jazz Divas', performed their first gig together: jazz covers, Ella Fitzgerald and music by the band All My Friends had filled the upper floor of Moksh restaurant, as the audience kept piling in. Samsara Upadhyay, the second Diva, observes that although jazz has a growing independent following now, the commercial music industry in Nepal is completely different; while electronic music and dubstep are gaining popularity, jazz remains a niche.

"Not many people listen to jazz here," Heyshe concludes. She, like the other two, only started vocal practices at the Conservatory a few years ago, coming in on weekends in between school. But her grandfather was a pop critic in his younger days, and inspired her towards the kind of music she's now interesting in making. "Jazz is something that has always been a part of me," she says.

Anupama Sharma, the third member of the trio, has had more experience with music-at 24, she has trained under Subhani Mukhar and has previously performed at Attic, the House of Music and even the Sundance Festival. But the Divas was her first live experience with jazz. Her voice is soulful, very suited to jazz, notes Samsara.

"It was only after coming to KJC that I got into it," Anupama recalls. The other two agree and attribute KJC and its teachers for their interest in the genre.

Anupama's father used to perform at local radio competitions, and her uncle sang Newar folk songs. She herself was never interested in commercial Nepali music, and listened to bands no one had heard of. Heyshe's inspiration, on the other hand, aside from her grandfather, came from old black-and-white movies, with their rich music and dance.

Samsara, meanwhile, doesn't come from a musical background, but has always known she was interested in music. "I didn't really know a lot about jazz until someone said I had a voice for it," she elaborates. Pop and alternative music were always more her scene and she listened to bands like Green Day. Now though, she pulls out deep, husky renditions of Ella Fitzgerald. "She can go quite high," comments Heyshe. Like Heyshe, Samsara is also young, only 16.

Although not an official band as such, the Divas are already considering future concerts together. But nothing is set in stone yet. "We might introduce new divas," Samsara adds, emphasising that neither the line-up nor the trio itself is permanent. It is just a beginning, the girls say, though one that might, in time, take a more serious direction-perhaps an eventual album together. "That'd be fun!" Heyshe responds enthusiastically.

For now, though, they are not thinking of original songs. Anupama has had some experience with What the Funk, a Nepali band she used to sing for, though she jokingly clarifies, "Songwriting is not my thing." And the other two feel it's too early a stage to release originals.

Still, some plans are in mind. Heyshe has recently started piano classes, and had a brief affair with guitars which she might pick up again. "I just strum," she jokes. Samsara plays the guitar too, and Anupama used to. Nowadays Anupama is also training to be a teacher- though she notes that you can't really learn how to teach-but after a three-month long intensive course, she's hoping to begin classes in July.

Her family, she admits, gets a little worried when she begins focusing too much on music. But it doesn't look like they will have complaints-having recently graduated from St Xavier's College in Mumbai in Economics and Statistics, she seems determined to fulfil both her passions: becoming a development economist and a musician. For the other two, it's too soon to be thinking of careers, but they want to keep studying.

In the meantime, they're hoping to continue performing. Anupama is confident onstage thanks to her experience, and Samsara and Heyshe, although new, aren't held back either.

"Every time I perform, there's just this feeling-" Heyshe begins, and Samsara completes her thought, "-that I want more!"

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