Q&A with Nepali blues musician Prakash "Slim" Pokharel - Delta, Country, Gospel and Roots from Kathmandu

"Blues music as the voice of an oppressed and exploited people. Blues developed from the urge of the slaves to express their culture, heritage and mostly their emotions. The blues developed as a response to African Americans deeply traumatizing experience of slavery and the dehumanization."

Prakash Slim: Crawling In The Blues

Nepali blues musician Ram Prakash Pokharel aka Prakash Slim is not only doing research in Blues music but also teaching Blues in schools. He is also an international affiliated artist and scholar of the Blues – Mt. Zion Memorial Fund Mississippi, USA. He is currently working as a music teacher in Vidhya Sanskar School, New Baneshwor, Kathmandu. His talent of playing Delta, Country, Gospel and Roots is really amazing and which will surely inspire the new generation. Involvement in Musical Band: 2012 – 2015 in “THE PLUS Band” as a Lead Guitarist and Vocalist / 2008 to 2010 in “The Black Hawk Nepal” as a Rhythm Guitarist / 2004 – 2010 in “The Sound of Music” as Guitarist and Bassist. Education: Intermediate Level in Management (Tribhuban University, 2000) / Junior Diploma in Vocal (Prayag Sangeet Samiti, Allahabad, 2005-2006).

International Achievement: Member of International Singer -Songwriters Association, Georgia, USA / Music is being heard in different countries in the western world Featured in Mt. Zion Memorial Fund History video “You Got to Move” by Mississippi Fred McDowell on Mt. Zion Memorial Fund’s page or on YouTube (Prakash Slim Pokharel) / Selected for Creative Musicians Retreat program 2015 with 75 % financial assistance – The Walden School California, USA. Blues Mentorship Program: Under Tj Wheeler (Jazz, Blues and Roots - related musician and educator, USA). Workshop: 'Teaching Music Effectively" by U.S. Cultural Envoy, Dr. Gene Aitken. Publication: Mentioned in America's first and leading Blues Magazine - Living Blues / Autobiography published in Yuwa Hunkar (yr 17 No.1) National Monthly Magazine.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues music and culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Well, Blues was born by working class African Americans in the Deep South of United States. Especially West African rhythm, culture, harmonic tension, dance etc. are the roots of the Blues. Lyrical content in the prewar blues such as farming, gambling, economic depression, floods and drought are less common in the post war Blues. Sexual worries and Relationship woes are focused in post war Blues.  When we think about the blues, slavery and racial discrimination are comes to the mind and these are the main fact and can be tracked to the dark days. Still we've been struggling for the food, social justice, education, health issues and other human exploitation. I was born into a family with very limited means in small family where the village saw the first electric bulb in 1983, 3 years after I was born. My mother told she had labor pain while working in the field and returned back to the home, made of mud and stone and gave birth to me. My father died when I was 2 years old. She didn't have money to buy clothes nor she have money to send us to the school. I went to a nearby public school, instead of bench and desks, we had mats made of straw.

My childhood was therefore a tragic story. I'd been listening Eric Clapton since 2000 A.D. When my village got internet in 2010, I started listening B.B. King and researching for the blues. However, my thirst of Blues had not been quenched. I was still yearning for something more. When I listen Delta, Country and Rag time Blues It feels so connected to my soul, to my essence, my soul starts singing. It is a sacred boon of African American people. Blues is poignant portrayal of the melancholy and pain in life that existed long long ago among the Afro Americans. That same magnitude of pain persists in Nepal today, forever fresh and alive.  In hearts of Nepalese, we can dig deep through layers and layers pain, pain felt by men who leave their families to work as laborers for minimal wages in the Arabian countries, pain felt by fathers whose sons leave homes as men and return as  corpses, pain felt by little children who miss their fathers,  pain felt by mothers whose motherhood couldn't save her children from dying of simple disease like diarrhoea, the pain that pierces that hearts of those bereaved families who lost their dear ones in civil wars, pain faced by those whose life is not the same again after the massive earth quake.

I feel the Blues music and culture understands the pain that dwells in our hearts. Blues is a music that lovingly sings our sad song. Today, most popular music played in the western world contains elements of the Blues. Blues music and culture was influenced by the modernist discourse, which called for rejection of many traditions,  patterns and values of the past including the African spirituality and culture of the myth, in favor of embracing rationalism and the consumption of various entertainment and art. Blues can be played with the simple instruments and it’s a deep expression of human nature. So Blues music and culture has influenced me a lot and been the way of my life.

"Music of Nepal refers to the various musical genres played and listened to in Nepal. With more than fifty ethnic groups, and highly diverse. Western musical genres like Rock, Metal, Hip Hop, Rap and R & B also regularly feature on the Nepalese music charts. Most of the musical bands are based in the (Capital city) Kathmandu Valley. Musical genres from Tibet and India have greatly influenced Nepalese music."

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people? What was the hardest part of being a Blues musicians in Nepal?

I can learn so many things from blues people. Early blues player were the poets of their day, channeling their words of truth through music. Different voice quality, guitar skills such as bottleneck sliding, dampening, slapping, brushing strings, phrasing, lyrical content and the pattern they created. Prewar and post war blues creations. I am very much influenced by Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Son House, Bukka White, Fred McDowell, Muddy Waters and many other legends. Ah, still it’s very hard for us. Only the few blues bands are here. People don't know little about the blues. No pubs and restaurants for blues players. As a first prewar blues musician I feel it’s very hard to say this, blues is still new for our people.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues researches? Where does your creative drive come from?

I think without knowing the root we can't get succeed in any field. Our generation is just playing Blues rock and we are saying it’s the Blues, which is rapidly growing in the world and it’s a big problem. If I wouldn't research about the Blues how could I know the Delta, Country, Rag time and its sub genres. When we know the history, it will be very easy to play any kind. Without knowing origin, culture, tradition, it will be a blind horse. I love blues music; their culture and it has become my life now. History making me strong in every step in the Blues. Well, It’s very important question. Social issues, problems, humanity, poverty, health, natural disaster are the main content for me.

How do you describe your songbook and sound? Are there any memories from gigs and school lessons which you'd like to share?

Well, I am just crawling in the Blues. I am trying my best as I sing with my earthy voice and prewar sound. I cannot teach blues in the schools cause we have to teach popular children song. But when I get time, I closed the door and give them lesson and it took me to the Living Blues so I got mentioned.

"I miss earthy raw sound. Purity of the lyrics. Depth of the Blues. I hope for the purity and depth of blues. I wish we could be able to preserve blues and spread all over the world. If we not preserve the blues and its culture, we could lose one day." (Photo: Prakash Slim teaching in his school class)

Make an account of the case of the blues in Nepal. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

As I know the history of the Blues in Nepal is more than two decades. But still we have only the few blues bands are here. Only the small mass of people know about the blues. I must say its limited. People are not much familiar with bottleneck slide blues so they become very curios to know about this pattern. I am trying my best "keeping the pre war blues alive", Teaching blues & its history to the kids (BITS/ Blues In The Schools on youtube).

Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of local folk music and traditional forms?

Music of Nepal refers to the various musical genres played and listened to in Nepal. With more than fifty ethnic groups, and highly diverse. Western musical genres like Rock, Metal, Hip Hop, Rap and R & B also regularly feature on the Nepalese music charts. Most of the musical bands are based in the (Capital city) Kathmandu Valley. Musical genres from Tibet and India have greatly influenced Nepalese music.

Dohori is a Nepali folk song usually sung by two teams of men and women originated in rural areas of Nepal in late 1960. It's in the form of question and answer (like call and response) where a team sings a question and the opponent replies through equally lyrical impromptu couplet and vice versa. And the "Madal" is use mainly for Rhythm keeping in Nepalese folk music and is the most popular and widely used as hand drum in Nepal.

Gandarva or Giane caste is known as which members are famous for singing the song of National legacy, Historical, Praising the King, Prime Ministers, National heroes and Nation as well. In ancient time they travelled from village to village and raise income by their singing with their own instrument called "Sarangi".

"I would go to the Mississippi "The land where the Blues began" to meet the blues people. I would spend whole day with blues people where I could learn so many things about the Blues. I would love to know its history and culture because my soul is attached with the blues and want to spread Blues all over the world. I don't have any moto in my life besides blues." (Photo: Prakash Slim, Kathmandu Valley)

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss earthy raw sound. Purity of the lyrics. Depth of the Blues. I hope for the purity and depth of blues. I wish we could be able to preserve blues and spread all over the world. If we not preserve the blues and its culture, we could lose one day.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Purity of music. Purity can be gained by its history, tradition, depth of the content and right evaluation.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, spiritual, and socio-cultural implications? 

Blues music as the voice of an oppressed and exploited people. Blues developed from the urge of the slaves to express their culture, heritage and mostly their emotions. The blues developed as a response to African Americans deeply traumatizing experience of slavery and the dehumanization. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, chants, field holders etc. So, the Blues was born with racial discrimination, slavery, spirituality and the culture. We cannot think blues without this reality so it's very impacted.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would go to the Mississippi "The land where the Blues began" to meet the blues people. I would spend whole day with blues people where I could learn so many things about the Blues. I would love to know its history and culture because my soul is attached with the blues and want to spread Blues all over the world. I don't have any moto in my life besides blues.

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