An Evening With Anil Shahi

Happening Issue 74 Jul, 2010
Text by Arina Sherchan

New is strange and may excite our senses, but there is com-fort in things old. We felt that way when we heard familiar tunes played and sung by Kathmandu’s Anil Shahi one evening in eaarly December. Actually, Anil’s music blends both old and new through his unique style of classical eastern fusion. Anil’s tunes are familiar because we’ve heard him before, but his ensemble’s melodious guitar, flute and tabla are something we were not as accustomed to hearing.

Anil started to play guitar at the age of 12. He took his first lessons from an uncle, and later attended a small gurukul, music school, in Varanasi, India, where he learned classical ragas. Since then he has performed over a hundred concerts with many famous musicians. Fortunately for us, Anil regularly plays on Friday nights at the Dolma Café on the south side of Thamel, as well as at the New Orleans Café in central Thamel and at Dwarika’s Hotel in Battisputali.

We heard him play one weekend in early December at the Dolma Café—Anil on guitar along with Binaya Maharajan on flute and Pritam Rai on tabla. Their rhythmic tunes were clear and playful, sometimes accompanied by Anil’s his deep mellow voice.

At the Dolma, the musicians sat comfortably on the rooftop terrace stage, close to the audience. Many musicians here like to interact and be reached by their admirers. Anil Shahi converses easily with his audience, sometimes inviting a talented singer from among them to join in. Our comments and dedications were taken up by them and the easy interaction put everyone at ease. The Dolma Café has two levels.
The downstairs is a café, for eating, while the upstairs, partly enclosed and partly an open terrace, is where the action is at night. The night we went was cold, but a fond and warm sensation was created by an open fire. Many restaurants, bars and pubs in Kathmandu burn charcoal and wood fires to keep their customers warm. When friends get together around the fire, their faces burn hot and red, and afterwards the scent of smoke on your sweater evokes a fuzzy feeling. The music, of course, was the main attraction and we found ourselves warmed by both, as we swayed to the music’s charm.

If you haven’t heard Anil Shahi’s fusion tunes, you’ve missed one of the great musical treats of Kathmandu. We have heard cover versions (someone else’s tunes) and originals (the artist’s own) in many genres, and there is no doubt that they are fine and serve their intended purpose of giving the music lover a contented heart. But, if you are in a mood to enhance and expand your musical experience, hearing Anil’s music will do it.

The clear tunes are basically classical but there is a special charm in how they come off his guitar: romantic, dreamy and playful. Classical eastern fusion is his musical specialty, combining modern and classical in a well-tuned balance. With some songs the absence of lyrics is fine, but to others Anil’s singing gives added enchantment. You can focus on the music, probing its intricacies, or it can be listened to while conversations flow, as a melodious backdrop to a memorable evening with friends and loved ones.

A word about the Dolma Café. Thirty-six year old Sanjeev Barsingh Thapa is the owner. Recently on the Travel and Living TV channel, two young 30-year olds remarked that they felt it was not a good idea to open a bar at their age. To the contrary, however, their bar is successful and they obviously enjoy running it—and so does Sanjeev at the Dolma, especially when he treats his patrons to such a fine musical evening.

Contact the Dolma Café, Thamel, at 421.5069 or 421.5569