When you sit down for a conversation with her, she gives the vibe of a researcher who can’t wait to explain her findings—which she knows will make an impact on the audience. To be fair, she is no less of a researcher herself. At only 23, guitarist Adhishree Dhungana has researched almost every genre of music. Humble despite skills that would make any other professional musician conscious of their capabilities, Dhungana still sees herself as a student.
Music made its way into Dhungana’s life early, at the age of seven. “Nobody in my family is a musician but my uncle was a music enthusiast who could play the madal, flute, harmonium and a bit of guitar,” Dhungana says. “He inspired me to play”. The guitar was not her first instrument of choice though. She started with madal and then wanted to learn to play the drums. “But at that point in time, a drum-set was a huge investment and no one would make that investment for me. So I picked up a guitar which was just lying there at home,” she says.
Her journey with the guitar then took her into an exploration of the vast realm of music, and she feels she still has much to explore. “I want to formally study music now,” Dhungana, a self-taught guitarist, says. “I want to go abroad to study composition and performance.” Recalling the time she began learning music, she cites her older sister's iPod as her main music source. She found John Scofield and John Mayer interesting, among other musicians on the playlist, and began emulating them.
“Then my seniors also helped me a lot. Growing up and trying to learn guitar, I didn't even know who Jimi Hendrix was,” Dhungana says. “My seniors were like—Oh you don’t know Jimi Hendrix?—and gave me his music.” She continued learning from her seniors and peers and never had to take formal lessons to build her mastery.
As for family, as in the case of most aspiring musicians in the country, they were not very supportive in the beginning. There was this skepticism about her making a career in music, and that had little to do with her gender, she says. Her problem was, her family did not take her seriously when she told them she wanted to be a professional musician. It took time but things changed when she started earning from her music, and now her family has finally come around to supporting her career decision.
“Still, there were people who kept reminding me that this is just a hobby and not something I would want to study or commit to as a profession. Also, as I’m a girl, I shouldn’t be doing so many late nights,” she says, recalling the times when she played in Thamel as a teenager and was not taken seriously, even by some of her colleagues.
With a quiet, calm and collected personality, she did not do much to change people’s opinions. Then she started finding regular work as a guitarist, despite all the odds, and started making her own music too. Dhungana has now worked as a session guitarist in studios, mostly for jingles, and played with various musicians including the famous Bartika Eam Rai and the Bangalore-based folk rock band Gauley Bhai.
Inspired by international artists like Charlie Hunter, Spanky Alford and Emily Remler, to name a few, Dhungana also names US-based Nepali musician Diwash Gurung and guitarist Binayak Shah as her inspirations. Influenced by what she learns from them, Dhungana has in her recordings managed to create a unique sound for herself, which is audibly distinguishable.
The pandemic did alter her plans, but Dhungana admits she is privileged enough not have to depend on live shows for her living. “Still, it is something that I really miss. And I’d love to play live more for my sanity than for the money,” she says. At present, besides being involved in the folk fusion group Baaja, Dhungana is also working with a set of musicians to give shape to her original compositions. “We do not even have a name for it yet. We’re just testing the waters,” Dhungana says. “Hopefully we’ll get to play a few shows soon. This year I’m also looking forward to doing some solo shows with my own compositions.”