The first question I ask him is the question he hates the most, but still keeps getting asked. “I’ve never liked talking about my age,” musician Jyoti Ghimire says, “makes me feel old.” But being nice to me as we go back a long way, he offers a hint: “I retired from government service a couple of years ago, so now you can guess.”
That’s how talking to Jyoti Ghimire is. He doesn’t command respect because of his seniority. He doesn’t seek admiration because he’s a few generations older than many musicians today. With him, everyone is friends and age is just a number in official documents. “The only thing that hints of my age is my balding head. Otherwise, playing guitar for 3 to 4 hours a day keeps my youth intact,” Ghimire adds with a laugh.
Ghmire is a singer, songwriter and guitarist who has been playing music for almost four decades, and his musical journey is still finding new avenues. With an unaccounted number of concerts around the country and abroad, and almost 200 recordings with various artists, Ghimire still pursues music, learning new things every day and evolving. “From bhajans to the blues, I have played and still play everything,” he says.
Born and brought up in Kathmandu, the sounds of the guitar in Bollywood music is what first drew Ghimire to the instrument. He spent hours listening to music by RD Burman and the likes, trying to figure out the guitar parts. “Then I was introduced to English songs and things took a different turn,” says Ghimire while recalling the first English tune he learnt—“El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” by Simon and Garfunkel.
And then, Deep Purple happened! When Ghimire first listened to the iconic rock group, he not only drew inspiration from them, but decided to take up music seriously. “You can’t imagine the number of times I rewound and forwarded cassette tapes to learn their music,” he says. In the late 70s when technology was limited and internet unavailable, tape recorders and cassette players were the starting musician’s only friends, adds Ghimire. He says he listened to Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” thousands of times to learn it by ear.
But with no knowledge of the instrument whatsoever, Ghimire resorted to learning guitar by carefully observing other guitarists play live. “I used to go to gigs and watch my seniors play the songs I knew. I picked up a lot that way,” he says.
Basically self-taught, Ghimire’s first show was on 10 March 1983. He remembers the exact date from a concert flyer he has preserved of his debut performance. Then began his career as a professional guitarist, covering Western music in whichever small venues that had live music at the time. He worked with multiple bands including Kathmandu Katz, Grandslam, Legend and then Prism, which still exists.
“Then I realized there was more money to be made playing with Nepali pop artists and also began working with them in the studio, and as a backing guitarist for live shows,” adds Ghimire. He went to work with the likes of Phatteman and Deep Shrestha to Sanjeep Pradhan and Nima Rumba, recording and playing live with them. His guitar-work can be heard prominently in Pradhan’s “Deurali ko Chautari” and Shrestha’s “Ma ta Dur Dekhi Aaye.”
Ghimire’s career as a singer/ songwriter began much later though. “I was not a singer actually but I did some backing vocals with the bands and as I progressed, I decide to make some of my own music,” he says. Ghimire’s debut album “Dordee” released in 2001 propelled him as a singer with the songs “Maski Maski” and “Baljhiyo Feri” becoming instant hits. He followed the album with “Evolution” in 2004 featuring the songs “Nashalu Timro Ankhaile” and “Anjaan Timi”, both of which are now classics.
Although he comes from a time when the radio and television were the only source of new Nepali music, Ghimire has now adapted to the changing platforms for sharing music and continues to release singles on YouTube and various other internet media. “Timi Aiayinau,” his latest release, is already winning praises from fellow musicians and listeners alike.
For now, Ghimire wants to play live music and write his own songs. No more studio sessions for other composers, he says. “I plan to re-release some of my old songs that didn’t get much exposure and also a few new singles,” he says. “Who knows? I could come up with another album too.”
Ghimire is also the Annapurna Celebrity for the month of Poush. You can listen to Radio Annapurna 94.0 for programs featuring him.