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Kanta Dab Dab: Distilling the sounds of the Valley

Sunny Mahat

Sunny Mahat

Kanta Dab Dab: Distilling the sounds of the Valley

The name and the eponymous debut album of the band “Kanta Dab Dab” is rooted in the mystical and mythical Newari traditions its members grew up in (Photo: Pritam Chhetri)

To confine Kanta Dab Dab to a restrictive genre like “fusion” or “classical” or any other broad term would be to undermine the vast talent of this trio of versatile musicians. For Kanta Dab Dab’s music encapsulates no less than the tradition, culture and musicality of the livelihood of the Kathmandu valley.

Sunit Kansakar on sitar, Rizu Tuladhar on bass and Nikhil Tuladhar on drums/percussions, all in their early 40s now, are childhood friends. With over two decades of acquaintance and playing together, their friendship has in time blossomed into strong kinship, which shows in their music. Kanta Dab Dab performs and sounds like a single unit—a magical jukebox playing unique sounds.  

The name and the eponymous debut album of the band (released in 2016) “Kanta Dab Dab” is rooted in the mystical and mythical Newari traditions its members grew up in. The band is named after a character called “Kanta Dab Dab” that emerges during Newari jatras (festivals). The mythological character, dressed in red, never speaks but it is the sound that it makes with its instruments that fascinates everyone, and hence he is named after the sound.

 

The band takes pride in the fact that it is respected around the world solely for its music

So how does Kanta Dab Dab compose music? “Nikhil is our power house,” Sunit says. “He comes up with unique rhythms and beats inspired by ethnic Newari music, upon which we improvise and create our music.” But it is not only rhythm and beats, Nikhil adds. “Our music is the soul of the environment we grew up in. We are influenced by our cultures, traditions and the colorful livelihood of the Kathmandu Valley.”

Traditional Newari dhime groups practicing in their neighborhoods, the sounds of the various jatras, the stories and folklores in their communities—they all inspire Kanta Dab Dab. “Our music is an interpretation of the themes we take from our lives and the surroundings,” Rizu adds.

Explaining Kanta Dab Dab’s music to someone new is rather difficult. (Hence we took a video of them performing live to compliment this article). On paper, Kanta Dab Dab’s music is a methodical juxtaposition of ethnic Newari folk music and classical music of the South Asia fused with the Western influences of blues, funk, rock, jazz and Latin music. Sans vocals, their songs are not confined to words but still, each tells a story, interpreted in their own way by a vigilant listener. Seeing the band perform live is like watching an ancient conjurer hypnotize his audiences with mesmerizing tricks, one after the other. “Anyone who’s a dreamer and can dream when listening to music will love our music,” says Rizu. Adds Nikhil, “We once had someone from the audience come and tell us that our music intoxicated him. A comment we took as a compliment.”

But what the band does not take as a compliment happened once on their Japan tour. “A Japanese man came and talked to us after the show and told us that although he had seen many musicians from Nepal, he was surprised to find someone who can have a rational conversation and this level of skills with their instrument,” Rizu recalls. “Although it was meant as a compliment, we felt embarrassed. What kind of people represent Nepali music in the international community?” 

The band’s complaint is about the Nepali cultural troupes associated with various political parties who go as representatives of to Nepali music. Kanta Dab Dab has toured extensively in Europe and has also had performed in Uzbekistan and Japan. In Kathmandu and Pokhara, Kanta Dab Dab draw huge crowds, comprised of locals and expats alike, to its shows. 

The band takes pride in the fact that it is given respect and gratitude at international venues not because it is representing a poor third-world country but solely because of its music. “The West has by now seen numerous artists play the sitar or the tabala,” says Nikhil. “But our sound is completely new to them. They appreciate us for our music and not just because we play Eastern instruments or classical music.”

After the success of their nine-track debut album, the band is working on its new one. “There are challenges and it is not as easy as it sounds,” Sunit says. “Personally, I am trying to find new ways to break the sitar’s limitations. I cannot give the same sound to all songs without making them monotonous. So I am exploring with tones and technology for the new album.”

Rizu also feels challenged by the fact that his electric bass is the most modern instrument in the band. He uses a five-string bass to compensate for the instrument’s limited range. “But I found my originality playing bass with Kanta Dab Dab and we are determined to overcome these limitations to create new music,” he says.

Years of listening, learning, teaching, practicing, rehearsing and playing has seasoned the members of Kanta Dab Dab into the dexterous musicians they now are. With their commitment to making music, we can expect more original, organic compositions from them.

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