The ‘Harmonium Musicals and Sports’ store at Khichhapokhari, better known as Harmonium Musicals, is not an ordinary store selling all kinds of musical instruments. It’s a piece of history with a legacy that dates back almost a century.
Around 1925, Maila Tandukar, a local from Khichapokhari, opened a music store, then unnamed, which sold harmoniums, sitar, tabala, eshraj, and taanpura, among other Eastern classical and ethnic instruments. The family now claims that it was the first music store in Nepal, and there is probably no one to contest it.
At a time there was no music industry to speak of and the sales of musical instruments was not organized, Maila’s initiative brought him good business and recognition, including from the then royal palace and the Rana families. He was invited to the palace to repair and supply musical instruments, mainly the harmonium, which earned him the name of ‘Harmonium Maila’—a nickname which soon became a stuff legend among musicians of yesteryears.
When Maila handed over the business to his eldest son Ganesh Lal (GL) Tandukar in the early 1960s, the business took a different turn. “The Hippie Era had already begun when I took over and we started seeing many Western influences in fashion, art, music and the society back then,” 80-year-old GL recalls. “Western genres like pop, blues, jazz, and rock n’ roll were getting popular among the youth and that’s when I decided to try something new with the store.”
GL then officially established the ‘Harmonium Maila & Sons’ music store which would sell imported Western musical instruments “for the first time in Nepal”. Although import was next to impossible at the time, the Tandukar family’s reputation helped him import popular brands of musical instruments from as far away as Italy, Japan, UK, Germany, and Spain, among other countries. The store’s popularity catapulted among the youth of the time who had acquired a strong taste of Western music.
As Harmonium Musicals’ legacy got engraved into hundreds and hundreds of households that had bought musical instruments from them, a third generation of the Tandukar family prepared to inherit the store, making it inarguably the oldest running in the country. Mahesh Ranjan Tandukar (57) and Prajesh Raj Tandukar (38) took gradual steps into bequeathing the business from their father, starting in the 1990s. The store was again rebranded ‘Harmonium Musicals and Sports’. As the name suggests, it also started selling sports equipment, even though music was still their main business.
“Now we’ve not only taken over the business but are also trying to expand it in terms of import and availability,” Prajesh, the younger proprietor, says. “We have gained reputation for our quality products and services but the competition is high these days.” With increased competition, the family’s concern now is not just to maintain respectable existence but also to dominate the market as it did in the old days.
While the previous generations running Harmonium Musicals had been passively reaping the fruits of the pioneer venture, the new generation is aggressively reclaiming the portions of market it lost over time. To ensure quality and best prices, Harmonium Musicals has tied up with world famous international brands like Pearl Drums, Orange Amps, ESP Guitars, Sabian Cymbals, and Takamine Guitars. As exclusive authorized distributors for most brands that it imports, Harmonium offers genuine products at competitive prices and supportive after-sales services.
Also for the first time in its almost 100-year history, Harmonium Musicals has extended its service beyond its birthplace in Khichapokhari. The store has recently opened a branch in Jawlakhel, Patan (opposite Ekta Books) and has already had customers thanking it for the expansion, the owners say.
“This business of selling musical instruments is not as easy as it looks,” Prajesh says. “We need to understand the changing needs and demands of the customers and continuously stay updated.” He is thankful to the countless loyal customers who in turn have influenced the younger generations to visit the store.
With the Covid-19 outbreak that resulted in four months of lockdown, most of the marketing, promotion and sales plans were postponed, but according to the persistent owners, it is only a matter of time before things go back to normal. Of late, Harmonium Musicals has not only been selling music instruments but also supporting and sponsoring new us well as renowned musicians in the country.
“We will also be organizing workshops and seminars for musicians at our location when the situation normalizes,” Prajesh says. “And there’s plan to include more international brands in our portfolio.”