“The problem with my career has been, people who know my songs don’t know my name. And people who know my name, don’t know the songs I have sung,” says singer Santosh Lama. Time and again, Lama gets queries like “Oh you sang that popular number? I didn’t know that.” Despite 15 years in the industry, people continue to confuse his identity.
Lama attributes this confusion to the paucity of his media appearances, which makes it difficult to stay popular and relevant in current times. The audience has too many names and faces to remember and they easily forget. Also, most of Lama’s popular songs have come out at a time music videos are more important and popular than actual music. For those audiences, the songs and the actors/models in them are easier to memorize than the singers or musicians themselves. Many singers are not recognized even though their songs are played in nearly every household, Lama says.
“Still, I am preparing to release at least two or three songs right after the end of the current lockdown. They’re already in post-production,” says Lama, who has more than 300 songs, most in Nepali and some in Tamang, under his belt: hits like “China ko Rail,” “Behuli,” and “Dara Chhaina”. With a degree in classical music from Kalanidhi Indira Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, Lalitpur--which is affiliated to the famous Prayag Sangeet Samiti in Allahabad India--Lama entered the music industry as a pop singer. He has since also done playback singing for Nepali movies and lent his voice to songs of other genres
But he continues to be most famous as the winner of the iconic “Nepali Tara”—the mother of all reality shows in Nepal. Lama was the winner of the show’s second season in 2007 and quickly shot to fame. “I was barely 22 when I won Nepali Tara. Everything I did for music before that, I call it a learning experience more than a struggle,” says Lama who had participated in multiple competitions before the reality show and had to travel to-and-fro every time from his hometown in Dhading to Kathmandu.
“My real struggle began after I won Nepali Tara,” says Lama. “You are the talk of the town when you do well in a reality show. You get instant fame and the audience and media always talk about you.” So the artists think the fame will last them a lifetime and start basking in its glory. That’s where they are wrong, Lama explains. All the hype and popularity gained in reality TV ends as fast as it begins and then the artists are left to fend for themselves in the real world.
“Musicians have no business managers, no one planning their careers. The artists, still amateurs when they win reality shows, do not know how to deal with instant money and fame,” says Lama. “By the time they realize what is happening, they have already hit rock bottom and have to start from scratch.”
Now 35, Lama is less concerned about popularity and more about the quality of his music. His focus has always been on producing quality music that satisfies him, not catering to the ‘viral crowd.’ The curse of Nepali Tara has followed him though, raising expectations for trendy, catchy songs that can be consumed by the masses. But that had never been Lama’s goal. In fact, the first song he promoted from his debut album right after winning Nepali Tara was “Batuwa”, his personal favorite semi-classical number composed in the odd-time 7/8 signature. “People expected me to release a love song, but I released Batuwa with its philosophical lyrics,” Lama adds.
Lama would like to continue singing for the rest of his life, without falling into the trap of publicity stunts and celebrity culture. “When I started as a singer, we did not create music for the audience to watch on YouTube, let alone make mimicry videos on TikTok. Music was solely for the ears, hearts and souls,” says Lama. “This is what I would like to continue doing.”