A band has to only start its set in a random bar or pub in Thamel and within minutes into their performance, someone from the audience has had requested a song already. And as the night continues with a bit of drunkenness in the air, the ‘requests’ start getting harassingly loud and the poor band on stage is clearly confused and embarrassed; it is impossible for a group of musicians to cover almost everything under the sun.
And the problem is not limited to Thamel or Kathmandu. Musicians playing live at venues all over the country complain about the same thing: a nightmare when a group of drunkards disrupt their performance, dismiss their music, and disrespect their job. All because they think they own the artists and their art when they’re paying for the cover charge at the venue or their restaurant bill.
For a musician, or any other artist who’s up on stage, it is most disrespectful to be interrupted by the audience for no apparent reason. For Nepali musicians playing live in all kinds of venues, interruption has been so normalized that sometimes it’s a surprise when they get to complete a set without hassles. But most of them are not so fortunate most of the times.
Ask any musician for a story on a bar fight that disrupted the show; a police raid which ended in calling the night too early; a group of drunks who harassed the musicians with requests to the level they couldn’t play on stage—you’ll hear many different versions of their experiences and the details could be both shocking and surprising.
As the audience is paying at the bar, one may argue, they have the right to order performing artists to play music of their choice, but is that how it really works for all professions? No matter how much you pay, you won’t ask a urologist to check your eyes, would you? And ask a pilot on a Kathmandu-Pokhara flight to take a detour to Chitwan in between because your friends want to see elephants?
So, similarly, you’re agreeing to pay for a service when you enter a bar and seat yourselves down. Now it’d be really considerate of you to let the professionals do their work without interfering with them time and again. Instead of showboating money and clout at the venues, you could showboat chivalry, empathy, and good taste.
Having said that, some bands and venues do accept requests, but there are limits to what a band can perform. If you see a jazz band performing at a bar, you DON’T pester them to play Narayan Gopal just because ‘the band members are Nepalis, and every Nepali musician should know how to play Narayan Gopal.’ When you see a rock band on stage, you DON’T shout to them to play Nepali film songs, because that’s most probably not in their repertoire. To make things clearer, if you have no idea of the genre that a band is performing, you either listen to them if you enjoy their music or go to a different venue. Plenty of options out there.
The biggest NO for requests though is when artists with original music are performing on stage. Requesting a musician playing their own music at their concert to cover another musician’s songs is the biggest disrespect there is, not only of the artists, but of music as an art too.
There have been plenty of incidents when a bunch of unthinking audiences have spoilt the mood of a performer by requesting them to play someone else’s song. It’s like going to a Metallica show and asking them to perform Eminem, just because you’re paying for the tickets. See the problem here? If you wouldn’t do that to international artists, why would you even think of doing that to the Nepali artists?
Don’t ask Albatross to play Bipul Chhetri or vice versa. But no, seems like our audience will never learn. Because on a recent Facebook live by Albatross singer Sirish Dali, there were requests for him to perform covers of other Nepali artists. The audience here had the option to shut down the page and move to other things on the internet if they didn’t like his music. But they chose to be arrogant, or ignorant maybe.
This write-up might sound a bit harsh, but this comes out of genuine frustration of being undervalued by our own audience—many of whose members do not know the basic etiquettes of attending a concert. So when the Covid-19 pandemic is over and live music starts making it back to our favorite venues, we request you audience, be more thoughtful and let the artists—who have worked hard on creating a playlist for you—perform in peace.