Nita Pradhananga always dreamt of entering the Nepali rap scene. She thus came up with the idea of a rap-battle show on television. But three days before she was supposed to pitch the idea, the country went into a lockdown.
That didn’t stop her though.
A month into the quarantine, she, along with her neighborhood friends Pritam Shakya, Labesh Shrestha and Rubin Pradhan, started Sabda Sangram (‘Word War’), an online rap battle show. Featuring contestants from all over Nepal as well as abroad, writing lines, spitting bars and competing from their homes, Sabda Sangram has since last year seen substantial success and is already well into its second season.
Since the show went live, Sabda Sangram’s core team has grown as well. Additional members—Brihat Boswa on documentation and script-writing, Binod Maharjan (popularly known as DJ BKnot) on sound, and Rujal Pradhan on backend—have taken the show to new heights. Participation doubled—from 16 contestants in the first season to 32 in the second—and their YouTube channel, Sabda Sangram, where the show’s weekly episodes are uploaded, now has 188k views.
“Right now, we’re mostly gearing up for the finale,” shares Pradhananga. “We’ll have the battle on April 13 and the winner of the second season will be announced on April 16.”
In the first season, the auditioning process for the show was simple. Prospective contestants only had to send a personal video of them rapping to the lyrics they had written for the audition. But there was no way for the showrunners to verify if the lyrics was original or if it had been written within the one-week timeframe. After learning of their blunder, for the second season, the team created their own beat for the audition to which all interested participants could create bars and rap.
Two competing participants are paired off in the show that is completely virtual. The participants send rap videos and team editors compile them to make an episode. After uploading it on the channel, there is live voting. Sabda Sangram has a website where you can vote for your ‘favorite of the week’. And the person with the most vote moves to another round. This goes on until the finale.
In the first season, the winner got a cash prize of Rs 10,000. The prize has been increased (and how!) in the second season. Now the winner gets Rs. 15,000 in cash, he or she can pursue a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree at IIMS College, in addition to getting Rs 10,000 worth of free service from Vaidurya Dental Clinic and 35mbph free internet service from Vianet.
Although there have been participants from as far afield as Qatar and Malaysia, most of the hype has been created from eastern Nepal, and most of the final contestants are from outside the Kathmandu valley.
“Sabda Sangram gave me an invaluable outlet during the lockdown,” says Ankush Adhikari, also known as WLF KUSH to fans. “It gave me an incentive to write at a time I was feeling demotivated. The exposure I got is irreplaceable.” Adhikari is recognized for winning the first season of Sabda Sangram and has since earned many more fans near and far. At 24, he’s sure of a long rap career that is ahead of him.
His statement is seconded by the finalists of the second season. “Learning how rap battles work, understanding that you can make music from the setup you have at home, and meeting people through the show has built my confidence,” shares Jagrit Pun, 22, from Nawalparasi. Known as REX, Pun will soon be battling for the second season’s trophy. “As I envision my future in music, I’m learning how to produce and build my fan-base at the same time. It’s immensely motivating to see your effort rewarded.”
For another finalist, Kabi Wraith, 25, Sabda Sangram was his first introduction to the hiphop community. “I’ve always been more of a classical and rock guy. But this show has pushed me out of my element and forced me to research components I never thought I’d find interesting.” He confesses that he also greatly enjoys the process of rap battles—the writings, the rapping, the beats, the battles, all of it.
But bringing rap back into musical spotlight hasn’t been easy and the biggest hurdle continues to be financial. “We’re funding the show on our own right now,” Pradhananga says. “Sabda Sangram is my baby. And it will go on. But with a big team working with equipment and snacking in restaurants, bill payment is often a problem.
Another problem has to do with the internet. Many participants are from outside the valley as well as abroad, and often their videos don’t arrive on time. As the show runs on schedule, the editing team is then under a lot of pressure.
Right now, Pradhananga is trying to get Sabda Sangram to an actual stage. After finishing the second season, the team will try to air the third on TV.