Getting an offer for a seat at the Nepal Idol Season 4 judge panel was not a surprise for Sugam Pokharel. The Idol franchise had already approached him in the first season. “I could not work with them back then due to my busy schedule,” says Pokharel.
Yet Pokharel was a household name in Nepali music much before the start of Nepal Idol in 2017. If you grew up in the 2000s and loved music, his ‘Pheri Tyo Din Samjhana Chahanna’ must have been on your playlist. It was a hit from Shoonya, his debut album released in 2000 and the bestseller of that time. But the album’s evergreen songs didn’t come out of the blue.
“My first two songs were commercial failures,” he recalls. Back in 1995, he and Sudin Pokharel, aka DA69, had collaborated on a pair of songs: ‘Ma Maya Garchhu’ and ‘Payera Timilai Yesto Khusi Chhu’. This back-to-back failure made them part ways. Before the release of his solo album, Pokharel changed his stage name to 1MB, in what became a one-man band.
“I never regret those unsuccessful projects that laid the foundation of my musical career,” says Pokharel, a native of Biratnagar. After completing his SLC exams, he had come to Kathmandu with the primary goal of finishing higher studies and applying to go to the US. However, Pokharel ended up pursuing music. It was his elder brother Sunil Pokharel, a veteran theater artist, who helped him at the start of his musical career.
In 1997, the time between his failed songs and the first album, Pokharel started working as a librarian in Radio Sagarmatha. He then served as an RJ at the same station for 13 years. Even though he was already a pop star at the time, Pokharel says his association with the radio station changed him as a person, helping him become a better professional at a young age.
His second album, Highway, earned him more fame, with hits like ‘Maya Ko Bato’ and ‘Kati Din Bitey’. Soon, demands for his concert-appearances, from both in and outside the country, went through the roof. “I would perform at three different cities in a single day,” he recalls the days he would perform at Bhairahawa in the morning, Biratnagar in the afternoon, and Kathmandu in the evening. Swyet Hanshini, School Pathshala, Sugam Yatra, Sugam Song Geet, and Sutra are his other albums.
The year 2013, in a way, brought turbulence in his life when he was arrested for using drugs. But he was soon back on track. “In fact, the short break made me evaluate my career and the love of my fans anew,” he says.
Pokharel had even worked in a tele-serial named ‘Lachhamaniya’ when he was in the seventh grade but had given up on his childhood dream of becoming a movie superstar because of the hassles with retakes. “But I fulfilled my dream to an extent by modeling in my music videos,” he says with a laugh. Besides singles and albums, Pokharel has recorded numerous hits as a playback singer, demonstrating his all-round skills.
These days, he is busy with shows, concerts, and of course, Nepal Idol. “I am enjoying the shoots as our team has good coordination,” he shares the new experience of being in an international franchise show. A long time back, he was also a judge in a reality show called Singing Stars. “I love this platform that helps both the judges and the contestants learn and grow together,” he adds.
Besides Nepal Idol, Pokharel is working on his upcoming album Tilasmi Kathmandu. He says the album will be a tribute to Kathmandu city, which gave him all the things he wanted in his career. He wants to connect with each and every resident of Kathmandu and is currently working on the album’s last song in which he will be using the Newari language.
Pokharel is upbeat about the future of the Nepali music industry. However, he laments some people’s obsession with fame, which will take them nowhere. “To be a successful singer, you just have to practice hard and respect the seniors,” he says.