“Chhaka, Nika, Swoka, Pyaka” (Newari for one, two, three, four) – Ashish Maharjan screams into the microphone, followed by an instant boom of fast beats and riffs. The boys of Lakhey band are at practice in the basement of Metal Institute, Ghatte Kulo and their sound is unique.
Lakhey, the instrumental band, are Anil Dhital on guitar, Ashish Maharjan on flute and vocal effects, Yuson Maharjan on dhimeh, Rabindra Maharjan on bhusyah, Naresh Prajapati on khin, Gokul Atreya on bass, Sudan Raj Bajracharya on dhyangro, and Ashish Dangol performing as Lakhey, the dancing demon, and Guidoo Wyss of Commando Noise Terror as their guest drummer.
Incorporating sounds of more than 15 Nepali/Newar musical instruments ranging from the dhyangro that jhankris (faith healers) play to drive out spirits to kaa and pongraa played during funerals with seven-string guitar riffs and bass, most of the band members take on multiple instruments, creating what they call ethnic metal music.
As the band members seat themselves in the room adjacent to their rehearsal room for The Week interview, they cram the small space where Anil teaches his students the ABCs of music. On one wall hangs Goddess Saraswoti’s poster alongside the Ibanez poster that depicts Gods of Guitar from Joe Satriani to Steve Vai. The opposite wall is a white board scribbled with guitar chords and tuition timings.
The current ensemble of eight members in the room is a mix of musicians from different bands. Five of them come from Vairabi, a traditional folk music outfit who were lost in the shadows of Kutumba, the band that popularized folk music in recent years. And it was during one of the many concerts of Kutumba that Vairabi discovered their missing element in versatile guitarist Anil Dhital, then on stage with Kutumba.
“I first saw Anil dai when he was playing a set with Kutumba at the tattoo convention,” the always eager Rabindra says, “As soon as I saw him perform, I realized that his metal guitar riffs would sync with the aggressive traditional beats we played during Jatras in our hometown Kirtipur.”
The youngster then Facebooked Anil to get together and jam up. And because “No” is a rare species when it comes to the world of musicians jamming together, Anil agreed.
“I always had this idea of mixing folk with metal,” says Anil in his characteristic casual drawl, “So we got together one free evening. I had some of my own tunes ready, we then played along, and by the end of the session, we knew we had something khatraa (awesome).”
Soon they were looking for a name for their joint project and “Lakhey” stood out as they could associate their ethno metal music with furious sounds played during the Jatras with the vibrant dancing demon.
A year later, the band members share amicable relationship, always laughing and joking with each other. As they share how they had a full photo shoot with their costumes and masks even before they had a concrete composition, each one has a playful smile curved up his lips.
“It did push us to complete what we’d started, though,” says a smiling Anil. For the boys from Vairabi too it was an opportunity to do something new, something innovative and something different.
As most of the initial band members came from the Newar town of Kirtipur, Ashish shares, they were passed on the musical traditions by their forefathers and their Guthi where many youngsters were even obliged to take on the responsibility of playing the traditional instruments for the cultural occasions they endorsed for their sheer love of music.
“We’ve been playing (traditional instruments) since we were kids,” he says, “We never actually learnt to play these instruments but picked it up as we played along for fun during the several festive occasions and Jatras in our community.”
Even while playing traditional beats, the band says, the metallic sounds of the bhusyah and fast drum beats of dhimeh and khin sounded “brutal” to them, they say. The gennext couldn’t help but associate it with the metal music many of their friends and themselves were listening to.
“Many traditional music compositions, especially the ones played during Lakhey dance, with the aggressive tunes evoking a sense of fear and fright are very similar to the musical patterns of metal music,” says Rabindra, “As we delved deeper, it was like we already had metal pioneers playing the fast paced musical patterns way before Metallica.”
That’s where Lakhey stemmed from – the roots of traditional music that was already there and infused it with contemporary metal essence.
For skeptics who believe that metal is a recent phenomena in Nepali music, Lakhey brings to light the existence of metal in Nepali music roots. And it’s only Newar music the band has mostly explored which still leaves the potential of many different tribal music of Nepal untapped.
Gokul, the newest band member, adds, “It was tiring to see every other young band doing covers of the same old international metal bands. There wasn’t any originality. With Lakhey, I think we’re definitely setting a different track.”
With their single titled “Lakhey” that they released on the Internet just past New Year, they’ve already created a fan base for themselves. In the very first listening, from the eerie guitar intro to the crashing sounds of dhimeh, khin and ghungroo with piercingly sharp flute parts scattered throughout the track, the music leaves you with a haunting feeling that reverberates in the mind.
A year since the first jam session, Lakhey boasts seven completed compositions, most still untitled. Their plan now is to release an EP within a few months and follow up with an album.
Very selective about their gigs, the band hasn’t yet played at major rock concerts. “Because we have many band members, we need more sound gears, and moreover, the costumes and some masks we use are original Lakhey items of Kirtipur. So there’s a lot of logistics involved,” says Rabindra.
However, fully prepared and practicing daily, the band is all excited about their debut at Ides of March [Readers, the gig is tomorrow].
In the practice room, the excitement and the readiness is even more apparent not just in their furious sounds but also in their ecstatic faces, wild heads banging, body jerks, jumps, screeches and screams. Playing in a circle, all the while the boys pick up on each other’s cue, keeping pace with each other. And their Anil dai has all sorts of facial expressions, from creased brows to wide open eyes and crooked smiles to signal them exactly where they need to work on to sound perfect for their debut gig and an awaiting future in global metal.
Lakhey awakens tomorrow, Saturday, March 31 to the Nepali metal scene with their debut performance at Ides of March in Bhrikuti Mandap.
Published on The Week, Republica on 2012-03-30