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An interview with Bipul Chettri, Darjeeling's musical gem
Bipul Chettri's debut album titled, 'Sketches of Darjeeling' has been well received by all and sundry, primarily residents of Darjeeling, whose souls have been touched by those flawless songs in the album. His songs paint a beautiful picture of Darjeeling. It is more of a painting, where the strokes have been meticulously planned, bringing about the richness of Darjeeling culture, its monsoon season, mountains, monasteries, toy train etc, and in the process making people feel nostalgic.

His songs reflect the deep profound love and respect for Darjeeling. The youths of today might have been influenced by western music, but 'Sketches of Darjeeling' reminds the beauty of folk music with a few brushes of western music. The amalgamation has made the album more soothing for our ears to listen.

While interviewing the singer, his down to earth nature took over as he talked about folk music, his album, his father, Darjeeling, culture, passion for music, weather etc. All such chit-o-chat with the singer gave me a 'Mountain High,' which can easily be understood by those who have lived in the foothills of the Himalayas in the past.

Excerpts from the interview:

Ashim Sunam : Bipul Chettri is a household name in Darjeeling, yet your identity remains under a thick blanket. Can you introduce yourself to your fans?

Bipul ChettriBipul Chettri :  (Smiles..) I am just a normal hometown boy from Kalimpong, Darjeeling. I passed out from Saint Augustine's School, Kalimpong, after which I came to Delhi and graduated from Delhi University. Presently, I am the Head of the Art Department at Vasant Valley School in New Delhi.

We people from the hills have been brought up in a similar way, so we have a similar way of looking at things. Similar as in the way we see the world, and the way we perceive things around us, which makes us so alike.

Ashim Sunam: Your album, since launch has been on the lips of everyone. Did you expect such a warm response?

Bipul Chettri: Firstly, I was overwhelmed with the response I received for the song, 'Wildfire' in SoundCloud and after which it was 'Asaar', the response multiplied. So, I was prepared to expect such kind of positive response. I am happy that people liked my music, which is the biggest gift that one can get out of it.

Ashim Sunam: With so much adulation for Wildfire in SoundCloud, did it act as an inspiration to launch this album?

Bipul Chettri : One can definitely say so as well, where Wildfire was the launching pad. It provided me with encouragement, and to go forward with my ideas.

Ashim Sunam: There is a beautiful sense of musical arrangement in the song, Mountain High, with the Shehnai and a great baseline. How did you come up with such ingenuity ?

Bipul Chettri : See, when I was in the process of making 'Mountain High', I was thinking in terms of mountain and primarily music in the mountains, as to the instruments, which reflect the mountains. Whenever I thought of mountains that I have seen in my life, monasteries always came into the picture, somehow that had an impact on me, so the music that came out was what you hear while you are at the monastery, where mystical sounds come from ghalang, pipes and the big drums. I wanted to capture that somewhat into my song and Shehnai was the most adaptable instrument.

Ashim Sunam: When you play the guitar, it is so soothing to one's ear. How did your education in Trinity College, London help you in this regard?

Bipul Chettri : The listening experience that I received while lending ears to classical music in Trinity College was worthwhile, because classical guitar opened up the door for other orchestral instruments. In the process, it opened up a lot of doors for me in terms of harmonically arranging music. It opened up possibilities for me to explore more.

Ashim Sunam: Most of the songs in the album takes one back to Darjeeling. Is this your signature style of making people feel nostalgic about Darjeeling?

Bipul Chettri : Certainly, the nostalgic feel is present, but, this is what I am. This is my music. This is what I have grown up listening. This is in a way, my identity, as a person and musician. It is all coming up as to what has been fed into me, since I was born.

Ashim Sunam: Was there a conscious effort from your side to focus on Darjeeling while writing these songs?

Bipul Chettri : I have termed the album, 'Sketches of Darjeeling'. My basic thing was to capture the essence of Darjeeling – the different elements for me what made up Darjeeling. It was capturing the essence of the rainy season, rail gadi, mountains, wildfire etc.

Ashim Sunam: The lyrics for Ram Sailee is what had been written long ago by your father, who was also a musician. Can you talk about him in brief? 

Bipul Chettri : I have drawn a great amount of inspiration from my father, Late Nirendra Mohan Chettri, who hailed from Kurseong. People from the hills still talk about my dad and his songs, which are considered evergreen by many. Songs such as Swarnim Sapna, E Mera Ninda and Ram Sailee still remain dear to the people of his generation. He was a very well known musician during his time. He was a pioneer in fusing western musical elements into Nepali music as well.

Ashim Sunam: Which is your personal favourite song in the album?

Bipul Chettri : I do not know if I can choose any song as favourtite. There is a special attachment with all the songs. But, I have a particular attachment with Wildfire, as it was the first track, which set everything on place. Besides that, I love all the songs.

Ashim Sunam: There is a lot of folk music elements in all your songs. So, which genre of music does your song belong to?

Bipul Chettri : It is folk music in various ways, but I had no intentions of branding it as folk music. The voice has come out as folk, as that is something which I felt deep inside and probably being from Darjeeling, which has a rich folk culture. May be, this all culminated in what it closely looks like folk music. Also we have many other elements involved as well. So, we can say soul is the folk and the brain is western music.

Ashim Sunam: Rail Garee is one of a kind song in the album. Any reason for choosing Darjeeling Toy Train as the main subject?

Bipul Chettri : As I was in the process of making of the album, I thought about one thing, which is really unique about Darjeeling and it was the Darjeeling Toy Train. Not mentioning Darjeeling Toy Train would make the album incomplete.

Ashim Sunam: How did you split time between work and finishing the debut album?

Bipul Chettri : In terms of splitting time, it was not like that I had to sit down and work on my album everyday. It just happened naturally. Whenever an idea struck me, I wrote it down, it happened everywhere and anywhere. Even when working, if an idea came up to me, I would just scribble it. The process was everywhere.

Ashim Sunam: Did you approach any major music companies to launch your songs?

Bipul Chettri : I did not approach any of the major labels company as I wanted an independent launch. Perhaps, also with me being new in this field, I thought that I should do things on my own and see things as to how it goes. 'Ok listen' is India's top website for promoting independent musicians. Other top musicians also sell their songs on the website.

Ashim Sunam: What are your other ways to promote the album?

Bipul Chettri : As of now, I am thinking of performing live, maybe in Darjeeling, Sikkim and Nepal. Apart from this I would also get a few CDs done, as people are eager to save a hard copy of the album, for they want to preserve it.

Ashim Sunam: Is there a dearth of music platforms for independent Indian musicians?

Bipul Chettri : It is for the first time that I have delved into the realm of the online industry to sell my music, so it would not be inappropriate for me to comment on this particular question. But, with people spending much time over the Internet in India, things are getting better.

Ashim Sunam: With the youth in Darjeeling listening to western music on a large scale, are we losing out on our rich folk music culture?

Bipul Chettri : People should understand the quality of folk music. It helps us understand our culture. Most of us try to emote the west. We should not forget what we have - folk music will help us get back to our roots and also make us more complete and take the good things about our culture forward.

Ashim Sunam: What about your second album?

Bipul Chettri : Lets see, maybe next year. I am working on some materials, I have just started.

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