INDIA/NEPAL: Ama Lai Shraddhanjali - Navneet Aditya Waiba
Updated: Jan 20, 2021
Gentle Nepali folk music sung very well. But is there more behind the recording of this album?
When I first gave this a listen, I found the most striking thing about Ama Lai Shraddhanjali by Navneet Aditya Waiba is Waiba’s voice and vocal ability, but upon researching the album, I found something more than just a pleasant voice and traditional Nepali sounds to the album. The music itself is traditional Nepali music, though Waiba herself is actually from Darjeeling in India, though it is close to the Nepalese border. Musically, it appears to share some similarities with Indian traditional music, which is hardly much of a surprise considering their geographical proximity, though it is distinct from it. According to Wikipedia, she is the only current artist in the Nepali folk genre who does not modernise the music at all, and remains faithful to the traditional music of her people. Waiba has pedigree in this regard. Waiba’s mother, Hira Devi Waiba, was also a well-regarded Indian folk singer in the Nepali language. In this regard, the music that is played on this album is an interesting cultural document for someone like me who knows little about Nepali folk. But for Waiba, it is something else in addition to that. Waiba produced this album with her brother, Satya Aditya Waiba, in honour of their mother who died in 2011. Fittingly so, the album title when translated into English means ‘Tribute to Mother’.
“Her voice is soft and lilting, gentle but also powerful, and it is that quality that made it her own. It is clear that the album is made with reverence and respect for the old ways of doing things...”
The album itself consists of several songs that Hira Devi Waiba made famous, with Navneet Aditya Waiba putting her own spin on it, while remaining truthful to the traditional sources of the music. In an interview with the Himalayan Times, Waiba said that she found it hard to listen to her mother’s music for several years following her death, and then stated the following:
“I had to go through a lot of emotional process [sic], that’s how I started singing her songs. Now I feel good about it because I need to listen to her songs over and over again, and every time I listen to her songs, I find something new. My respect for her grows each time I listen to her as those songs were difficult to sing,”
To me, this adds a touching element to the album. I had no idea of any of this when listening to it for the first time, but knowing the back story behind it, and how much love and respect has gone into it makes me appreciate the effort more. The album is a lovely tribute which has done her mother and musical heritage proud. It also keeps the album from perhaps reaching new heights, but that is not what this album is about. It’s about preserving a heritage, and that’s OK. It also tells stories in its lyrical content, though I had no idea about this when listening. In the same article, Waiba states "Yeh Syangbo talks about the time when 14th Dalai Lama was exiled from Lhasa, Tibet and what the general people went through then... Chhuiya Maahaa is about when people do the first threshing and how the young boys and girls get together and dance and enjoy.” Thus, the album tells the story of her people and their history through music, and that must be recognised as a worthwhile effort.
But back to the album, and in particular her voice. The album is pleasant, and would be somewhat forgettable if Waiba herself did not have an interesting mode of singing. For a woman who is following in the footsteps of a Nepali folk great, she has certainly put her mark on the genre. Her voice is soft and lilting, gentle but also powerful, and it is that quality that made it her own. It is clear that the album is made with reverence and respect for the old ways of doing things, but in doing so its also not very original. As I have already stated, that isn’t necessarily bad, but it does stop the album from being completely its own thing, which isn’t negative, however, it should be acknowledged. The album works on its own terms, inasmuch as it allows us to listen to traditional Nepali music that is sung excellently and performed well, and is also a tribute to the singer’s mother. On those terms, it must be regarded as a success.