NEPAL/USA: Grahan - Dibesh Pokharel (Arthur Gunn)
American styles sung in Nepali by a powerhouse vocalist, this is a debut album that makes you pay attention
Born in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains, Dibesh Pokharel, later known professionally as Arthur Gunn, moved to the vast plains of middle America at the age of 17 – Wichita, Kansas to be precise – where his family had already moved to several years previously. Though he had already been interested in music from a very young age, it was in America that he was really able to begin his career in earnest. Exposed to music all his life, in Kansas he was exposed to bluegrass and country music styles, which were definite influences on his debut album Grahan which he released in 2018. Though Pokharel gained his greatest success so far by being the runner-up on the 2020 series of American Idol, he demonstrated oodles of talent in his debut, which shows both his musical curiosity as well as raw talent. The album itself is an engaging expression of the American styles that Pokharel clearly loves, whilst also staying true to his Nepalese roots namely by singing in Nepali.
“Pokharel’s voice does not overpower the songs, and manages to fit the styles, bringing intensity or softness when needed.”
Grahan is an incredibly accomplished album. It’s full of fantastic songs like Hamro Din, that have a fantastic pop-folk feel to it, as well as songs like Nyano Ghar, which are extremely emotive ballads. It’s also worth noting that Pokharel is a remarkable singer. Despite being only 21 years old at the time of the album’s release, he belongs in the camp of singers like the similarly excellent Scottish musician Lewis Capaldi who have a voice far beyond their years. Like Capaldi, he has a gravelly drawl that makes him sound like a wizened and weary traveller. As such, his singing is truly beautiful and extremely expressive, as he has an asset few singers his age have. Whenever I hear a voice like this, I’m always reminded of what Tom Fogerty said about his brother, John Fogerty, the lead singer of swamp-rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival. Tom had been the lead vocalist of the band, but he soon relinquished singing duties to John. When asked in an interview why he had done so, Tom replied “I could sing but John had a sound!” Similarly, Pokharel has a sound.
I have listened to many albums from across the globe, and the voices that stick in the memory are the soulful, often unusual ones rather than the classically perfect ones. There are many wonderful singers out there, there are many beautiful, perfect, pristine voices. However, for my money it is the voices with character, the voices which, like a pearl, have grit and sand in the centre that really make their mark solely with the power of their voice. Pokharel, though young, manages to reach some of those heights on this record. This is particularly noticeable on Pralaya ‘B’, a truly stunning track that is easily my favourite on the album. Pokharel’s voice is alternately sweet and anguished, and he reaches some dizzyingly exquisite highs on that track.
His voice is so good you can easily get lost in that and forget that he’s also a very talented guitar player, and Aakash Ko Pari is probably the best showcase for his guitar skills. The musical arrangements throughout the album are of a similar general style, following mainly acoustic guitar patterns with some electric guitar as well as a backing band, but overall, it’s of a piece, and he’s not out of his comfort zone. What is nice is the genres he decides to dip into, even managing to pay tribute to the music of Nepal on Maan, by using what sound like Northern Indian or Nepali instruments in the background of the mix. There are songs on the album that are more like rock music, some in the vein of folk and bluegrass, and one song, namely Samundra Paari, is even pretty much a full country song, and what is great is that Pokharel’s voice does not overpower the songs, and manages to fit the styles, bringing intensity or softness when needed. I think where the album has a fault – and there aren’t many – is that it does not manage to sustain that level of brilliance reached on Pralaya ‘B’ across the album. But perhaps I’m being a bit nitpicky. This is a debut album after all. They so rarely are the finished article, and in some ways, you almost don’t want them to be. They should be an announcement of talent and passion with the promise of even greater things to come, and on Grahan, there is so much promise on show.