Home Nepal community A popular group dominating Nepalese music in the 1990s

A popular group dominating Nepalese music in the 1990s

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As Om Padme Hum is chanted in the background, colorful lungtars (Buddhist prayer flags) float in the air and burning incense fills the mood. In the foreground was the six-foot-tall, burly Bibek Shrestha with a big smile on his face.

Bibek Shrestha is the soothing, magical-voiced man who captivated people in the 1990s. People gravitated to him because of his voice as wanderers lost themselves in his music. The songs of Kandara Bideshiyera Gayin Uni, Phulchoki Ko Dandaima, Timi Pari, Lekaki He Maya, Tagaroma Rumal Rakhi and Hong Kong Pokhara were all played in every nook and cranny of the city as well as at all gatherings and events.

It was a time when groups formed in every community. It was the time when people started to organize concerts, to record songs and to produce bands, with music at full volume. Some people did not like such a trend, and Kandara came to the rescue of those who did not like Western music and appeased not only the young people but also the older generation.

Thus began the era of Kandar.

A stroke of luck

Bibek Shrestha started singing professionally when her seniors at school offered her to sing a song for them. They took Shrestha to a recording studio, the first he saw in his life. Shrestha, 16, has recorded five songs.

There he first practiced singing and recorded Chanchale Kanchhi, which also became the name of the album.

Members of the Kandara group practicing in a room.

He also attributes his career to his classmate from Pokhara, Sunil Thapa. Thapa, at school, was her cheerleader who matched Shrestha beat by beat as he drummed on the desk. For a drama, Thapa even wrote a song “Aaja Bholi Raat Byujhayi Rahancha” and then 13-year-old Shrestha sang it.

At school, the duo even started a club where up to 50 people would get together and take part in musical and theatrical performances, exploring their interest in different musical instruments. Club members were so immersed that they went home just for meals or to do their homework.

Shrestha, who was also interested in football and cricket, would make time to go play sports outside of club hours.

Many members of the club started their own bands, including 24 Carat, which included people interested in the rock music genre. Deepak Raj Mulmi, Bijay Gurung, Buddharaj Bajracharya, Sunil Bhattachan and Anand Tajiya were part of the group. Over time, the 24 Carat group then transformed into Kandara.

Once the lyrics were ready, they would be absorbed in her. They sang songs, filled tunes and practiced. Thereafter, they easily recorded and then edited the songs for months. And, you could always feel the amount of effort they put into each song. Their songs have always boosted Kandara’s journey.

The growing impression

The first album was good as expected. But, from their second album Dada Paris arrived on the market, it went viral; the tapes sold out quickly, and the song began to play repeatedly on all radio stations, in restaurants, and even in public vehicles.

From that point of their trip to Hong Kong Pokhara, their success graph skyrocketed and they didn’t look back. Even in the era of no internet, mobile phones or FM stations, people were waiting for the songs from a few Radio Nepal programs. “I would wait for my name to appear on the radio. It was a privilege,” says Bibek Shrestha.

The band’s impression won them their first gig in Butwal, in 1996. The venue was small, but that didn’t stop Kandara’s fan base from pouring into the venue. Half the audience listened to Kandara live.

That day, the band performed not once but twice. And, Bibek Shrestha must have sung more than 15 songs in one concert. This means that that day he sang about three dozen songs.

After the stress and fatigue, he fell ill. But it also meant that concerts were organized for them in the evenings.

He fell ill from the heat and pressure of the stage.

Then the wave of concerts started and Kandara even performed overseas for the first time in India‘s West Bengal.

But late recognition

Kandara-Band practicing outside
Kandara group practicing outdoors.

Bibek Shrestha was very young when he first tasted fame, but his interest in music was there from the start. He was born in Pokhara and raised in Waling of Syangja. When he got on the public bus, he always checked whether the buses were playing music or not, always looked for a tape recorder on the bus, and only traveled on the bus that played songs.

When a music album was released, no one dwelt deeply on the marketing of the album like today. At the time, public transport was the only reliable way to get songs everywhere. Most of the songs from that era that went viral were heard and enjoyed by people using public buses.

It also meant that it was a time when people had to imagine what a singer would sound like just by listening to their voice. There was no social media, no YouTube, no TV; only audio cassettes were heard everywhere. People would wonder: who is the singer? How are the musicians? Who played the instrument?

Bibek Shrestha was the lead singer of the group, but many people would like the song but wouldn’t know that he sang the songs. In addition, on the cover of the first tape, he was standing on the sides while Sunil Thapa was in the middle, well dressed. So, many people thought that Thapa was the singer instead.

The public saw the full appearance of the singer only after the popularity of television and music videos.

The era of music videos

Kandara-Band music video practice
Kandara band in a music video.

When Kandara’s music was reaching its peak, the music video trend was also on the rise. Thus, Kandara also indulged in it.

They were called to Kathmandu for filming. When they arrived on the scene, the director played the song and said “Now dance, boys!!!” And, they started moving, dancing to their own tunes. He recalls, “There was no tendency to wear makeup either.”

Even after the music video was ready, they had to wait for it to air on TV. People who liked the music would buy the tapes and play it over and over.

Meanwhile, their names and photos began to appear in newspapers, including the most popular weekly tabloid, Saptahikwhich was a comprehensive entertainment package, released every Friday.

Another attraction of the publication was the weekly list of the 10 most popular songs. Kandara’s song Chanchle Kanchhi was also included in the tenth issue of the list. The next week, the song climbed the charts to number eight. The song was listed with Ramkrishna Dhakal’s Risaunda ni Aaphnai and Nepathya’s Chhekyo Chhekyo Deurali Danda.

But the industry was limited. Artists or bands used to collect royalties from the sale of tapes, but companies had no transparent system for keeping track of how many tapes they produced and how many they sold. Even with questionable records, Kandara’s first cassette sold millions and with subsequent albums Kandara rose to fame. From Hong Kong Pokhara to Tagaroma Rumal Rakhi, the group has created a glorious history.

The times have changed

As music changed, so did the style and language of songs along with technology. Bands held more gigs and the sale of tapes became history.

The folk-pop music market has slowed and Kandara has also been affected. And, sadly, the musical group that was once at the top of the 1990s has been sidelined.

After a long hiatus, the group released an album Bhedagothaimaa. But it couldn’t work like before.

Right now, Kandara is once again preparing to make a comeback. They announced their new benchmark with their new management structure. They are ready to have a commercial partnership with Nepgasm who will take care of the production of Kandara’s song and video as well as the management of their concert.


This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.