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Anil Shahi

"I want to make people dance," guitarist Anil Shahi asserts

"I want to make people dance," guitarist Anil Shahi asserts with fixated eyes. He picks up his Samick solid wood guitar and slides his fingers across the strings – saying it wouldn't be enough, he would rather you hear it for yourself. 


Raising his voice above the vibrations, he explains: "This semi-acoustic guitar is used especially for Spanish tunes." While tangy flamenco is quickly filling up the air, a hint of an Indian raga allure does not escape the ears, and the complexity of fusing east and west is what makes his music both exotic and euphoric at the same time. 


Shahi's Spanish musical influence comes from the Gipsy Kings, who are credited for bringing traditional flamenco to mainstream culture. But through performing at hotspots in the Valley, he found an international audience that was receptive not only to flamenco, but also to his eastern classical infusions. 


After all, eastern classical music is where his infatuation really lies. "That's real music to me," he reveals while picking up another guitar, this time a black Takamine. It's easy to see why raga tugs not only on his guitar strings but also his heartstrings – he practically grew up with it. After picking up his uncle's guitar at the age of 12, he travelled to Varanasi, India to learn the sounds of the classical ragas and has not turned back since. 


An upbringing of playing the flute and percussions at local social functions, an education in raga music and much fervour for the western acoustic guitar all put together gave birth to Shahi, a fusion guitarist. It has taken him places, and he animatedly recalls his trip to Malaysia a decade ago: "It was my first time performing in a foreign country and I met people from all over the world. Though we didn't understand each other, making music together was amazing." 


Such spontaneity is how his band, Maya Mantra, often comes up with their varied and almost unpredictable tunes. Apart from Shahi's vivacious twangs, flutist Binod Katuwal breathes out dreamy Arabic-like landscapes while tabla player Pritnam adds to that a tribal beat that echoes life drumming against the earth. The synergy of the band's music plants you in different places all at once – a dandy flamenco chord may first set you in the mood, then an indulgent classical Indian scale rises up, after which everything escalates into a burst of another flamenco chord, a more ecstatic one at this instance, and the rapture leaves you yearning for a bit more. 


This is happiness for Shahi – to make his own music and see it being appreciated. Yet happiness comes at a hefty price, and when Shahi was younger his practices include numbing his fingers in a bucket of ice before strumming on the guitar. His other method was to hang a half-kilo weight on each hand while playing. "Mastering the guitar needs a lot of hand power," he explains. "My family thought I was mad!" 


Turning the tide, the guitarist would probably be happiest when Nepal finally appreciates fusion music in its entirety. "It's difficult to make people understand, especially since it's hard to combine classical music with other kinds of music." After a short ponder, he reaches a conclusion: "There isn't a proper platform here for fusion music yet." 


Still, Shahi may just be the one to set the stage for it. Its past midnight and the crowd he played for are shouting for an encore. Shahi smiles and says, "I just can't stop when it comes to music." He walks towards the people and begins a soothing, acoustical rhythm to appease for the night. And it seemed that there and then, nobody wanted him to stop. 

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