Subi Shah: An Introduction

Deepak Jangam and Beni Rawal’s textbook Sangeet Surabhi introduces the luminaries of the Nepali music world. This is what they have to say about Subi Shah.

Passionate practitioners have a big hand in keeping the culture and traditions of any country alive. When speaking of Nepal today, we have to mention its ancient heritage, which is the one thing for which it is known throughout the world. Among the very few practitioners who have been contributing to maintaining this very heritage in the field of Nepali folk music, Subi Shah’s name comes to the fore, with his nearly sixty years of continuous contributions.

Shah, who started his musical journey in the field of dance as a Maruni dancer at the age of 7 or 8, spent most of his life in the Royal Army. While moving between barracks in different places, living like the people of each new area became natural to him. Due to his interest in learning folk songs and folk dances wherever he went, he later became known as a collector and researcher of Nepali folk music. Countless folk songs that he collected are now being broadcast on radio and TV. For the past two decades, he has been collecting and preserving songs that have nearly become lost. He has made an important contribution to keeping the old melodies alive, especially those of Sorathi, Charitra, Jhaure and Khyali songs. He has done a great deal of research, and presented the old melodies and lyrics of Khyali songs to the public through articles in various journals. Even at almost seventy years of age, he has continued to do innovative research, at his own initiative and with his own funds, to preserve his ancient cultural heritage that is being lost. Shah has spent his whole life in service to Nepali society. In this context, his books Madal and Glimpses of the Balun Epics are important, among others.

He conducted in-depth studies of the types of Nepali songs played with Madal accompaniment, especially the western Nepali versions of Sorathi, Charitra, Khayali, Chudka and Jhyaure songs, and collected many of their rare tunes. He said that in order to maintain the form and rhythms of the deteriorating national instrument, the Madal, the question of whether or not the Madal is suitable for playing the rhythms associated with other instruments should be carefully considered. However, by using the rhythms from other instruments on the Madal while keeping the form of the Madal as it is, a new instrument can be created” (Madal, p. 82).

Subi Shah’s Thoughts About Folk Songs

“The songs that should be called folk songs are those to which no one has individual rights, that all ethnic groups should equally be able to sing, and they must be based on popular rules and folk tunes. Because the rules of Nepali folk songs are learned from one person to another, their main path of transmission is the guru parampara.”

“Folk songs are those songs created by different ethnic groups of people in different places influenced by differences in geography and environment, with poetic meters, rhythmic tunes, and spoken words based on their own ethnic languages and traditions. In these songs, historical descriptions, traditional rituals, religious descriptions, happiness and suffering, vernacular joking, and other themes must be present.”

“Among the varied ethnic tunes that have been played as part of tradition, the “unmetered tunes” and the groups of notes bound together on the basis of various musical meters are all called folk tunes.”

“The rhythmic patterns that follow standards developed according to the instruments of various ethnic groups and are performed together as part of a rhythmic cycle (tal), are considered folk tal.”

Deepak Jangam and Beni Rawal, 2003. Sangeet Surabhi. Kathmandu: Bhrikuti Academic Publishers, pp. 141-142.

Note: they don’t include citations for the works from which the quotations are drawn.

Published by Anna

Author, filmmaker, professor, specializing in music, media, and performance in Nepal and the Himalayan region.

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