Late on Friday after the last shows of the night, two musicians, tired from their performance and recent travels, postponed their respective dinners to sit down with me and discuss their musical styles and philosophies. I interviewed two artists (and three organizers) with the Madison World Festival on September 16 for a radio and a print story. Through this process the quality of the music and the accessibility of the performers blew me away. Rapper Blitz the Ambassador and the percussionist in the contemporary, Nepali folk group Kutumba shared comments on their respective musical styles and missions. Blitz grew up inGhana, lives in New York City, and incorporates the cultures and musics of those locales into his own fusion style of world/funk/rap/afro beat. The group Kutumba from Nepal boasts a name synonymous with community strength and unity, and that philosophy comes through in their music as it came through in our interview.
My first interview of the night included Pavit Maharjan from Kutumba and the group’s tour director Shisir Khanal. Pavit explained the process of the group’s formation: they joined together to create a contemporary music of Nepal with local instruments, and consequently began preserving the diverse musical traditions of various ethnic groups through the country. The band members have thus learned and incorporated music from a variety of outlets, including traditional Nepalese, classical European, classical Indian, heavy metal, and jazz music. Shisir and Pavit told me of the difficulties traveling around Nepal (i.e. 30 hours to cover less than 400 miles), yet they toured the country twice. After these tours, Kutumba can boast a huge following of young and old Nepalese. Shisir said it best: “I’ve seen in Nepal, thousands and thousands of young people come to Kutumba’s concerts who are the biggest fans of rap and pop. But here Kutumba comes with traditional instruments and they say ‘wow, I’m Nepali, and I’m proud.’”
Blitz expressed a similar desire to capture young people’s attention from the allure of pop music. He’s happy to play festivals and universities to more “privileged” audiences in Europe and the US, but as he explained, “My direct audience, that I want to influence the most, it’s these young adults coming up, who really have no options – or perceivably have no options, think they have no options. [These young people] come from harder backgrounds and are influenced highly by pop culture. This means there’s often a lot of garbage being consumed. Because pop culture is pop culture … it’s not there to inform, it’s not there for critical thinking.” Blitz’s music captivates through his fusion hip hop: his lyrics are insightful and the music is dance-able. He reaches out to young people in New York and in Ghana, and his music has the aesthetic appeal and strong message to touch young and old, privileged and underprivileged.
Since my interviews, I have purchased and enjoyed albums by each performer. It’s obvious on these albums that Blitz, Pavit and their bands have mastered their art, creating unique sounds with substantial messages behind them. I tend to enjoy music more when I understand where it’s coming from. These artists don’t just share their legacy with you, they take you on a journey.