Sunday, December 12, 2010

American Music in Nepal

Bollywood is King in Nepal. Radio stations play Hindi songs, most television stations play Bollywood movies, and children learn Hindi songs and emulate Bollywood dancers. It is refreshing to see that the United States is not the only global exporter of culture.

The influence of Hindi music is so great that almost every Nepali I have asked tells me they understand Hindi perfectly well but have difficulty speaking it. When there was a cultural program at my school, many students sang and danced to Hindi songs and a few sang in Nepali or Tamang or Newari.

But there is also a general awareness of American music too. It is interesting to ask young Nepalis about their favorite American bands. Here are some of the most popular contenders:

Green Day
Taylor Swift
Britney Spears
The Grateful Dead
Justin Bieber
Avril Lavigne
50 Cent

What fascinates me is that there is no unity of genre. A ten-year-old boy might say, "My favorites are 50 cent, Slipknot, and Justin Bieber." Just a few Americans bands of various genres manage to make it big in Nepal. Nobody I have met has heard of The Beatles, or The Rolling Stones, or Muse, or Kanye West.

In 2008 I saw t-shirts everywhere with pictures of Britney Spears, Kurt Cobain, and Avril Lavigne (kids described Avril Lavigne as "punky"). Today I see t-shirts featuring Death Note everywhere (which is a Japanese supernatural thriller anime), as well as shirts that claim "Punk will Never Die" or "Emo Forever."

So the Koreans left 9 melodicas at my school, and I've been playing one of them and trying to think about how to teach music. The students know a lot about Hindi music but there isn't much knowledge of musical theory, so during afternoon breaks I have been teaching people who want to learn about basic music skills on the melodica/"mouth piano." Someone told me it would be difficult to form a club because there would be too many students who would want to take it, and there isn't a lot of time, but I'm formulating a plan to get a group together for a class.

The Sanskrit version of Do Re Mi goes like this:

Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sá

Musicians at Dakshinkali during Dashain

So I have been teaching using these words for the scale. Students have also begun playing a snare drum military-style at the school assemblies, and I fixed up the drum by replacing some broken wingnuts and soldering some of the snares back on. I have been giving a little bit of drum instruction to those students. It is a very nostalgic feeling; it reminds me of my high school drum lessons.

I have also used music in the English classroom once so far. Green Day both gets some currency in Nepal and is not too hard on my ears, so I played "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" for the class and had them fill in the gaps of the lyrics I wrote on the board. Unfortunately, only one boy answered the entire time. He was a big Green Day fan and already knew all of the lyrics, while everybody else looked at me blankly and refused to participate. Apparently nobody except this one boy had ever heard of Green Day or really any other American music. And this boy had been learning at a private school until this year, where he had picked up Green Day. I think everyone else felt out of the loop.

So the first attempt to incorporate music into my English teaching was sort of a disaster, but I think if I continue it will go better. I learned more German from the punk band Die Ärzte than I did from German teachers, so I'm a big believer in that method. I picked up some more music that I think will get currency in Nepal: Avril Lavigne, Linkin Park, and Taylor Swift. Not really my kind of music, but I'm working on how to present it (in addition to, he says pretentiously, "good" music) so that nobody feels ostracized and maybe some students will start listening to these bands and it will improve their English long after I'm gone. And they will all spell "skater" with an 8. 

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