From a teacher in charge of extra-curricular activities, Nirakar Yakthumba became a musician and started a band that would become the most popular Nepali rock band. He then became a restaurateur and went on to establish a music institute named Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory.
Nirakar Yakthumba was born in Tibet. Yes! He was born in Lhasa on 8th March 1965 when his father Gyan Bahadur Yakthumba was posted there as Council General of Nepal. But only months after his birth the family was to move back to Kathmandu. His father then decided to send him to Darjeeling as most affluent families did back then, to give him a good English education. In 1971, he joined St. Joseph’s (North Point), the school where even the royal family sent their children which included King Birendra as a young Crown Prince.
Since the time he was in Class V, Nirakar showed a keen interest in music and once he was able to play the guitar, became a member of a band named ‘Jailbirds’. “We had such poor equipment that our drummer had no bass drum; just a snare, Hi Hat and a symbol,” recalls Yakthumba with a broad smile on his face. The band performed once a month at Fraser Hall. “Fr. Van gave us a chance to play in front of the school boys just before the monthly movie was screened,” adds Nirakar. He left Darjeeling in 1982 and went to a Government College in Chandigadh before completing his Masters in English from Punjab University.
Despite the fact that Yakthumba is a founder member, the band leader and bassist of the most popular Nepali rock band ever, the owner of Moksh and the founder/Director & Chairman of Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory, there is not much information you can glean if you google. No young musician has ever contributed so much to music as Nirakar has done. His institute KJC churns out excellent musicians every year and has raised the standard of music in Nepal, while his band 1974 AD opened up the door for Nepali bands to go on foreign concert tours. Yet strangely, the Nepali media seems to have side-lined him. Only one publication, M & S seems to have featured this humble musician with amazing accomplishments under his belt. Even though he enjoys celebrity status, Nirakar hides behind a simple façade, giving the impression that he doesn’t care about stardom. He is soft spoken, gentle and respectful of elders and betrays a faint hint of shyness behind those glasses. The next thing he tells me is a shocker, “The original members of 1974 AD are coming together again and we are going to record new songs.” That comes as a complete surprise but it’s a heartening one. Everybody had given up hope of ever seeing the band together again especially as rumors had it that a deep rift existed between the remaining members and the “Original Duo” as Phiroj and Adrian had started calling themselves during their US tour which incidentally coincided with 1974 AD’s own US tour. The band made the reunion public with an announcement on ….. July.
In 1975 Nirakar’s mother Indira, opened a school named Gyanodaya Bal Batika in Jhamsikhel. When the school later moved to Sanepa where the old Santa Bhawan used to be, Nirakar was put in charge of extra-curricular activities like music and sports for ten long years. He was later engaged in running the new Higher Secondary section of Gyanodaya from 1996 to 1997. The new section then occupied the building where KJC (Gyan Mandala) now stands. “In school I became friendly with the music teacher, Phiroj Shyangden and learnt to play classical guitar. We even went as far as recording some classical tunes in the early 1990s. Then just for fun, the two of us got together with other musicians, Bhanu A on rhythm guitar, Patrick Wilson on drums, Anup Das on keys while Phiroj played lead guitar and I played bass,” says Nirakar. This was the original line-up of 1974 AD in 1994 which thrived on covers of popular English rock songs. (I remember this new band doing a weekly gig at Grafitti in Teku where we as Prism also played twice a week. The restaurant was opened by members of Wrathchild, Anil Sthapit and DJ Raju along with their siblings and friends.)
1974 AD’s first major gig was in 1995 at the International Music Day festival held at the Khulla Munch in Tudikhel. “That was the largest audience we’d ever played to,” recalls Yakthumba. Then in 1996, the band released their first album entitled “Time Out” which featured mostly English songs but included two Nepali originals “Mayalule” and “Timro Samjhana”. The former was Phiroj’s debut as a singer. They took the album to Hits FM where they met with the owner Sonny Shrestha, who immediately told them very wisely, “Now do something similar in Nepali!” That was the spark of genius which would propel 1974 AD to instant fame and glory. Sonny was also willing to sponsor their recording.
But it would take the induction of new members into the band which was to prove fruitful, making a world of a difference. “It was time to take music seriously and those who couldn’t devote time had to drop out, “explains Nirakar. So Bhanu A, Partick and Anup left the band while Adrian Pradhan (formerly of Kalimpong’s rock band “Flame”) and Manoj K.C. made up the new line-up. Manoj was to complement Phiroj on guitar while Adrian became singer/drummer of the band. (Drummer Sanjay Shrestha, formerly of “Shristi” was to join them in 2000 while flautist Manose Singh had a brief spell with them.) The result was their second album “Samjhi Baschu” which became a big hit. Nepali people hadn’t heard anything quite like it; here was a Nepali rock band that sounded truly professional with superb songs. The vocals, guitar licks, the melodies and vocal harmonies were a cut above the rest and the mixing had been done by an Indian professional.
Hits like “Parelima”, Timilai Pirathile”, “Chhudaina” and “Samjhi Baschu” were some of the great songs from the second album. “We then embarked on our first U.S. tour in 2002 and were the first Nepali rock band to do so. Performing in nine different states, it took us three months to complete the circuit,” says Nirakar. By doing so, they paved the way for future Nepali rock bands to take their music abroad. This was followed by their historic concert at the Dashrath Stadium in Tripureshwar called “Rock Yatra” in 2002. Their popularity had reached such proportions that fans had poured in from Darjeeling and Sikkim to see them. Nobody had witnessed such a phenomenon before and the crowds became so unmanageable that the cops intervened and stopped the concert midway to avoid a stampede. The crowd was then told to go home.
Their third album “Satabdi” was an even bigger hit with classics like “Sambodhan”, “Hijo Matra” and “Pahilo Junima” when it also became clear that Adrian was an exceptional singer, putting a stamp on the sound of the band. Then on, their fan base reached unheard of proportions and audiences could sing their songs word for word. One of their biggest hits is “Nepali Ho”. The phenomenal success of the band led to numerous awards at the many musical award nights by Hits FM, Tuborg, San Miguel, Image and Kantipur FM etc. But Nirakar was not one to sit on his laurels and gloat. He went on to open Moksh Restaurant and Bar with the aim of giving musicians a platform to perform and mingle with fellow musicians to build a network. Moksh became a popular hangout, and it led to a crucial friendship between saxophonist Mariano Abello from Spain and Nirakar.
The partnership of Nirakar and Mariano led to the founding of Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory (KJC), an exceptional music institute in 2007. This was the beginning of a big undertaking. Occupying a part of the building that housed Gyanodaya’s Plus 2 College, the institute was inaugurated and soon became the number one musical school in Nepal. With international music teachers from several different countries, the institute attracted foreign students as well. “When the college moved to the old school compound, KJC took over the five- storey building. We then added yoga classes, an art school, fitness center, coffee shop and a dance school, now collectively known as Gyan Mandala which includes KJC,” informs Nirakar. Today it’s buzzing with activity and thriving, producing some fine musicians. KJC also raises funds at Moksh to sponsor some of the students who then receive free tuitions.
Back in 1995, Nirakar married Dolly Gurung who is recognized as Nepal’s first model. People who remember the first Wai Wai advert for TV will remember the cute little girl who grew up to become an entrepreneur. The couple has three kids; Nirantar, the oldest son is 22 now, their daughter Nirita is 19 and the younger son Nishank at 14 is in Class 9 at Rato Bangla School. It comes as no surprise that all three siblings play music. The oldest son plays the piano and is heading for Amsterdam in the Netherlands to study composition. How proud the father must be, but it’s all the result of this remarkable man’s vision and love for music.
Nirakar Yakthumba has led a dreamlike existence with his tremendously successful band 1974 AD and one can say that without a doubt, this man has been living a fulfilling and meaningful life only a few can emulate. And now with the original 1974 AD back in full force, What next?