When George Harrison of The Beatles discovered the sitar and tabla in a room during the filming of “Help” in 1965, he was intrigued. His interest in these instruments led him to Ravi Shanker, the sitar Maestro from India. Shanker taught George how to play the sitar and in return George made him world famous through association and their “Concert for Bangladesh” which resulted in a film and album. Harrison played the sitar in many Beatle songs which gave birth to fusion music that was to become a whole new genre expounded by great fusion bands like the Mahavishnu Orchestra. This new wave struck a chord with audiences around the globe and opened up the door to a whole new world of experimentation.
Harrison’s chance encounter with Indian classical instruments changed the world and Rudyard Kipling’s famous words “Oh! East is East and West is West, never the twain shall meet…” was about to be trashed forever. Fusion bands came out of the woodwork around the world and Nepal too has had its fair share of such music. Kanta dAb dAb however, is a fusion band that has brought a unique sound to fusion music. Most often these bands had guitars and tabla, but this is a trio comprised of a sitarist, drummer and a bassist, each one highly skilled in his craft. Playing their own compositions, they blend ethnic, traditional, Nepali classical and various western musical influences to create a new form of soulful fusion, and their audiences love it.
Sunit Kansakar is a versatile musician with proficiency in both guitar and sitar and continues to play both. Riju Tuladhar is a well established bassist who teaches music and is also engaged in scholarly pursuits. Nikhil Tuladhar (no relation to Riju) is a very popular drummer who has backed almost all of the well-known Nepali musicians from veteran singers of the 1960s to contemporary singers. Sunit and Nikhil are also part of Mukti & Revival and have their work cut out juggling their dates to play in both bands.
“Kanta dAb dAb has two meanings in Newari,” Says Sunit, “It’s a small drum like a damaru with two strings attached that have knots at the ends. Turning the drum rapidly left and right makes the knots hit the skins to produce a drum sound. But the jogi who goes from door to door in our neighborhood, asking for alms without uttering a sound, is also known as Kanta dAb dAb and he plays this little drum.” Sunit and Riju are childhood friends and have been together since 4th grade at Budanilkantha School. They then both went to Galaxy Public School and completed their BBS course from Asian College.
Sunit was born and raised in Nardevi in the heart of Kathmandu. He was into music from his school days playing guitar which he learned from his cousins who had formed a band called The Newaz. “I also hung out with Mukti & Revival when The Newaz joined Mukti and changed their band’s name to Revival. By then we had already started a band called Looza with Sarad Raj Karnikar on rhythm, Prajwal Kansakar on drums and Riju on bass. We later met Robin Tamang in Pokhara and decided to join forces to become ‘Robin & Looza’,” recalls Sunit. The band gained immense popularity and recorded many successful albums. This combination lasted about eight years until they decided to go their separate ways. “I learned to play the sitar soon after completing SLC, taking lessons from my uncle, a renowned sitarist named Tarabir Singh Tuladhar who taught the late rock sitarist, Bijaya Vaidya. Five years ago Sunit formed Kanta dAb dAb with Riju, and Nikhil Tuladhar joined them on drums. Besides playing with two bands, Sunit is also a sound engineer and instructor at Nepal Music Center (NMC).
Nikhil Tuladhar was born in Makhantole and learned to play tabla from his father, Sete Kaji Tuladhar. So in the Anandakuti School, Nikhil became the madal and tabla player. It was also in school that he learned to play drums and has since played in countless backup bands over the years. When asked how many singers he has played for, he says, “Let’s put it this way; I will tell you who I haven’t played for. One of them is Narayan Gopal. I’ve played for singers from Phatteman and Prem Dhoj Pradhan to Om Bikram Bista and Deep Shrestha.” He also recorded songs with Phatteman. One of the reasons why he has backed so many singers is his involvement with Paleti where all the great singers (mostly adhunik) have been featured in the eight years that he has performed there. Besides playing as a backup artist, he has also been a part of many bands including Vayu, Trikaal, Karma Band, Nepathya besides Revival and Kanta dAb dAb, the bands that he plays drums for currently. “I joined Nepathya in 2003 and played for eight years, touring the country and the world which took us to Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, the US, UK and Europe. I have been with Mukti & Revival for the last six years and formed Kanta dAb dAb with Sunit and Riju in 2014,” says Nikhil. He has been teaching drums and percussions at NMC since 2008.
Riju Tuladhar used to play guitar in school. “But I was more of a sports guy than a musician at school,” he says. Riju is an excellent footballer and has played for professional clubs in Kathmandu in his younger days. “I took lessons from guitar teacher C.B.Chettri but only for a month or so, after which I learned to play bass on my own,” he adds. In 2004 he started studying music seriously and joined NMC in 2008. He is Head of the Western Band Ensemble Department there and also teaches band ensemble at the Ethnomusicology Department of Kathmandu University. At NMC the teachers got together to form a band called Raktika which included Nikhil and Riju, guitarist Iman Shah, singer Lochan Rijal, guitarist Hari Maharjan and classical singer Prabhu Raj Dhakal. The band didn’t last long but they played at a number of shows before splitting up. “I then joined the Hari Maharjan Project in which Nikhil was also involved for a short spell,” he informs. He recalls recording live with the Gunvald RNR Trio at NMC with Norwegian keyboardist Gunvald and tabla player Rabin Lal Shrestha. Riju is a founding member of Kanta dAb dAb and of Looza before that and has performed at festivals in Europe, Hong Kong and India.
In 2014, the three friends were planning to start a new band when they were approached by organizers of Dancemandu International Dance Festival who were looking for a fusion band. With two months left before the festival began, they decided to form a fusion band for the event and called themselves Kanta dAb dAb; they began working on their original instrumental tunes. Little did they know what they were getting into, but it was the beginning of a journey that would take them to greater heights as musicians. The trio released their first eponymous album “Kanta dAb dAb” in 2016 and went on a European tour in 2017 which took them to Switzerland, Germany and Spain. Since their inception the band has been much in demand playing regular gigs all over town.
On a trip to Denmark, Sunit was shocked to discover that the airline had mishandled his sitar. “The tumbi was broken and we had a concert the same day. So we taped it up and did the gig without further incident. The sitar was later restored but I had learned a lesson; I started using an electric sitar for tours,” Says Sunit. The band has embarked on many tours that took them from Uzbekistan to Denmark and Finland. They look forward to many more festivals in the days to come.