Life and its priorities have changed with my first newborn: Sugam Pokharel
KATHMANDU: “Baba, I am putting cream on my face,” pop star Sugam Pokharel’s two-and-half year old daughter exclaims as he enters their flat in the new settlement of Shanti Nagar. The girl then jumps up and down five times and goes inside her parent’s room to fetch her mother.
“Baba is home.”
Her mother moves to the kitchen to prepare Sugam’s breakfast. It’s 11 in the morning, and Sugam is home for his usual one hour office break. Sugam has been working at Radio Sagarmatha, producing radio shows and maintaining its library for the last ten years, while always keeping his ever-booming singing career on the side. Radio Sagarmatha is South Asia’s first community FM station.
“It’s easier to eat at home than outside – inexpensive and fresh. And now I have more good reasons to be with my daughter,” Sugam declares.
After putting cream on her face, the little girl comes running to her father and asks if they can listen to songs from his mobile. Sugam plays a Nepali song, but his daughter demands a Hindi number. When Ekdeen (Javed Ali) starts to play on the N73 Nokia speakers, she starts to move her head to the tune, very subtly and completely in time with the beat.
“Chhori, let’s not play songs on mobile now. We will need the battery (juice) to listen to it later tonight when we have a load-shedding. Okay?” he asks her permission.
Chhori Angeliza nods positively.
The name Angeliza, according to Sugam, is derived from angel and Liza (his wife). He promises it has nothing to do with his fascination for Angelina Jolie.
“Life has changed radically after the entry of my daughter,” Sugam says of his first child. “Before, singing was my first priority. Now, she is the only priority,” he says. This shift in priority shows in his new album - School: Pathshala.
He has penned a song Suruwaat about his daughter and the new chapter which has begun in his life.
“This is sheer heaven - unexplainable. The idea of being of a father always overwhelms me as soon as I think of my daughter,” Sugam says heavily. “I now understand how my parents felt and how their expectations were.”
Sugam turns into a typical father trying to show his little daughter off to a friend. “Chhori, please sing for uncle.”
The daughter gets shy. Mother pops her head out of the kitchen.
“She usually doesn’t get shy or upset. I think it will take her two minutes to be friends with you,” she says of her daughter.
And it did only take two minutes. From then on she was singing songs, showing dance moves, posing as a suggestive supermodel for the benefit of flash photography and dropping the names of favorite movie stars “she knew”.
“Chhori, tell uncle whose movie we saw last time on HBO,” Sugam asks his daughter.
“Tom Cruise,” she says, as if she knows him as their neighbor.
“Who do you like?”
“Shahrukh uncle, Salman and Bunu’s baba,” she answers before completing the question. Her father explains that Bunu is the character of a baby girl in Bollywood movie “Hey Baby”. By her “baba”, she means Akshay Kumar.
“Rani aunty and Preity aunty,” she says, then goes to fetch the remote control for their massive audio system and gives it to her dad.
Dad plays classic Nepali film song Jun ta lagyo tarale.
Father and daughter sing together as the song starts to play at full volume. At times, she clutches his index finger and dances round and round with the music. At others, she simply stands still, lip-synching to the song.
“She knows a lot of Nepali songs and also recognizes a lot of my artists and musicians friends,” Sugam says. “Chhori, who is yo-yo uncle?”
“Sudin uncle is ‘Yo-Yo’ uncle,” she says amusingly, holding two fingers in the air horizontally and exclaims, ‘Yo-Yo’. Her father explains she’s referring to his close friend Sudin Pokharel of rap band The Unity.
Sugam and Sudin were buddies and band mates over ten years ago. Sugam eventually left the band to forge his solo career under the name 1MB (one man band). Sudin (most probably) never forgave him for ditching and started rapping instead under the name DA (Dead and Alive). Sudin once explained in an interview with Hits FM that he died when Sugam left, and that Girish (of Girish and the Unity fame) had brought him back to life; hence the name DA 69. But the two former band mates are still tight.
After a few minutes, mother comes in to get her daughter, giving us more time to talk serious business.
“I sing and dance with my daughter. She’s highly active and interested in music. As you saw, she sings in tune and knows beat and rhythm. As a singer, I have slightly selfish motives. I want her to sing at least a couple of songs. I have already composed a few children’s songs for her,” Sugam says.
“Are you hopeful about Nepali music at all?”
“Everything has ups and down. I was a flop singer before I released the single Mero Sansar. Pop was popular. FM was growing and sales were high. Now there are too many FM stations. Music enthusiasts have shifted from listening to music to watching the music,” Sugam starts his narrative on the state of Nepali music.
The Nepali music industry has seen a massive decline in the last four years. What used to be a mediocre hit at 50,000 record sales five years ago is now an unimaginable feat. “8,000 albums sell and you are a super-hit now,” Sugam laments.
“Maybe everyone has left; those who used to listen to our music,” he laughs. But you sense a kind of pain in that giggle, the kind you see in a man who is holding his dying son but cannot do anything.
“Of course it sucks that Nepali music is going down. I am a big part of this music industry. And if it goes down, I go down,” Sugam says.
The reasons could be many. Quality music has been scarce of late. It’s been a long time since a good album was released. Instead, some preppy number that gets stuck to your head becomes a super hit and makes charts, even though it often fails badly in sales. And it does not necessarily have to be a good number either.
“Instead of good and better music, we are stuck with the bad and ugly ones,” Sugam says, and agrees artists aren’t serious about their music anymore.
“They put two mediocre songs in their album and the remaining eight are just fill-in-the-blanks. Many artists do not know what they are doing, who they are and how to move ahead.”
Sugam can defend his own case strongly here. If you listen to his music, he is still what he was ten years back. The songs have changed, in terms of lyrics and tune. But the tone, essence and outlook of his music have remained the same.
“I have grown and I have changed, but the essence of Sugam Pokharel is always there in my music,” he says.
The hardest thing about being a singer is not in becoming successful, but in the struggle to maintain your success and fame, says the pro. “It’s easy to have success with a song or two to earn fame, but it´s quite the other to churn out good music, popular music that caters to a larger crowd each time.”
In a country where you can spot a “celebrity” in the same Sherpeni didiko bhatti-pasal you always go, the idea of celebritydom is something that disturbs Sugam. “I am a music artist, not a celebrity. We borrowed the term from the west. And we are not ready to become celebrities yet,” Sugam says.
“If you are a celebrity, you need a certain financial security and we do not have that. We are just normal, with the advantage that a certain population knows us more than others.”
When asked if he feels financially secure, Sugam smiles and looks away. He is one of the most optimistic guys I have seen. Most of his closest colleagues are either gone, or have made the firm decision to leave the country. His good buddy Raju Lama recently returned from the United States with a green card. But it’s not Sugam’s time yet.
“I am more optimistic about the country now. We have seen few changes. But this is not enough.”
“I will give it two more years. If the country’s situation remains the same or deteriorates in the next two years, it does not make sense for anyone to be here,” he gives the ultimatum.
“After you reach a certain age, you become uncannily practical and more realistic. I have to look for a solid option for my family. Idealism does not provide food, education and security to my daughter. I don’t want good education, fine health, and a secure and safe environment denied her. In which case, my secondary option would be going abroad. I will migrate.”
The daughter that he says he will migrate for if need be pops her head out from behind the door.
“Interview is almost over, Chhori. Come here,” the father says. “Let’s sing again.”
“Everything I do now is now targeted to her. It’s really much fun being the father. There is also the serious aspect of it, from keeping savings to working for future security to provide for her needs and wants. “
“I remember the many things I was deprived of while growing up. I don’t want my daughter to feel the same way when she grows up,” the proud father says.