Despite tough journey, Nepalese rock band Cobweb keeps moving forward

Nilesh Joshi, the bassist of Nepalese band Cobweb talks about how mutual respect has kept the band going despite the country's political unrest.
The band Cobweb will perform at the Music Room in Dubai. Courtesy Samir Shrestha / Mainstage & Mulghar
The band Cobweb will perform at the Music Room in Dubai. Courtesy Samir Shrestha / Mainstage & Mulghar

For any band, surviving more than 20 years in the business is a big deal. But the challenges facing Cobweb’s survival have been rather more gruelling than most. The members come from one of the poorest countries of the world, Nepal, and have had to try to stay afloat during the country’s decade-long civil war, which ended in 2006.

“It was hard to survive. Whenever we had a show it was cancelled,” says bassist Nilesh Joshi. “Sometimes, the whole country was closed down for political reasons. Sometimes there was no electricity. – we weren’t able to play.”

Cobweb, who make their Dubai debut tomorrow, were formed in Patan by a group of school friends, and released their debut album Anjaan in 1993, while still in their mid-teens. A raw rock record that took cues from western behemoths Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin, Cobweb stuck out like a sore thumb on Kathmandu’s conservative music scene.

“The first album didn’t work too well,” admits Joshi, now 38. “It was too heavy. In Nepal, people were just listening to pop at this time.”

It was 1996’s eponymous follow-up, released while the members were still on the verge of adulthood, that saw the band gain mainstream success in Nepal, and become a cornerstone in the country’s then emerging rock scene. However the band’s breakthrough came in the same year that the Nepalese Civil War broke out.

Despite this, the band managed to release four more albums during the conflict. They have also toured internationally, representing Nepali rock abroad, from Europe to Australia.

In 2012, the band marked their 20th anniversary with three of the founding members still on board: drummer Siddartha Dhakhwa, singer/guitarist Divesh Mulmi and Joshi.

“The main thing to our survival is understanding each other. We never put money between our friendship, that’s the river from which everything flows – we respect each other and understand each other.”

The band’s latest release is called Project Namaste. Proceeds from sales of the title track have been donated to help move Kathmandu’s huge population of street children to orphanages, something the band prefers not to talk about.

Today, Cobweb remains one of the best-known early bands on Nepal’s still-thriving home-grown rock scene, which was born in the Kathmandu Valley of the 1970s following pollinating influences from the West.

The country’s natural beauty and harmonious religious mix of Hindus and Buddhists attracted hordes of tie-dye clad idealists during the hippie counterculture boom of the 60s and 70s.

Rock stars such as Mick Jagger, and The Beatles are known to have visited Nepal, while there are rumours that Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley were visitors to the valley too, and today the psychedelic strip dubbed Freak Street, off Kathmandu’s main Durbar Square, still attracts curious visitors. The upshot of all this was that western rock sounds and guitars found their way into Nepalese hands.

“Kathmandu is a very musical city, but the war made it very difficult,” adds Joshi.

“These days, things are good – it’s not closed. The music here is strong.”

Cobweb perform at The Music Room on Friday, December 19 and Saturday, December 20, from 9pm. Dh70 entry

rgarratt@thenational.ae

Published: December 17, 2014 04:00 AM

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