By NRB Editorial Team
Not too long ago, music lovers in Bhutan were glued to the radio aired by the Bhutan Broadcasting Service listening to songs sung by legends like Narayan Gopal, Gopal Younzon, Tara Devi, and Bhakata Raj Acharya. In the early 1990s, Pratap Subba, a Lhotshampa (Bhutanese-Nepali) singer, became a household name with his super hit Bandan-Ko-Chino. The song captured the audience’s hearts and remains popular in Bhutan, India, and Nepal even today. Subba’s success inspired many youths of the younger generation in Bhutan. Subsequently, the Nepali music fraternity witnessed an avalanche of Lhotshampa singers, composers, and lyricists.
The promising growth came to a halt in the 90s after 100,000 Lhotshampas, ⅙ of Bhutanese nationals, became refugees While in refugee camps or in otherwise transitional phases, aspiring Lhotshampa musicians struggled immensely in their musical journey. With limited access to financial resources, securing musical instruments, recording songs, and releasing albums was a difficult endeavor.
Luckily, resettlement in the United States that began in 2008 has rejuvenated the presence of Lhotshampa talent in Nepali music industry. Currently, there are around two dozen Lhothampa singers, composers, and lyricists in the United States. Over the past 9 years, they have collaborated in music compositions, exchanged lyrics, and shared stages with music legends of Nepal and India such as: Asha Boshle, Ranjeet Gazmer, Kali Prasad Rijal, Sathya Raj Acharya, Swaroop Raj Acharya, Uday Sotang, Manila Sotang, Rajesh Payal Rai, Yam Baral, Ram Krishna Dhakal, Roshan Gurung, Shiva Pariyar, Pramod Kharel, Karma Gyalchen Bomzan, Jagadish Samal, Melina Rai, Anju Panta, Astha Raut, Nalina Chitrakar, Kamal Khatri, and Babu Bogati. They have also established strong ties with Nepali cene-artists like Rajesh Hamal, Bhuwan KC, Dilip Rayamajhi, Priyanka Karki, Keki Adhikari and more. In the major socio-cultural events such as Dashai, Tihar, Losar, and Himalayan Festival, the Lhotshampa community has been hosting many of these singers and cene-artists in the U.S.
Lhotshampa artists are indeed the bedrock of excellent Bhutan-Nepal relation at the people-to-people level. It is worth knowing some of these talented community members. Following are Lhotshampa artists who have succeeded in establishing Lhotshampa-singing’s own unique place in the world of Nepali music fraternity. By including some connection to Bhutanese culture, history, and places in their lyrics, compositions, and songs, they keep the Lhotshampa spirit alive with their creation.
Damber Khapoong Subba (Singer/Composer):
This talented singer was the first person to release a music album in the Bhutanese refugee camps. Over the years, he has released four albums with original songs, of which Bhutani- Chitkaar, Uzzad, and Pulse are huge successes. He is currently working on his fifth album titled Yoman-2. Till date, he has sung over 30 original songs and composed 20 plus songs. His forte is Nepali love and adhunik songs. He has worked with popular Nepali musicians/singers like Swaroop Raj Acharya, Pramod Kharel, Tara Thebe, Mani Kumar Chettri, and Melina Rai. His most well known songs are Nakai-Ma-Phuli, Musu-Musu-Hasera, Darjeeling-Jyan- Ko, and Ankhai-Ankha-Ma. Subba calls music “a never-ending journey.” Indeed, it has stayed with him from his birthplace Ghumauney, Bhutan to where he is currently based in North Dakota, USA.
Manoj Rai (Singer/Composer):
This gifted singer gained wide popularity among Bhutanese community members through more than 45 beautiful songs. He has released three albums: Sinoreta, Spandan, Bhutani Katha Byatha. He is currently working on his 4th album Bhutani-Sahid-Haru-Lai. His forte is love songs and Bhajans. His popular songs are Himala Ko Kaakh Ma Cha, Bahanale Hunna, and Maya Lu. “You can sing a song, you can play a harmonium, but putting them together requires thorough knowledge and practice,” says Rai. He was born in Samchi, Bhutan and is now based in North Carolina, USA.
Mahesh Thulung (Singer/Composer/Lyricist):
One of the most popular singers in the Lhotshampa music industry, Thulung has sung over 30 songs till date. His musical career took off when he sang hits like Chodera Najau Pardesh Malai from Nepali movie Kaanha Chau Kaanha and won the hearts of many people in Nepal. He has released two albums named Timro-Yaadle and Moments. He is working on his 3rd Album currently. His forte is modern Nepali songs. His super hit songs are Aakashaima-Chil-Ho-Ki-Besara, and Priyeshi-Timro-Yaad. His brother Bikash Thulung, another talented person in the Lhotshampa music industry, arranges Thulungs songs. He was born in Ghumauney, Bhutan and is now based in Georgia, USA.
Govinda Phuyel (Singer/Composer/Lyricist):
Govinda has been winning the hearts of people through various musical genres, including ghazals, Bhajans, and modern Nepali songs. He has sung 50 plus songs till date and has worked with top musicians of Nepal like Basanta Sapkota, Karma Gyalchen Bomzan, and Mahesh Sewa. He has released two Bhajan albums called Bhakti Raj-1 & 2 and one Ghazal Album Jodera Samjhana. He is currently working on his 4th album focusing on Nepali adhunik songs. His popular songs are Nepali Bhaka Leyera, Mann Le Mann Aatera, Timro Aadharma, Radha Krisna Ko Naam Anamol, and Chinta Haatai Chintaan Seekau. Born in Gaylegphug, Bhutan, he is now based in Kentucky, USA.
Amber Tumbapo Subba (Composer/Lyricist/Singer):
He is one of the most versatile music composers as well as singers in the Lhotshampa music industry. He has composed over 50 songs till date. He has released one solo album Amber and worked for solo composition of album Prajwol of Gopi Dahal. He is working on his 3rd album currently. He has worked closely with popular singers/composers in Nepal such as Sathya-Swaroop Acharyas, Karma Gyalchen Bomzon, Uday Sotang, Shiva Pariyar, Rajesh Payal Rai, Yuba Raj Chaulagai, Santosh Lama, and Dharmendra Sewan. His forte is modern Nepali songs. His popular songs are Jalera Mutu, Hinda Hindai, and Sanima Saani. He was born in Chirang, Bhutan and is now based in Ohio, USA.
Arjun Rasaily (Singer/Composer):
He is one of the most acclaimed ghazal singers of the present Bhutanese generation and has been praised for his style and vocal quality. He has released four albums: Timro Tasbir, Refugee, Bhav and Bakhya and is currently working on 5th album. He has worked closely with top Nepali singers like Satya-Swaroop Acharyas, Uday and Manila Sotang, and Jagdish Samal. His most popular songs are Peudina Vantee Satee Bhagya Phutera Peeyay, Ke Vayo Ta Maya Marda, and Mata Bachiyeko Nepali. His forte is ghazal songs. “Ghazal singing requires classical training and thorough knowledge on musical notes,” Rasaily says. He was born in Damphu, Bhutan and is currently based in Ohio, USA.
Kishor Siwakoti (Singer/Composer):
This versatile and melodious singer gained much popularity from his hit song Basti Chodnu Vanda Agi. He has released two Albums Vugol and Tribute. He has sung 60 plus songs till date and has worked with top composers/singers in India and Nepal such as Asha Bosle, Rajeet Gazmer, Anju Panta, and Melina Rai. His most popular songs are Samjhidewna Ye Dai, Guras Fulyo, and Aama Timi Kahan Chau. He is currently working on his 3rd album. His forte is love and adhunik songs. He was born in Dhanesay, Bhutan and is now based in South Dakota, USA.
Kanchhi Maya Subba Magar (Singer):
The senior most, and first to release solo album among female singers in the Lhotshampa community, Magar has captured audience’s hearts with her melodious voice in songs. She has released her first album Kanchi and has sung over 15 songs till date. She is currently working on three songs and their music videos. She has worked closely with famous Nepali musicians like Raju Singh, Roshan Shai Thakuri, Roshan Gurung, and Shikar Santhos. Her popular songs are Sundar Cha, Lazz Lagcha, and Sarara Batas Chalyoo. Her forte is modern aadhunik songs. She was born in Sharbang, Bhutan and is currently based in Virginia, USA.
Sagar Rai (Singer/Composer):
Acclaimed for his style, voice, and composition in Bhutanese-Nepali music industry, Rai has released his first album Chitthi Ko Jamana and is currently working on his second album Arko Janma. He has released four music videos. His forte is Nepali melody songs. His popular songs are Chitthi Ko Jamana, Dekhda Timilai, and Bipanama Nadekheni. Currently, he is working on A music video titled Bishaal America. He was born in Sarbhang, Bhutan and is currently based in Georgia, USA.
Shiva Mapchhan (Singer/Composer):
He has captured the audience’s hearts with his mellow romantic songs and the uniqueness of his voice quality. He has released his first solo Album Pahilo Paila and has recorded eight songs till date. His popular songs are Chhitij Pari and Ghan Ghan Madal. He has closely worked with Nepali musicians/singers such as Raju Lama, Karna Das, Yam Baral, and Roshan Gurung. He was born in Chirang, Bhutan and is now based in Georgia, USA.
Kiran Gajmer (Singer/Composer):
This young singer has an amazing range and versatility. His talent has attracted several collaborative works with renowned music personalities in Nepal. He got his break through a Nepali film Radha in 2016 and since has sung in three Nepali movies as a playback singer. The most popular songs include Marchu Sajilai, Sanglo Yo Mann, Chapak Ka Man Pulyo, Gajab Hunay Chaa, Meri Chandrama, and Itahariko Sukuti. He has worked as a composer in two albums, released solo composition albums Pratikshya and Maya and has recorded more than 70 songs as singer/composer till date. He has won an award for Best Singer of the Year in 2016 in OS Nepal Music Award ceremony. His parents were from Samrang, Bhutan and he is now based in Missouri, USA.
Dhakal Brothers (Singer/Composer/Lyricist)
Manoj Dhakal, Krishna Dhakal, and Nabin Dhakal, known as the Dhakal brothers won the heart of Bhutanese-Nepali music industry when they released the super hit songs Hatteri and Kanchi along with their music videos. Together, they have released their first solo album Distant. They have worked closely with Nepali established musicians like Pushpan Pradhan, Chandu Gorkhali and Mohit Munal. They were born in Samchi, Bhutan and are now based in Pennsylvania, USA.
Lokesh Gurung (Singer):
This young singer made his debut in music industry with his first song Purnima Ko Chandrama Lai, a super hit in Nepal. He has won the hearts of thousands of people. He released his first album Pratikshya and has sung over 8 songs so far. He has worked and shared stages with various singers from Nepal such as Kamal Khatri, Raju Lama, Yash Kumar, Nalina Chitrakar, Rajesh Payal Rai, Roshan Gurung, and Jagdish Samal. His popular songs are Purnima Ko Chandrama Lai, Timi Bina, and Mero Man Jalayera. He was born in Budichu, Bhutan and is based in Missouri, USA.
Ramesh Kadel (Singer):
He is an emerging talent in the Bhutanese-Nepali music industry. He has released his first album Prayas and has sung 7 plus songs till date. His popular songs are Mayalu, New York Saharma, Sarara Hawa. He has worked closely with Anju Panta and Melina Rai for these songs. He is currently working on his second album and has prepared 24 songs in collaboration with established Nepali musicians and singers like Kali Prasad Baskota, Karma Gyalchen Bomzon, Kamal Khatri, Gopal Rasaily, and Udaya Raj Poudel. He was born in Damphu, Bhutan and is now based in Virginia, USA.
Ken Mainali (Singer/Composer):
Another talent to behold in the Bhutanese-Nepali music industry, he has released his first album Sara Jiwan and has sung 7 plus songs till date. His popular songs are Dinay Vaye Deu and Sara Jewan. He was born in Chirang, Bhutan and is currently based in North Carolina, USA.
Talman Magar (Singer):
He is one of the senior singers among Bhutanese community. He is well known for his voice quality. He has sung 6 songs; one in collection album, two group songs and four solo songs. He is currently working on a new album Niyati. His popular songs are Chiso-Batas, a duet song with Melina rai and Sunkosi-Nadhilai-Sodha composed by Pratap Subba. He has worked closely with Bhutanese veteran singer Pratap Subba and Mabindra Rai from Nepal. He was born in Gaylegphug Bhutan and now based in California, USA.
Dhan Baraily (Singer/Composer/Lyricist):
This talented singer has begun his singing venture in the refugee camps in mid 90s. He has recorded 31 songs and composed 22 plus solo songs so far. He has released three albums till date; Smarpan, The Journey and Ruhahi-Isq (Hindi Bhajan songs). He is currently working on collection album project. His famous songs are Timro-Aakha-Ko, Mata-Manche-Sidha-Sadha and Dasai-Pachhi-Tihar. He has also released 5 music videos so far. He has collaborated with Rajesh Payal Rai, Bhavesh Bhumari, Santhose Shrestha, Gayandra Gadal, Banika Pradhan, and shared stages with Prashant Tamang (Indian idol), Amit Paul (Indian Idol runner up), Deepak Lumbhu (Nepali Tara winner) including other popular singers such as Pratap Subba, Jagdish Samal and Anjana Gurung. He was born in Sharbang Bhutan and now based in Houston, TX, USA
Kamal Rai (Singer/Composer/Lyricist/Arranger)
This down to earth versatile and talented artist has composed 30 plus songs and arranged around 100 songs till date. He has released his first solo composed album Dual-Heart. Currently, he is working on solo composition album where Karma Gyalchen Bomzon is lending voice. He has either directed or provided technical assistance in film making, video recording and music arrangement for some of the Bhutanese artists in the United States including Canada over the last 6 years. For example, recording and musical arrangement of super hit songs like Songlo-Yo-Mann and Purnima-Ko-Chandra-Ma-Lai of Lokesh Gurung was done by Mr. Rai. He runs his recording and video making studio “Rhythm Screening Video Recording”. Among his many beautiful songs, Maya-Ko-Nasa-Lay is very popular. He was born in Samchi Bhutan and currently based in Georgia, USA.
Chhabi Neopaney (Singer/Composer)
He is well known for his forte in classical singing and has composed 12 plus songs till date. He has recorded two songs and has worked in collection album “Sur” of Amber Subba and others. He is currently working on recording three solo composition songs and making their music videos. Kishor Siwakoti wrote/composed one of these songs and Melina will be lending her voice as a co-singer. His popular songs are Teme-Aaune-Goreto-Ma composed/written by Amber Subba and Kasari- Bhanau-Khoi of his own lyrics. He has collaborated with Shiva Pariyar for composition of a song and shared stages with Roshan Gurung and Jagdish Samal. He was born in Chirang, Bhutan and now based in South Dakota, USA.
NK Brothers (Composer):
Naresh Gautam and Khada Gautam are popularly known as NK Brothers in Bhutanese music industry. They are emerging talents who have composed 15 plus songs till date. Their solo composed first album is Brothers where all songs were sung by resettled Bhutanese singers like Kishor Siwakoti, Arjun Rasaily and Nepali singer Saru Parajuli. They are working on releasing second album currently. Their popular song is Pahilo-Kiran and has music video too. Other popular songs are Ma-Ta-Desh-Lutiyako-Manche and Buddha-was-born-in-Nepal. They own music recording studio and have recorded 100 plus songs so far. They are also members of Nepal Sangeetkar Sangh. NK brothers were born in Dagana Bhutan and now based in Ohio, USA.
Gopi Dahal (Lyricist)
He is a talented lyricist. He has written songs in two albums Ujjwal and Prajwal besides lyrics in number of individual songs. Album Ujjwal’s songs were composed by Rajan Raj Siwakoti, a popular musician in Nepal. And album Prajwal’s songs were composed by Bhutanese artist Amber Subba. Some of the popular songs in album Ujjwal are Rato-Rato-Gala (singer-Rajesh Payal Rai), Biswo-Sundari (singer-Milan Amatya), Tite-Karalee (singer-Ramchandra Kafley), Kalo-Kalo-Kesh (singer-Junu Rizal), and Sancho-Chaa-Ke-Bichancho (singer-Melina Rai). Likewise, popular songs in album Prajwal are Sani-Ma-Sani (singer-Shiva Pariyar), Itahari-Ko-Sukuti (singer-Kiran Gajmer), Basa-Ghara-Mere-Maya (singer-Rajesh Payal Rai), Beswas-Gara-Besari (singer-Rajan Raj Siwakoti) and Chauri-Ko-Churpi (singer-Ramesh Kadel). He is currently writing solo lyrics for his 3rd Album. He was born in Dagana Bhutan and now based in Ohio, USA.
In addition to the phenomenal group of artists featured here, there are a number of other equally talented artists we were not able to contact for this write-up. They include singers such as: DB Gurung, DB Tamang, Tek Dudhraj, Jhulen Baral, Binod Gurung, Bhakta Ghalley,Bharat Tamang, Ganesh Chang; musicians/composer/arrangers/recordists such as: Ram Gurung, Bikash Thulung, Dipak Dasnami, Manish Adhikari, Puspa Gajmer, and Bishal Gurung; lyricists such as RB Khadka, Mukti Raj Gurung, Rakesh Kafley, Khem Rizal, Rohit Subedi, Prakash Ghimiray, Govinda Humagai, Laxmi Subedi, Narad Rizal, Govind Gautam and actors such as: Bhanu Tiwari, Kedar Upreti, Deepak Gajmer, Santosh Ramdam, and Agom Gurung. We recognize these artists’ immense contributions to the Bhutanese-Nepali music industry and look forward to writing about them next time. Music is magical. It aids in healing, especially when the suffering is grave like when one becomes a refugee. We salute all these artists for their dedication and hard work. Their contributions have kept Lhotshampa Bhutanese history and culture alive. They have helped us maintain the vibrancy of our community.