Bartika Eam Rai

Bartika Eam Rai is a musician of Nepali descent currently based in New York. She is popular for her EP ‘Bimbaakash’.

Arun Budhathoki had an email interview with Bartika Eam Rai about her music and what it means to be a Nepali singer-songwriter in a foreign country. 

  • How did you start your musical career?

It never started with “Let’s pursue music as a career.” However, I still cannot think of music as a career because, for me, it has not translated to become my career yet. I have been working to learn more about music since I was six-seven years old and I have consistently sought for growth. Somewhere along the lines of listening to the one-time-playing song at the radio with my mother jotting down the lyrics and asking me what she had missed, recording children’s songs in Budhanilkantha School, following a lot of bands in Kathmandu to cover their stories as a magazine-writer at nineteen-years-old and performing on various occasions, it should have started—somewhere along those lines.

  • What inspired you to sing? Who’s your inspiration?

I have been singing for a long long time now. This is not a ‘moment-of-clarity-I-want-to-sing-now-story.’ I was raised in a big, gregarious, joint family in Lalitpur. Every little thing in the house was a family affair. My mother and her sisters played competitive antakshari and since we were not bombarded with gadgets yet, radio was central, everybody around me was singing all the time. My first memories of singing are as a 6/7-years old with my aunts. I thought everybody sang. That is how I began. I find inspiration in m(any) places. People, places, memories, possibilities, streets, sidewalks, words; sometimes there is an inspiration in everything.

  • Do you play any instrument? Have you taken any music lessons?

While my primary instrument is the ‘voice’, I do play guitar and piano. I have taken on and off music lessons with some fantastic teachers in Nepal. However, due to one reason or another, I never got to attend more than a few classes. Here is a history though:

  • Eastern Vocal with Gurudev Kaamat at Gurukul Baghbazaar (2 months/16 years old)
  • Guitar with Roshan Sharma and John Shrestha (probably 3 or 4 classes each/18 years old/ KJC and NMC)
  • Western Vocal with Shreeti Pradhan (2 or 3 months/19 years old)
  • Piano with Upendra Lal Singh (about 6 months/20 years old)
  • What’s the story behind Bimbaakash? Can you tell us about your music genre?

That is a very very long question and all over my Facebook artist page.

I do not like to box or categorize music. It is ever-changing.

I’ll say it is more close to indie-folk/indie-pop/indie-alternative. It may become different tomorrow.

  • Has it helped you to produce quality music since you live in the US? How does living abroad influence your lyrics, songs, and music videos?

I don’t want to label it as that. However, living by yourself does give you an amount of independence you can utilize towards creating more of the things you want to do. In that way, perhaps.

Also, living abroad influences my music in a large way mainly because there is a constant nostalgia of home and pain because of being perennially homesick.

When you always live in a place that is not quite home completely and yet reminds you constantly of one, it is obvious that your perspectives will change. This influences my lyrics which is the base of my music. I traveled halfway across the globe to realize how much I still love Kathmandu and Nepal. The music is just one way to fill up the empty spaces.

  • You are involved in a number of projects in the US. Can you tell us about it?

Well, I am an accountant working in finance and that is what I studied and that is still what I am pursuing as my career. That is my full-time job that makes my music possible. Besides that, I perform on a limited basis, I organize a show-series titled ‘Deha ra Aatma’ focusing on the singer-songwriter culture which is especially lacking in Nepali crowd. I am currently wrapping up recording my second album which is set to release in summer 2018. Since I am self-managed and self-represented, I am also planning my DIY pre-release-tour for this year. Other projects and all the details will be out shortly.

  • Can we expect Nepal Tour with you this year? 

Let’s say a hopeful ‘Yes’. 2018 should be exciting.

  • Your five favorite Nepali and foreign musicians.

This is a question that is difficult and I do not quite like but the first five I can think of in each category are:

Nepali: Shreeti Pradhan, Aruna Lama, Albatross, Jerusha Rai, Cadenza.

Foreign: Amy Winehouse, Rachael Yamagata, Radiohead, Regina Spektor, Sufjan Stevens.

  • Your five favorite Nepali and foreign songs.

The first five in my mind right now are:

Nepali: Himalsari (Kanchhi), Kahile Yo Maaya (Taradevi), Barood (Jerusha Rai), Samjhana ko Lahara (Ulto Pulto), Timro Jasto Mutu (Narayan Gopal).

Foreign: For Emma (Bon Iver), I Know (Fiona Apple), Tears Dry On Their Own (Amy Winehouse), Abhi Na Jaao Chhodkar, Tout Le Monde (Carla Bruni).

  • Any last words to aspiring Nepali musicians.

Keep making music even if only five people listen to it or even if just you listen to you. Better, find a bluntly honest critic who brings you to the ground and stick to that friend.

Applause will come and go. Honest critique will help you grow, both as a musician and a human being.

Also remember, you need a heart the size of the world to publish your music. Both good and bad will follow. Make yourself better able to cope with that, with time. Let neither bother or drive your zen.

Bartika’s popular songs: