We had a good definition for normal before COVID. The ‘Normal’ we knew was, wake up in the morning, get ready, head out for work or for school, and then come back home, eat dinner, sleep.
Going out to bars, concerts and for live music was a common thing for all of us.
But then the pandemic hit us all like a tsunami. Not only did we have to stay inside all thanks to the novel coronavirus but the definition of normal changed for the whole world.
While going to stores used to be a chore, after the pandemic it became a privilege.
While going out on Friday nights and hanging out with friends was a normal thing, the lockdown made us realise not all things were permanent. Locked inside the house, within the four walls… even home felt like a prison after a while. Months passed away, but things did not feel like it was ever going to come back to normal.
Our minds wondered, are we ever going to be able to go out, hang out with our friends again?
There were some wondering if we were ever going to go back to work!
The situation was even worse for the local bands and solo artists, who used to perform in bars, and clubs, and got paid for day-to-day performances, as they stopped working.
In Kathmandu, Thamel, Durbarmarg, Lazimpat, and Jhamsikhel were the most happening places for live music and concerts.
But it all went silent during the lockdown.
No gigs, no payment.
So how did the musicians feel during the lockdown?
Aashik Shrestha, a solo artist who did gigs around town for almost two years now, said, “At first, to be honest, I had fun. The first month felt like a break. But then as days went by, a month became two and then three, and it soon had a profound impact on me. After a while I almost ran out of money and I had no idea when I was going back to work.”
Getting paid when you play and not having deals, it must have been a hard time for the musicians during the pandemic.
And since Nepal's music industry is a small community, things were hard even before the pandemic!
A few years ago if you said you wanted to become a musician or a singer, your family would look at you like you were going crazy.
It’s a tough industry to break into, and with the pandemic hitting it harder, things are on pause!
Sanjay Shrestha, drummer with 1974 AD and guitarist for Joint Family, talking about the impact of pandemic said, “It’s still tough, it's still going on, still not over yet. So many of our concerts got cancelled. And for the musicians who make a living out of day-to-day gigs I can only imagine how hard it was for them.”
Bishesh Bhandari who has been in the music-scene for over a decade now said, “Things haven’t been easy due to the pandemic, I was actually in China at the beginning and waited about two months for things to get back to normal. But it wasn’t looking so good at the time and I decided to return to Nepal for a while. I literally had no idea the pandemic would have such an extended impact. Musicians are hurting badly, finally bars are re-opening but it will definitely take another couple of months for the scene to come back to the old normal.”
Bars, clubs and pubs, were closed for seven months.
And even though they have reopened since December last year, and the night life is active yet again, the local musicians say the pay they receive now is half of what they used to make before the pandemic. Many of the musicians say that they have started receiving calls for gigs but looking at the expenses that need to be incurred from petrol to all of the gadgets, it is better to stay home than go out and play!
Saroj Tamag, a guitarist for a band called Sketches said, “Since the bars and pubs are not getting many customers themselves, even when they call a band to play music, they do not offer much money.”
When asked as a musician, is payment the only problem for them post-pandemic, Madhu Magar, a singer said, “Not as a musician but as a human we need to make a living and survive. We have to earn and eat, right?”
Due to the payment issue, Aashik says “It has broken many bands. I was in a band myself but after the lockdown, I have started doing gigs as a solo artist.”
He went on to add that many musicians have left the field and started working 9 to 5 jobs, but as a musician they have a hard time adjusting to the scene of working in an office for 8 hours.
Surely, it has been tough for the musicians to earn a living whether it is due to the coronavirus or in general itself.
But what can they do now?
Many of the musicians said, coming back to the old normal is going to take a lot of time. Even though the vaccine has arrived, getting to the old scene will be a hard task!
But as Anisha Maharjan, who has been teaching and learning music for almost five years said, “Keep practising, the pandemic is not going to last forever. The best way to handle the situation is to try our best to stay safe, keep practising, help each other find gigs, and most importantly not get frustrated.”
After talking to all of the musicians, post-pandemic seems to be a battlefield.
Things aren’t back to normal yet but we can’t just stay home as well, all we can do is, try to stay safe and hope!
One way or the other we have to survive, either as an artist or as a human being. After all, 'THE SHOW MUST GO ON!'