In September 1993, Gopal Yonjan (an important personality in the field of Nepali music) released a book-plus-cassette set with songs for children. The cover of the book shows children in dresses typical of different Nepali regions, and these children hold up musical symbols from both East and West: the note-syllables of sa, re, ga, ma, and pa together with a treble clef and an eighth note. On top of this, the name of the book, Git Manjari, is inscribed into the five lines of Western staff notation. In the book – beside the lyrics and saragam notation of the songs – there are instructive comments. These comments are obviously there to educate the music teacher as much as the students. It is suggested how each song can be performed (group, solo singers, with dance, from stage, etc.), illustrations show where the various notes are on the keyboard, and there are comparisons into Western ways of putting music on paper (D major scale, tone-names, etc.). As to the lyrics, we meet in one of these songs a greedy cat, and in another song we are treated with one didactic proverb for each of the ten fingers of the two hands. All the songs – which are targeted at children between four and ten years old – are also found on the accompanying cassette.
Of course, it was not his songs for children that elevated the late Gopal Yonjan (1943-1997) to be seen as one of Nepal’s (and Darjeeling’s) absolute top musical artists. He is remembered as a composer, as a songwriter, as a part of the legendary Mitjyu constellation with Narayan Gopal, as a flutist, and maybe as a studio-owner and college teacher (of music, at the Padmakanya Campus). Among his works, one might mention songs such as Birsera pheri malai nahera (sung by Narayan Gopal, lyrics Nagendra Thapa), Makhamali colo cahidaina (the radio hit sung by Mira Rana), or Kalakala salasala (the hit from the film Kanchi where Aruna Lama sang Chetan Karki’s lyrics).
In the context of Gopal Yonjan’s oeuvre, the songs for children in Git Manjari appear marginal.
In a similar way children have been assessed as marginal in Nepali studies (Gellner 2004). One of the most striking developments during Nepal’s last half century is certainly the explosive growth in schools (see, for instance, Liechty 2003: 57–8, 212–14, 264). The implications of this explosion for youth culture are thoroughly investigated in for instance Mark Liechty’s (2003) study of the rising middle class, and in the studies on various new forms of Nepali music by Paul Greene (2001, 2002/03; Greene & Henderson 2000; Greene & Rajkarnikar 2000). Children’s songs, on the other hand, remain unmentioned here as well as in the research at large – as the overviews of Nepal’s musical scenes in the leading music encyclopedias (Moisala 2000; Wegner et. al. 2005) testify.
Indeed, marginality seems to be characteristic of children’s songs, whatever the context in which we consider them. They are – as the Gopal Yonjan case illustrates – on the fringe of the modern musical developments in Nepal, where the central genres have been those of modern songs and (folklorized) folk songs. And in the educational context, children’s songs appear as similarly marginal. Compared to the compulsory, comprehensive teaching – with centrally approved textbooks – in Nepali and social studies, singing was an activity on the periphery of school practice and music was not even an explicit part of the curriculum (Ragsdale 1989: 118; see further below).
Yet this marginality may well be deceptive. As I hope will be clear in course of this article, studying children’s songs, as cultural artifacts and as artistic and educational practices, lands one on important, contested and central ground.
Institutionen för studier av samhällsutveckling och kultur , 2005. Vol. 10, no 2, 255-293 p.
Original publication: Ingemar Grandin, Music under development: children’s songs, artists, and the (pancayat) state, 2005, Studies in Nepali History and Society, (10), 2, 255–293. Copyright: Nepal Studies Group, http://www.asianstudies.emory.edu/sinhas/