The Newars, an indigenous group in the Kathmandu valley of central Nepal, create a unique form of music in which percussion plays lead, and wind instruments provide incidental color. The musical direction is dictated by nature, particularly time and seasons. The style of music from this region consists solely of percussion and wind instruments – no strings.
Traditional Newari music uses several types of percussion instruments, such as the large dhimay drum, the slightly smaller dhah (which has a tuning paste made of seeds and oils smeared on its insides), and the nayakhin, which is rubbed to produce a vibrato effect. Other percussion includes a pair of crash cymbals called bhusyaa, and tambourine-like instruments.
While there are no stringed instruments, there are several wind instruments. The bansuri is common throughout the Indian subcontinent, and is a bamboo flute with either 6 or 7 holes. The muhali, a kind of shawm, and the ponga, a long brass instrument, are also used by Newars.
The effect of all this percussive and airy instrumentation is a delightful, warm sound that is very much in the style of other south Asian music, while retaining the unique slant given by the Newar people. Most of the population of Kathmandu is Newari, and the area is actually comprised of several different groups that have come together to share the Newari language and the creation of Newari culture. Music is, as in most cultures, of central importance to the sense of community.
Traditionally, Newari songs are played according to the current time. This means not only the season of the year, but also the time of day, dictate the music to be played. The feel of each song matches the feel of the time being honored.
Capable of bright celebration and slower meditative pieces, traditional Newari music is an interesting jewel from the steep slopes of Nepal.
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