06.12.2011 - UNESCO Office in Kathmandu

"Record it, save it, share it," say experts on musical heritage at UNESCO symposium in Kathmandu

©UNESCO/Nipuna Shrestha -Participants in the symposium

Ethno-musicologists, cultural experts, musicians and government representatives have highlighted the importance of documentation, transmission and dissemination in safeguarding Nepal’s age-old musical heritage.

A half-day symposium organized by UNESCO last week in Kathmandu demonstrated a lack of policy and institutional framework, as well as scientific understanding, in the use of recording and archiving musical heritage. This has caused the loss of much of Nepal’s rich historical musical heritage.

A substantial effort to record music has been made by many foreign ethno-musicologists and visiting musicians since the early 1950s when Dharmaraj Thapa, a Nepalese folk singer campaigned for a “jagaran yatra,” a musical awakening throughout the country.

Field trips, photographic documentation, ethno-musicological surveys and research on Gurung, Gaine (singers’ community), Newars, Damai (traditional tailors) etc., have been carried out representing various Nepalese musical traditions.

Examples of these include Arnold A. Bake (1931 and 1955/56), Terence R. Bech (1960s-70s), Carol Tingey (1980s-90s),Pirrko Moisala (1980s) and some distinct local music practitioners, for example Ram Sharan Nepali, the veteran Gaine musician who died in 1996.

Participants of the symposium commended efforts being made by local institutions such as the Music Museum of Nepal and Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya in bringing back home some of the old historic records residing outside Nepal. 

Symposium participants stressed the need for continued effort from both the government and community in order to tackle a complex set of challenges facing Nepal’s musical heritage.

Viram Jaisani said: “One has to remember that music heritage is an integral part of the way of people’s life. It is not just for those who can afford it.”

Participants highlighted the essential role of the community in raising awareness on the need to safeguard musical heritage.

They also stressed the need to address the main concerns including intellectual property right issues in favour of promoting the traditional practitioners and producers of music.

Ethno-musicologists at the symposium also said that there are less and less traditional music instruments makers, which adds to the risk of losing important parts of Nepal’s musical heritage.

Axel Plathe, head of the UNESCO Kathmandu Office and UNESCO Representative to Nepal, said: “Recording, documenting and preserving music traditions are part and parcel of efforts to preserve intangible heritage.

“This richness is not only an esoteric cultural asset. It is more and more valued as a key component of social and economic development.”  

Many of the on-going initiatives by individuals and institutions will reveal and preserve the musical treasures of Nepal.

Scholars, researchers and practitioners called for the government’s urgent attention for the appropriate management, knowledge-sharing and suitable dissemination of this very delicate heritage for use in wider research, proper transmission to youth and needful preparation of relevant mechanisms, plans and programmes for its protection and preservation.

 UNESCO will continue to assist the Government of Nepal to implement the recommendations made at the symposium.

These measures will focus mainly on building the capacities of stakeholders working with intangible cultural heritage for the implementation of the 2003 Convention. A key approach will be the identification of musical heritage, inventorying and documentation.

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