I was in seventh grade and I had very little knowledge about music, in fact, the only 500-megabyte compact disc I possessed was burned with a hundred and fifty skater punk songs from artists such as Blink 182, Sum 41, Green Day and NOFX. I worshipped them, and I boom-boxed the entire colony on weekends with lyrics full of teenage angst and pointless rebellion. It wasn’t until the summer of 2007, that an oddly satisfying new wave of music genre had become the word of the town. ‘Death Metal’ was in sync with our raging hormones.
One midsummer evening, my cousin, who was also my musical messiah, introduced me to a local band, “DREAM DIABOLIC”. A death metal band hailing from Namchi had been rocking the guts out of our sweet little state, and we hadn’t the slightest clue.
The five-member band comprising of high school teenagers were taking the music scene of Sikkim by storm. Rock-O-Phoenix, Winter Rock Fest, Summer Fest, one after another, they were winning band competitions as if they were meant for something bigger than normal. The front-man, Rahul Rai seemed a little hesitant off-stage but the moment he held the microphone in his hands, inverted, he would be lost into the trance of a whole other level. His eyes would close, his neck muscles would tighten, his long soaked hair would bang when the cymbals hit, and the hardcore vocals which sounded like emotional exorcism would take the audience in a roller coaster ride.
After about four years, my music preferences had changed and although I did have respect for the genres that I listened to, I was invested in learning about something totally new. “Dream Diabolic” had now disappeared for reasons unknown. I and a few of my high school friends had somehow managed to survive a year as a band, and as a celebration of which, we decided to record a song. (It was very shitty! Don’t ask)
During one of our frequent visits to Diwash Rai’s studio back in those days, the veteran rocker sat us kids down to introduce an entirely fresh kind of music he was assisting to record.
“This is a sneak peek, kids. Don’t ask for a copy.”
He turned the volume up and hit play!
We remained silent and overly attentive. The song started with the plucking of an acoustic guitar, the well-arranged notes of the piano almost instantly disoriented the listener, the mood was already set as we waited for the vocals to sing out the words we were craving to hear. The lyrics were clearly written in Nepali, but the emotions it evoked knew no language. The vocal was entirely new- it was soothing, yet so electric that it sent chills down our spine. It was the kind of music you wouldn’t expect a rocker to be listening, but it was the type of music that would render anyone helpless.
“Tribal Rain,” he said.
The vocalist of “Tribal Rain” was Rahul Rai. The guy from “Dream Diabolic”, whose metalcore death growl would thrill the audiences to a height unimaginable was now somehow singing an entirely soothing song. It was a discovery. Only a true artist, a musical genius would have been able to harness their talent to such an extent, so as to grab the two different genres by its tails to intertwine it into something completely extraordinary, something so beautiful. The songs soon reached the public, and within no time, we were all singing the tunes of a storyteller weave the words of his life into a song.
Everyone was talking about Tribal Rain. Everyone wanted to catch them live. One after another, their songs were released and none of it ever ceased to amaze us. Nepal, Bhutan, Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Assam, they were everywhere. We were indeed lucky to be witnessing a local band reach such heights of stardom. Even to this day, I wonder what genius revelation provoked him to alter his musical taste completely inside out. Moreover, what more surprises of creativity and art was under his sleeves, waiting to be set free.
On 14th of February, 2018, Rahul Rai committed suicide.
The news of his death shocked the entire Sikkimese people, more importantly, the youth which swayed to his tunes. It has already been a little more than two weeks since the news of his death and it still remains a bitter pill to swallow.
My friend played one of their most recent songs last night. We sat there aphonic, thinking to ourselves that we will never be able to hear that voice ever again. However, I was reminded of a metaphor made by W.H. Auden “In Memory of W.B. Yeats (1939)” which goes something like,
“Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over unfamiliar affections…
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.”
Freewheeling on impermanence.