If Africa Express got me worried about the future of “world music”, Kutumba had me smiling once again. This superb band from Kathmandu takes traditional Nepalese music and makes it their (totally modern) own.

Invitations to their performance at Covent Garden’s Actor’s Church had stated “English time”, but the band’s arrival on stage 3/4 hours late heralded an evening that was Nepali through and through.

They started off with their own compositions, adding a wonderfully contemporary twist to centuries-old sounds. New numbers like “Yak” really conjured up the ponderous animal lumbering through distant hills. The trilling flute was magical, the pulsing drums exciting and I loved the plaintive violin-like stringed instrument, the tungna, which I encountered here for the first time. Huge applause followed from the largely 20-something audience of Nepalese lads and girls.

But then – a surprise.

The band announced that they would now play some folk tunes – and the audience erupted in cheers. Clutches of friends stormed the stage and others rushed down to dance at the front. By the end of the evening we were all up on our feet, writhing around in the distinctive coiling movements – one hand on hip, the other up in the air – that characterise Nepali dance.

Last time I’d done this it was in Kathmandu, among ladies in long black skirts edged in red, with flowers in their hair. This time it was with girls in micro skirts and Ugg boots. Somehow it seemed exactly right, and wonderful to know that traditional Kathmandu culture continues to thrive so far from the Himalayan snows.


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