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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 November 2005, 10:00 GMT
Music aiming to boost Nepal peace
By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Charikot, Nepal

Amrit Gurung on stage
On stage, Amrit Gurung's band re-work classic Nepalese folk music
Amrit Gurung and his folk-rock band Nepatya had already spent two gruelling weeks on the road in their bus, brightly painted on the outside but cramped inside, stopping for concerts every two days.

At a brief halt by quarries in Nepal's bleak uplands, mist swirling around, Amrit said the worst thing in the countryside was fear.

"People are so terrified of the gun, [of] Maoists and army people," he said.

"Everywhere, there is the gun. So people cannot walk from village to village. From the villages they don't want to come to the market towns."

Nepatya were playing eight concerts on a tour of the country, aiming to spread a message of peace and give hope to Nepal's rural population, traumatised by nearly a decade of conflict.

Some 200,000 people watched the Sundar Shanta Nepal (Beautiful Peaceful Nepal) Travelling Peace Concert, which toured the country from east to west and back again.

I want to go to the concert. I hope its message will be that there will be peace talks, soon, to end everyone's suffering
Sita Raut, widow
The concerts, Amrit said, encouraged people to start moving, meeting and talking to each other again. They were already bringing cheer to people long deprived of it.

Illustrating his point, the winding road led through villages where Maoist red banners were draped over the road, then back into land patrolled by security forces.

Late that evening, tired but upbeat, the convoy of musicians and dozens of backup staff arrived in Charikot.

There followed a whistle-stop operation to set up the stage in the town's biggest open space, a school, with a distant backdrop of the snowy Himalayas.

Peace, love, respect

Early next morning Sita Raut and her family threshed millet outside their whitewashed house near the town, corn cobs hanging to dry from the eaves and garlands hung from the windows for Nepal's festive season.

Women in the Charikot crowd
The concert attracted curious crowds, old and young alike
Sita spoke of the raw pain she has suffered as one of this area's many victims of conflict-related violence.

Her husband Parsuram, a postman, was shot dead by the army. The military said they had mistaken him for a Maoist and later apologised.

Along with her grief-stricken parents-in-law Sita is now bringing up her sons, Sahadev and Sobit, as a widow.

"I'm suffering," she said.

"Every time my parents-in-law remember their son, there is sorrow and pain, tears in every eye in this home."

But she found some comfort in the visit by the musicians, many of whose songs she knew through the radio.

"I want to go to the concert. I hope its message will be that there will be peace talks, soon, to end everyone's suffering."

Dancing

That day Charikot almost burst with enthusiasm for the musical spectacular.

Amrit Bahadur Pandey
I'm curious to know if a concert can bring peace
Amrit Bahadur Pandey
By midday old men and women, toddlers and babies and innumerable teenagers had turned up for the show. Some had walked for hours, organisers said.

Sita got a place near the front, separated from her sons by being in a women-only enclosure.

Amrit Bahadur Pandey, 70, told the BBC that conflict had become a way of life in the area and that he simply wanted to be part of such a big gathering, the largest ever seen in Charikot.

"I'm curious to know if a concert can bring peace," he said.

The musicians - ranging from Meera Rana, a popular singer for 40 years, to singers in their 20s - each had solo spots, with a grand ensemble finale appealing for peace.

People danced with an exuberance rare since Nepal's conflict began, and Nepatya brought the house down with their hard-edged transformations of folk songs.

Music with a message

Amrit Gurung had written a song about one of Charikot's atrocities, a Maoist attack on a bus last year which killed some 15 people.

Charikot crowds
Thousands came from all around to see the concert in Charikot
The tight schedule, organised to allow people to travel back to their villages before nightfall, prevented its performance.

But Amrit addressed words from the stage to victims in the audience, including a widowed young mother whose daughter was 20 days old at the time of the attack.

"Music definitely heals wounds," the young singer Swaroop Raj Acharya told the BBC.

For one day at least, a conflict-hit town was able to put its recent violent history to one side.

Thanks to radio relays, the series of concerts reached millions.

Some have called the high turnouts a unanimous vote for peace - the peace which they say Nepal's rebels, rulers and politicians have all failed to bring.


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