A Nepalese Singer in the Country of Dreams

Singer Sapana Shree (Photos via Vishwanews.com)

Whenever there are any musical events or concerts in New York City’s Nepalese community, singer Sapana Shree is often busy performing at them. Sapana, which means “dream” in Nepali, was a singer in Nepal and has continued her singing career in the U.S.

Shree, with the voice of a nightingale, has been interested in music since her childhood. She belongs to a musical family as her father, Babu Madan Pariyar, was a musician at Radio Nepal, the only state-owned radio station in Nepal.

Now 46, Shree remembers recording a children’s song at the age of 5 when her father took her to the studio of the station. “I recorded my first song before going to kindergarten,” she said. “My father helped me on this and slowly my inclination toward music increased.”

Her career started as a singer of children’s songs and she gradually progressed toward popular songs as she grew up.

Born in the capital city, Kathmandu, she said she had sung about 10 songs without understanding what music really was. She remembers receiving awards twice when she sang on the occasion of the late Queen Aishwarya Rajya Laxmi Devi Shah’s birthday.

“I don’t know how popular those children’s songs were during those times,” she said. “But I often heard my father’s friends telling him that I would be a great singer someday, which really motivated me.”

Shree remembers recording a popular song at the age of 10, which did not sound good as her voice hadn’t matured enough. Then, she stopped singing for a while and concentrated on polishing her voice skills.

She started singing again after a brief break. During those times she sang one of the most popular songs of her career, Hereko Timilai Aankhale Hoina, which literally translates to “I am seeing you not through my eyes.” It’s also her favorite song.

She did not have to look back after that. She started singing ethnic songs, too, and recorded three songs a day during those days.

Her real name is Sapana Pariyar. One of the veteran musicians of Nepal, Shambhujeet Baskota, changed her name to Sapana Shree. [Editor’s note: Pariyar belongs to the Dalit community, who are considered so-called untouchables in Nepal.]

Her colleagues told her that everyone liked her new name, so she adopted it permanently.

Fifteen years ago, Shree’s popularity was at its peak in Nepal, and she was highly sought after abroad. She came to perform in the U.S. in 2003 for the first time, and found herself really impressed with the American lifestyle. At the time, there was a civil war in Nepal and regular strikes in the country were affecting every sector including the music field. She decided to move here and has been a permanent resident since 2006. She said she migrated here for the future of her three kids.

She started working as a singer at the Himalayan Yak restaurant in Jackson Heights, Queens, performing five days a week.

“I used to sing Nepali and Hindi songs,” she said. “I grew up listening to Hindi songs so I knew all those songs.”

She worked there until 2010. Then she switched to other Nepalese restaurants. Currently, she works at Delhi Heights Restaurant in Jackson Heights.

“I work there Friday through Sunday. I am making good money here as I am paid well and I get lots of tips,” she said.

“I feel so lucky that I can live my life here through my singing,” Shree said. “I have been singing here for more than 10 years and I did not have to do other work besides singing, unlike other Nepalese singers.”

She said that she gets requests from all over the U.S. to perform, especially during Nepalese festival seasons. “I only do quality shows so I look at the organizers before deciding,” she said.

Shree gets really frustrated when people approach her to perform for free. “I always charge them and I don’t perform for free unless the cause is really genuine like some fundraising events.”

Sometimes she feels sad for herself as she had to leave her stardom behind.

“My seniors [mentors in Nepal] often tell me that they miss my talent,” she said. “To be honest, I also miss Nepal but I can’t go there just to record songs. It’s not practical.”

The singer said that it’s not easy to pursue the same profession in the U.S. She also finds it difficult when she has to practice to hone her voice every day at home. “I live in a shared apartment so I have to make sure that I don’t disturb my roommates,” she said.

These days Shree is busier recording songs than usual, as Jackson Heights recently had a recording studio opened by a Nepali. She’s planning to release a new album soon.

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