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Music and misogyny: sexist euphemism in Nepali songs

PALZOR BHUTIA

“Music and songs should be viewed not merely as art forms to be enjoyed but also as reverberation of socio-cultural rhythms.” – Cook, 1998

The Oxford English Dictionary revised the definition of ‘Misogyny’ back in 2002, changing it from ‘hatred of women: to 'hatred or dislike of, or prejudice against women”. We as a society always tend to think that ‘music’ and ‘misogyny’ are oxymoronic topics to discuss, as we successfully normalized sexist euphemism in music and songs so much. Music has always blurred the sexist narration immensely that we are so ‘okay’ to groove and get entertained with it. But whom is to be blamed for it? One who composes? Or the one who is listening to it? Or the entrenched patriarchy of our system and society?

As, art is a reflection of society or any form of art is the imitation of societal edifice. So, this could be the major factor behind the loitering misogyny in cinema, music or any other art forms?

For the sake of entertainment in this era of many digital platforms to earn some ‘views’ we try to make music very catchy and groovy, but we mostly wind-up with some misogynistic lyrics. When we talk about 'music' and ‘misogyny’ first thing that strikes our conscience is particularly ‘item songs' in Bollywood which constantly created some controversies and since decade it has firmly contributed to be a space for discussion or criticism. We as a society also grooved and enjoyed their lyrics, which is full of objectifying women and mostly in very offensive or vulgar manner. And we always somehow contributed to make it normal.

Aristotle in his “Theory of Imitation” or “Mimesis” said that, Imitation is the objective representation of life. As a society we learn many things by imitating each other, which can be seen in our culture, tradition, lifestyle, food habits and with obvious cinema and music cannot remain untouched. In this era of highly modernized and innovative technologies, there is a gamut of social networking sites from where with ease, we as a society and nationality can imitate each other. The waves of imitation is inevitable. Similarly, India and Nepal Shares a very special bond from open border to cinema and music. In Nepal, there are millions of people who prefers Bollywood and for past few years South Indian movies are very rampant. They may barely utter a proper sentence in Hindi, but we will be flabbergasted with their fluency in some movie’s punching dialogues of Salman Khan or Shahrukh Khan, or these time may be of Allu Arjun ot Vijay Devarakonda. The populace of Indian movies' audiences are in such good amount that the release date of movies remains same in India and Nepal.

In India, ‘item songs’ are made for promotional purposes of films, as it remains very catchy that easily grasps the attention of its viewers. Similarly, Nepali Cinemas does the same; they also make good amount of movies in a year, having at least one ‘item song' as a promotional song to grasp the attention of audience and to promote their movies. And, I think there is nothing wrong in making item or promotional songs, but the offensive one is their choice of content and lyrics which remains incomplete without kinesics, particularly of women.

There are many critics who exposes Bollywood songs being sexist and misogynist, but in case of Nepali songs, we have only handful of people, who does it; as we have blurred it with the rhythm of ‘Madal’, ‘Samala’, ‘Damfu’ and Chyabrung’ (Nepali traditional hand-drums) no matter how much offensive, harsh and ostentatious lyrics or words are but we always grooved, as we blindly perceived it as a very inseparable part of our community, culture and tradition. We were moulded to believe that, the “dowry system” like in mainland India never existed in our society (Indian-Nepali society) so we believe our society is less sexist, patriarchal and misogynist, but we remain unaware of what kind of music or songs we had, we have and still continuing to compose since time immemorial. These generations mostly after millennium rarely keeps keen interest on learning Nepali language and literature (to be blunt, most of people considers their own mother tongue as inferior), so they don’t need ample amount of meaningful lyrics but ready to amalgamate themselves within some traditional rhythms or the very popular rhythm of western and pop culture. The sole purpose of this paper is to analyze or present how we were breathing and still continuing to breathe in much comfort with the Nepali songs which brews with intolerable and toxic narratives and notions particularly misogyny.

Music and society have always been intimately related and coexist since generations. Music reflects and creates social conditions, including the factors that either facilitate or impede social change. Music is a very powerful medium but in some societies it has been restricted too. Music always goes beyond words and tells the most untold tales. Music is something that resonates individual self, society, culture and so on. Music serves as the most powerful weapon to the society sometimes, we are equally abusing it too. Music is also one’s identity as it represents the language they speak, the society and community that they live in, and the culture they do belong. Specially, a genre of folk songs mostly represents one’s culture and community. Nepali folk songs are enriched with raw music, its incredible lyrics and divine rhythms of various instruments. Folk songs have always been an inseparable part of our culture. It has huge impact on our ideas, thought or conscience, so we easily get influence by what kind of music are being composed. But, I am none with no wide knowledge to decide which are good music or songs and which are not, but still I mostly get offended with the lyrics which sparks with sexism. Specifically, Gen-z which is my generation people are being victim of perceiving the toxic songs, which they calls ‘cool’ or ‘savage’ in their lingo. So, due to these “coolness and savageness” since long time we are constantly normalizing the sexist elements in songs. And I don’t intend to say that such toxicity just exists in our music and songs, but this is more prevalent in western songs. Some years ago, I really used to like songs of FloRida and Akon or so many other artists, I was teen then and those catchy music really drove me crazy and I binge listened them without giving damn about the lyrics, but now when I read their lyrics it amuses that how I grooved with such absolute misogynist lyrics. One of FloRida’s famous song “Whistle Baby” reads,

“ …it’s like everywhere I go, my whistle ready to blow, shawty don’t even know, she not a pro, it’s okay, it’s under control…..,

Can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby? Let me know? Girl, I’m  gonna show you how to do it and start real slow….”

So, there are many such songs which we consider as the best songs ever made by most celebrated artists and singers. Just because we like the artist, we like whatever they throws without measuring anything.

Roger (2013) aptly said,

“ Any song that makes references to women in a way that generalizes, stereotypes, degrades, demoralizes, objectifies or threatens physical or sexual is sexist.”

Sexist narratives are ingrained within many contemporary and old Nepali song, yet we love them.

When “Ghati bhanda tala ta ramri nai che” (she is at least beautiful from the neck down) by Arjun Pandey was released on YouTube in July 2019, the comment section exploded because of the chorus, “she is at least beautiful from the neck down” and another line of the same song reads, “may be she saw Rolex on my wrist, so she approved me to dance with her”. Many identified the song as sexist and said it diminished women to an object. Though this song may be funky and upbeat, but it’s lyrics is downright offensive which describes lust for women’s body despite everything the man in the song is unconvinced within relationship. Such songs majorly describes a women’s relationship with a man where women’s role is only to react to men’s experience to makes sense of the man’s story. There are some songs which bluntly attacks and stereotypes women to boost male masculinity. Yet, these are the songs that people have enjoyed over the years, making it a trend to make songs that have lyrics that demean women. The music in such songs tricks us into liking them mostly.  

Over the years, we have enjoyed songs of legendary artist like Kumar Basnet, whose songs and its words also lingers with sexist remark on women, especially his songs like “Lai bari lai” and “Chori bhanda aama taruni”. In “lai bari lai” he says, “aimai ko bharr parnu hudaina” which translates, You should not trust women. (I don’t know why but to refer women as “aimai” sounds derogatory for me instead we can also refer words like ‘Stri’ ‘Mahila’ or say ‘Aurat’). In Basnet’s another song, “chori bhanda aama taruni, lipstick powder le” (mother seems more younger than her daughter with make-up) he goes on making illicit relationship between “Aama” (mother) and “Jhilkey” driver(pet name), where he says, if mother of that daughter remains as younger as her daughter, then this Jhilkey driver, will take her for drive.

Another such song is by legendary artist Ram Thapa, “timi awchau ki arko bihey garnu” ( will you come or shall I marry some other?), this song also stereotypes That women should not stay at her paternal home for a longer period of time, and her husband though is in joyous mood, but threatens his wife that he will marry some other, as his home need daughter in law badly. Men always considered women to be the second class citizen in every sphere of  life. But somehow women also contributed to that notion. “ Euta khulla kitab hoon mo, timiley pani padey huncha, aru le jastai padey pachi panna haru chyate huncha…” is a most popular song by Daisi Baraily , which literally translates, I am an open-book, you can read me and you can even tear my pages out like many readers did before. Though, this is a very satirical song for the one who betrayed the love of a woman, but this line metaphorically stereotypes the emotion of women and I don’t think many folks would agree with me for this, but this song suggests that a woman who is herself objectifying as an “open-book” invites predators by saying, you can read and tear my pages. Though, other lines of this song gives some different meaning, like a grieving woman whose trust were shattered by many men before, but this particular line seems how a woman herself stereotypes the emotion of a woman itself.

In recent years songs like “Udreko choli” (torn blouse), “Thamel Bazar” (most happening nightlife in Nepal), “Kaley Dai” (pet name for a man who is dark in complexion) and “Sali mann paryo” (affection for sister in law), have had wooed music lovers. Many of these songs even became ceremonial get together anthem that are played at parties and picnics. While many on the internet have taken issues with the lyrics of such songs, composers and the actors behind the songs believe that, these songs are only representing the truth of society and are meant for entertainment and to imbue flavour to the movie’s storyline.

The most famous and successful song of 2019, “Saali mann paryo”, a popular song of the blockbuster Nepali movie “Ghamad Shere” presents the chemistry between ‘Saali’ and ‘Bhenaju’ (Sister in law and Brother in law) has been regarded as offensive by many music lovers. This controversial song is entertaining and is played more than hundred time in many events or functions as such.

Nischal Basnet, lead actor of “Ghamad Shere” in one of his interviews  says, “ In movies, we usually have songs to justify the movie’s storyline and sometimes to promote the movie itself. It is a song that supports the story telling of Ghamad Shere, and it is there to justify the characters, they are playing in the movies.” However some women believes that, these types of song encourage flirting and teasing between Saali and Bhenaju (Sister in law and Brother in law). Many men still believes they have right over their wife’s sister, that’s why statements like Saali aadha gharwali do exist in our society. Nepali actress Reema Biswakarma believes, “Going after a song on what it represents isn’t fair, because as artist they are only being dutiful to the character they are playing. Songs are art, and art reflects society, so if you are saying that this song is objectifying women, then rather than making the song issue, we should actually look into how women are treated in our community. We should actually try to solve the problem in our society.” Whatever Biswakarma said, is also actually true, as the reason why offensive and sexist songs are being consumed without being questioned has to do with the edifice of the society that we live in. It may be possible because we have accepted the way women and women identifying folks are perceived and represented in entertainment content.

 

Laura Mulvey in her book “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” says that, “the portrayal of women in mainstream films in a patriarchal society is aimed at providing a pleasurable visual experience for men, motion picture camera through the eyes of writer and director creates a cinematic gaze which is always masculine that represents the mental desire of the male subject placing everything else in films, including female characters, as objects. Male gaze operates by means of the identification produced with the male hero, and through the use of camera. Visual pleasure demonstrates how the patriarchal unconscious of society shapes our film watching experience by applying psychoanalytic theory in her analysis.” So, the Nepali film industry must break their own cocoon in which women characters are held back lacking autonomy and independence to express themselves.

Sexism sprouts as a fundamental across wide and narrow domains. Some Nepali songs sell objectification and sexualization of women to their best monetary benefit. The music videos that are made for promotional songs most often caters to the drooling lust of the male gaze. Some songs have even normalized stalking and glorified unrequited love. The condescending attitude towards feminine traits and reducing them to mere objects is yet another trend that the industry willingly hops on. When heart throb Anmol KC danced alongside senior actress Niruta Singh and grooved to the beats of “ma tah taruno lakha jawan, timi arkai ko chiya bagan” (I am in my youthful stage, but you are someone’s tea garden), it made us sick to the core. What’s wrong in this is not just not just objectification of an age of a woman as “chiya bagan” or tea garden which are as old as the histories, but the association of her with a man, as though her sole existence is summed by her affiliation to a man, as if she is the property belonging to another man.

TO BE CONCLUDED

References:

Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

The Kathamandu Post/ Nepali Songs blurring sexism and entertainment

https://saudigazette.com.sa/article/580815

https://theannapurnaexpress.com/news/a-new-nepali-genre-of-music-called-cringe-folk-80

https://www.holidify.com/pages/music-of-nepal-2113.html

https://english.khabarhub.com/2019/05/30148/

https://thewalrus.ca/when-sexism-makes-for-a-catchy-song/

https://www.himalmag.com/what-is-nepali-music-1993/

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0255761418771094

(The views expressed are those of the author. Palzor Bhutia is a former Post-graduate student of English literature from Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan. He belong to small village named Gitdabling in the district of Kalimpong, West Bengal. He did his schooling from St.J oseph’s School, Gitdabling and Kumudini Homes Higher Secondary School, Kalimpong. He graduated with English Honours from Kalimpong College, under University of North Bengal. Currently he is pursuing B.ed degree from West Bengal University of Teachers' Training, Education planning and Administration. Email: palzorbhutia70@gmail.com)

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi