Music brought them together. It’s held them together. Music is taking them to their dreams and beyond.
They were teachers, briefly, in a government school. They were hired on contract. Thinley Gyeltshen and Phub Tshering taught music and Rinchen Penjor taught history.
Then they lost their jobs. It was 2019.
Finding employment was difficult. Private companies seldom hire persons with disabilities. But they did not lose hope. Singing and performing in drayangs, the trio met Dorji and Sangay Kinzang. And the dream was born.
KEVI All Band or KAB is a five-piece all-blind fusion band.
“Those two years were the best years of my life. As a music teacher, it never occurred to me that I was disabled,” Phub Tshering said. “Life is full of hurdles but giving up is not an option.”
Before the members decided on forming the band, they toured the country. Overwhelmed by the response to their live performances, they decided to stick together and perform. They would call the group Kuenpel Entertainment of Visually Impaired (KEVI).
Music bands are a new development in Bhutan. The few that have cropped up are faced with the challenge of keeping themselves together or alive.
How would KEVI All Band go on?
Rigsar and Zhungdra aren’t very popular with Bhutanese youth. But the preservation of culture is important. It is here the KEVI All Band has found a place for themselves. Fusion—blending together of two or more musical genres or styles—is a genre unto itself and is growing in popularity.
Raw talent is never enough. That alone would not have taken them anywhere. So, with the money they made from live performances in drayangs and tours the band members went to Ragesheree Music Academy in Kalimpong in India for vocal training and to learn modern music.
Dorji, who had a dream to become a civil servant, is learning music at Blind Music Training Centre of Bhutan in Thimphu. After winning Nachung Kay-dra Chen, singing and dancing show, in 2012, he wanted to be a singer.
Sangay Kinzang, who is a person with low vision, worked as an audio engineer but did not earn well. The members call him DJ.
The band has its own home studio where they record songs, compose lyrics, music and tunes. The band has recorded over 200 songs and composed about 15 songs. Some of their popular original numbers are Gyelyong Dueche and Drinchen Phama.
To keep the group together, KEVI All Band charges a minimal recording fee—Nu 1,500 for only recording, and Nu 9,000 for overall package (composing songs, tuning, creating music, and recording).
Sangay Kinzang said that the band had to explore ways to survive. “It’s a tough competition out there. Survival is the name of the game. We’re doing it for the love of music and to help people living with disabilities.”
KEVI All Band has been on a kind of hiatus lately. Live performances have not been possible due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The band’s focus has been on writing music, composing songs and recording them.
Rehearsals happen regularly because creative blending is hard. If The Blind Boys of Alabama are the Iron Men of American music industry, KEVI All Band are Bhutan’s soul-movers, our own Los Ciegos Del Barrio.