Prakash Slim, Country Blues from Nepal
Acoustic country blues – from Nepal? Really, you say? Yes, really. And fine stuff it is too, from a guy from a small village just south-east of Kathmandu in Nepal. In case you don’t know, Nepal is a country of 28m people, situated between India to the south and China to the north. It has eight of the world’s highest mountains, including Everest and a very ancient culture.
But blues, clearly, is not part of that culture. Nevertheless, Prakash Slim’s story is right out of the history of the blues. You can read his story and what he has to say here, but suffice it to say that he’s lived the blues, growing up in a rural village with significant hardships, and the road to the future paved with considerable difficulties.
The blues is now a world-wide phenomenon, and Prakash is adding his blues voice to the rich musical heritage of his country. So it’s not only gazals, ragas and dohori folk music his countrymen and women are now hearing, it’s the acoustic blues of Robert Johnson and Blind Blake.
Prakash Slim is a fine guitarist, adept at finger-picking and slide techniques and an accomplished singer, all very much in evidence in Country Blues from Nepal. We get thirteen songs, five of them originals, all Prakash and resonator guitar. He’s joined on a few of tracks by the top Italian blues harp player, Fabrizio Poggi, which adds a nice balance to Robert Johnson’s Me and the Devil Blues, and Prakash’s own Poor Boy, Bhariya Blues and Garib Keto.
The album kicks off with Blues Raga, an instrumental track where we get to appreciate Prakash’s rhythmic guitar work and slide technique. It’s a fine melding of west and east – the slide enables a sub-continent feel to the song. They say the raga has the ability to “colour the mind” and affect the emotions of the audience. That Prakash does here, and gets the album off to a great start.
Next up is Bukka White’s Jitterbug Swing, driven along by Prakash’s alternating base and some nifty slide work. Other covers on the album include You Gotta Move, Blind Blake’s Police Dog Blues, Charlie Patton’s Moon Going Down, and Robert Johnson’s Me and the Devil Blues and Crossroad Blues. He more than does them justice, with his own vocal phrasing, and proving on Police Dog Blues that his guitar chops are finely honed.
The original songs all pay tribute to Prakash’s heroes of the country blues without ever feeling outmoded. His Corona Blues is right up to date, bemoaning the state of affairs brought on by the pandemic – “we’ve got so much trouble, don’t need your misery.”
The album finishes with two songs sung in Nepalese – Bhariya Blues which translates as “Porter’s Blues” and Garib Keto, a version of Poor Boy Blues. Although I understood not a word of Bhariya Blues, I thought worked particularly well, with its insistent slide riff and the long vocal phrases finely handled. The song is about the life of a porter who has to carry heavy loads every day and is a poor man who is abused and taken advantage of. It’s full of true blues feeling.
The blues are alive and well in the shadow of the Himalayas.