Translations: Subi Shah

Subi Shah (1922-2008) spent his life performing and teaching Nepali folk song, instrumental music, dance, and drama. He specialized in dance-dramas like Sorathi (below) and Charitra. His books give a holistic account of how the arts of song, music, dance, and drama are interlinked in these traditions.

His audio recordings and recordings of songs he collected most often represent the folk music of Central Nepal.

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Nepali Folk Performance: The Works of Subi Shah is a critical edition and translation of six of Subi Shah’s works on Nepali folk music, combined with audio and video recordings of the genres discussed therein.

Subi Shah (1922-2008) was a Nepali performer and educator whose life’s work was to preserve and promote Nepali folk genres of music, song, dance, and drama, especially the wide variety of these that make up the tradition known as Pangdure or Maruni. Raised in this tradition, he became one of its leading exponents, first as a performer in his village, then as a member and later leader of the Royal Nepal Army’s performance troupe, and finally as a K-12 educator and cultural policy consultant from his Army retirement until his death in 2008. Although he was consulted and honored by state cultural policymakers, and collected many songs, his works are scattered and many of his contributions remain unrecognized. 

This project continues his aim of sharing his tradition with the widest audience possible by translating his books (published and unpublished) into English, and supplementing his notated musical examples with audio and video recordings of performances whenever possible.

Unusually for scholarship on Nepali folk traditions, Subi Shah’s books approach them as more than folk literature or social rituals. His studies cover musical aspects of melody and rhythm, relating them to song words, poetic meter, and dance steps, as well as acknowledging their importance as folk literature and social action.

His detailed work offers a major opportunity to understand the folk performance traditions of Sorathi, Charitra, Khyali, Jhyaure, Chudka, and more, as performed in central Nepal, especially in his home village of Jhyamrung in Dhading.

“Glad to see you are valorizing the holistic nature of performance in most of Asia, which challenges our bounded categories of music, dance, and theatre.”

Ric Trimillos, Professor Emeritus of Ethnomusicology, UH Manoa

Listen to Subi Shah’s instrumental audio recordings of Nepali folk songs

This project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in our translation and critical edition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.