By Ganesh Gurung
After exile from Bhutan, hardships facing Bhutanese refugees were far from over. Many ended up having to stay in a small camp in Nepal, living a life of scarcity and limited resources.
As refugees, we had to live a life not so bright — lacking all means of electricity, television, and internet access, living under a single lantern light was common. Soccer, volleyball, cricket, and live musical programs were the main sources of happiness for those thousands of desperate eyes and hearts. Bhutanese refugees’ lives looked exactly like the life of a parrot in a cage, confined to living its life according to the decisions of others.
A bamboo hut measuring 6m x 3.5m was provided to a family of one to seven people, and each refugee was provided 400 grams of rice, 60 grams of lentils, 25 grams of vegetable oil, 20 grams of sugar, 7.5 grams of salt, etc. Refugees had little access to basic foods and absolutely no access to dairy products whatsoever.
Dreaming of having a happy life and to hope of doing something great was confined to only at night. Upon morning, our dreams of a bright future seemed to fly away. Only to return with the darkness.
Our creative heads and determined hearts refused to let the situation get the best of us. We formed a musical group to keep spirits high. In the summer of 1998, we legally registered a band called “Bhutanese Flamingo Band” with permission granted by the camp secretary Mr. Raj man Gurung and other legal government authorities working for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. It was the first rock band in the Bhutanese diaspora, and was appreciated by thousands of fans, both within and outside the community. Although we generally fall under the rock genre, we brought versatility as we have band members who are capable of playing blues, folk, and country songs.
We launched the inaugural concert on Dec 8, 1998 in the presence of the chief guest, the camp secretary, and other government personnel. The first enthusiastic band members who played in this inaugural concert were Jeewan Gurung, Birkha Gurung, Lalit Gurung, Hem khapangi magar Syam khapangi magar, and I.
These first band members were those creative heads and determined hearts who helped bring light in times of a crippling situation. During those hardships and difficulties, Hem Lal Gurung and Khadka Gurung were the two great hearted human beings who supported us with their constructive suggestions as well as assisting financially.
Hundreds of refugees had ended up attending the program. Typically, sports and musical programs were the only sources of live entertainment for refugee people. In the refugee camps, Bhutanese Flamingo always offered free live musical entertainment to refresh the people from their unforgettable despondency and the tragedy of being expelled forcefully during the 1990s by the Bhutanese Government.
After a few years, most of the band members quit for personal reasons; some went for higher studies, some got married etc. After this dissolution, I went on for higher studies but I never quit introducing myself as Flamingo’s lead guitarist. The members who left the band never came back. During my time at college, I had a place to continue performing all while receiving immense support and the motivation needed to go further in the music world.
To continue accelerating in my musical journey, I took formal classes in drum and guitar in Nepal and India respectively. Although I know I am not a world famous musician, I know the instruments, how to play, and most importantly, feel the music in a way I enjoy.
As time passed, I took managerial responsibility on once again to revive this lost band in Nepal. Since then I have continued to work as band manager and lead guitarist simultaneously. I taught a few guys to play guitar and drums to regenerate this band once again, and I organized a concert each year, once I knew that the guys I had taught were good enough to play live on stage. We play songs from different genres like rock, blues, folk, and country. Funds for the concert were generated through donations from the public agencies, private business owners, NGO’s and INGO’s.
Our performances were widely appreciated and with this appreciation as motivation, we tirelessly practiced day and night to make our dreams come true. After working for a decade or more in this band as the manager and lead guitarist, I can proudly say that it is unique in the sense that it is the only the band in the Bhutanese refugee diaspora which has uplifted and motivated uncountable youngsters to do good things with high hopes. Some of them are well established now, while some of them are still on the way.
Although there are plenty of famous bands in the world which have stopped playing music after losing members, Bhutanese Flamingo is one of the few which has never and will never stop playing music, even after losing some of its favorite members. It should never stop playing, even if I leave the band. Someone has to take over and continue to serve the flavor of Bhutanese Flamingo’s musical taste.
Bhutanese Flamingo later saw more hardships due to permanent resettlement as all the band members were scattered in different countries. However, with my arrival in the USA, it was once again rejuvenated in 2013 and performed for the first time with the new band members in Oakland, California.
At present, we are formed of six active band members: Myself, Ganesh Gurung – lead guitarist and vocalist from Worcester; Bharat Gurung – Bass guitar, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Madan Rana – Rhythm guitarist and vocalist from Fargo, North Dakota; Ashok Rana – lead guitarist and vocalist, from Rochester, New York; Susan Rai – Drummer, from Oakland, California; Ricky Gurung – Drummer, from Manchester, New Hampshire; Rohan Rana – Lead vocalist, from Oakland California; Prajeet Rana – MC/Band Advisor; and Suraj rana – lead vocalist, from Worcester.
The positive feedback and the comments which we receive from the audience makes us feel proud. Our performances are still loved by a huge number of fans and well wishers. Bhutanese Flamingo Band is the one and only band in the Bhutanese diaspora which has travelled to more states than any other Bhutanese band in America. Between 2013 and 2015 we travelled to California (Oakland and Alameda), Utah (Salt Lake City), Massachusetts (Worcester), New Hampshire (Manchester), Ohio (Akron), North Dakota (Fargo), and New York (Rochester).
All the Bhutanese Flamingo Band members would like to heartily thank all the supporters and well wishers for your immense love and support. It is only due to your love and support that we get the power to rock the hall, even with our busy schedules. We shall always remain in debt to thousands of fans and well wishers for their immeasurable love for which we will definitely bring more artistic music to quench and justify their musical thirst.
Check out Flaming-Go’s YouTube channel here.