22-year-old Ryhaan Giri

‘I Believe in Building Bridges’ – Ryhaan Giri

In a first, the popular Voice of Nepal singing competition welcomed its first Bhutanese contestant, 22-year-old Ryhaan Giri, who performed barefoot on stage during the blind audition round on 9 September 2022, winning both the hearts and respect of the Nepalese musical judges and the mass audience that follows the show.

Ryhaan chose to sing a popular 2021 Nepali hit song called Aau Timi by singer Prabesh Kumar Shresta. He managed to get three of the four judges to turn their chairs for him.

Ryhaan introduced himself and said he is from Thimphu. When asked about his bare feet, he said that he came on stage barefoot out of respect for the stage, which went down well with the judges.

Raju Lama then recounted his shows in Phuentsholing and Thimphu and sang Jalam Gi Ashi originally written and sung by the former Drangpon and Attorney General Shera Lhendup.

As per the show format, the judges competed among themselves to get Ryhaan to join their team with two of them including Raju Lama even removing their shoes. Ryhaan, taking a diplomatic line, chose Raju Lama.

The few minutes of show became the most watched and talked about segment of the episode in Nepal, and also went viral in Bhutan with many Bhutanese commenting on how Ryhaan has brought a good name to Bhutan.

There was an even bigger splash in the first battle round on 14 October during episode 11 when Ryhaan had to battle sing against Bikram Suwal to Nepal’s equivalent of the Hotel California song which is ‘Sambodhan’ (1974 by Adrian Pradhan).

Going into the competition Ryhaan had suggested if he and Bikram can wear their respective national dresses and also exchange their flags. Bikram agreed. This was not known even to their main coach Raju Lama.

The two singers walked in on stage with their national dresses, and the atmosphere was electric during the song when the two unfurled their flags, exchanged it, wrapped it around themselves and hugged. Ryhaan also kissed the Nepal Flag.

Though the entire episode had many battles and Ryhaan only came towards the end, this single act again became the most watched and commented on part of the show.

Many Nepalese and Bhutanese came in the comments to appreciate the gesture.

The diplomatic significance of the gesture was also not lost for many as one Bhutanese commented saying this single gesture has done more for Bhutan-Nepal relations than any diplomat ever could.

Ryhaan stayed humble and refused to celebrate his success against his competitor saying, “There is nothing great in feeling superior to your fellowmen, and the only superiority is in being superior to your yesterday’s self.”

This was another moment that won him more appreciation in both countries.

The only other moment that comes close to such electric and mass goodwill between the two countries was during the South Asian Games December 2019 where Bhutan’s National team put up a spirited performance against a far superior side of Nepal in Kathmandu and went down 2-1 to win silver.

The entire stadium of mainly Nepalese fans appreciating the way the game was played and the Bhutanese players and so cheered for Bhutan loudly after the game.

Ryhaan Giri

Ryhaan stepped into the musical world from an early age when he was at the Early Learning Center in Thimphu, and from there in Saint Augustine’s School (SAS) from class 3 to 5 and then St Joseph’s School (North Point) from class 6 to 10.

Ryhaan said, “I was in boarding school from a really young age, and we were not allowed phones, but we could use the portable MPS and PSP music devices, and so music became an escape for me from the daily hostel life, and still today it is an escape for me. The escape turned into a passion.”

Ryhaan’s musical talent got a public outlet in North Point where he sang on the choir for the regular annual drama shows and musicals put on by the school, and he started writing his own music too. This is also when he focused more on music and gave up his spots on the North Point school basketball and swimming teams to dedicate himself to it.

After North Point, he went for high school to Kolkata where he was in two bands and performed in local pubs and events.

After high school, Ryhaan got his father Dilu Giri to support his dreams and he joined a Music Institute in Mumbai called True School of Music, where he kept writing and performing, but after two years, Ryhaan had to leave as the pandemic struck and he came back to Bhutan.

Dilu Giri is a long time General Manager of Druk Hotel in Thimphu and is currently on assignment in Phuentsholing to complete some projects in the Druk Hotel Phuentsholing and the Tashi Head Office.

He said that despite opposition from family members and advice against it by others, he decided to support his son’s musical dreams.

Dilu talked about his son’s YouTube channel named ‘Ryhaan G’ which he said has a small but dedicated following. “He does not do commercial music but does alternative music,” said Dilu.

Ryhaan has been writing and singing his own English music for a while, but he is currently in the process of releasing a Nepali Album called ‘Bejo Sansar’ (The World is Wet) of which he has so far released 3 songs and is working on releasing 4 more.

The inspiration for Ryhaan’s Nepali music came from his late paternal grandfather, Tara Giri, who worked as Dzongkhag Forest Officer and later helped form and headed the government owned Druk Logging Corporation as the Managing Director until his retirement.

“My grandfather used to read a lot of Nepali Poetry to me, and I also got introduced to a lot of Nepali music. Whenever it rained he used to say ‘Bejo Sansar,’ and that is why I have named the album as such,” said Ryhaan.

He chuckled and said he can’t read or write in Nepali, but he writes Nepali songs in English.

Ryhaan’s journey to Nepal was not by happenstance, but his father helped facilitate it. Given his job, Dilu has made friends all over the world and some of them happened to be in the entertainment industry in Nepal. Dilu showed his son’s work to his friends in Nepal and there was an offer of a role in a Nepali film.

Ryhaan traveled to Kathmandu where he looked at the script and the offer was to play the friend of the lead who betrays him in the end, but he did not like the script or the role.

This was when Ryhaan met with his school friends from North Point and a famous music Director there Nhyoo Bajracharya, and they all advised him to try for the Voice of Nepal, the biggest music show in Nepal.

His friends also accompanied him on the first episode to support him, and there has been no looking back since.

Gathering from the online buzz in Nepal and the media there, the contestant who is getting the most attention so far is Ryhaan.

Dilu shared that his son had gone to a pan shop in Kathmandu and the people around there recognized him and he was soon mobbed with people asking for selfies and his clothes was also nearly torn in the frenzy.

After hearing about the incident coach Raju Lama has advised Ryhaan to limit his movement.

Roshan also shared that at the house where Ryhaan stays people come there to try and meet him. Ryhaan has had to turn away Nepalese media crews and turn down interview requests, as he cannot give interviews to the Nepalese media as per the rules of the show.

While he has not given interviews, the online tabloid media there have started discussing him, and here Ryhaan laughed and said they have got his height wrong, spelled his name wrong, got his monthly income wrong and also his relationship status was wrong.

He said he is not very active on social media, and so some people get upset when he does not respond to messages and others get mad when he does not follow them back on Instagram.

Ryhaan said that except for the part that he cannot go out in public in Nepal, he is enjoying this phase, and for him, the best part is the recognition both as singer and a songwriter.

Bhutan

Ryhaan said that going by the comments of the people on his videos, there is a lot of love for Bhutan, and better understanding of the Bhutanese culture. “There is a lot of support and no hate,” said Ryhaan.

He said Nepalese people tell him that they want to go to Bhutan now.

Ryhaan said that the popular image of Bhutan in Nepal is of a small country with a lot of monks, but through the show they are able to see that Bhutan is different.

On the motivation behind his flag idea, Ryhaan said that he is aware that there have been some tensions between the two countries in the past, and so he wanted to showcase unity and love between the two countries.

“Like I always say, I believe in buildings bridges and not walls.”

The tensions that Ryhaan is hinting at, but not saying is the ‘1990s issue,’ which also ended up straining the otherwise historically friendly ties between the two countries, as the Kathmandu politicians, press and civil society went on the attack against Bhutan back then.

When asked by the reporter, he said the sub-text does come up in some conversations, but he has told them that the Lhotshampa in Bhutan are treated equally and well, and have the same rights with MPs in the Parliament and ministers, and Nepali is widely spoken across Bhutan.

“I tell them that Lhotshampas while being a minority are not treated as a minority in Bhutan, and we are part of the mainstream population,” said Ryhaan.

He said the younger generation in Nepal do not really care about the past but they are more interested in current happenings and who is doing what.

“Especially with what His Majesty The King did during the pandemic, I feel proud to call myself a Bhutanese. His Majesty is an inspiration for me as His Majesty not only provided good leadership but has also shown himself to be a very good human being,” said Ryhaan.

He said ordinary Nepalese are very accepting and supportive, and recently he attended birthday party of a friend’s sister where people enquired with him about the show, and were happy to know he is from Bhutan. He said most of them had friends in Bhutan.

Ryhaan said he is very happy with the overwhelming support and love from Bhutan, and during his recent visit back home, apart from a lot of congratulatory calls from friends and family to his parents, he had been posing for a lot of pictures in Phuentsholing.

Dilu Giri’s table tennis coach, Surendra Suwal, is hosting Ryhaan in Kathmandu. Surendra Suwal was hired from Nepal as the National Coach of Bhutan’s National Table Tennis team a few decades ago, where Dilu was a player.

The style and the show

According to Ryhaan, the show has very good singers, and he also has very good teammates. He said the choice to sing two very commercially popular songs in the first two rounds has really helped him.

There has also been some curiosity on his use of black nail polish, rings and fashion sense of Ryhaan in both the countries.

He said the nail polish, nose ring, lip ring and his other style is inspired from the ‘Straight Edge’ style of Punk Music, which does not believe in drugs, smoking, alcohol but is a very disciplined and intense form of hard punk music. He said the WWE wrestler CM Punk is one such follower.

In response to a question, he said he is straight but he admires gay people.

Dilu said that his son is not just into music, but has always taken the less beaten path reading books on philosophy. Ryhaan said his two favorites are Emil M Cioran (one of the great nihilistic philosophers) and Jiddu Krishnamurti, a philosopher and mystic.

In terms of musical influence, he said he grew up with Linkin Park, Coldplay, etc. However, he said he is not into the old Jim Morrison school of drugs, sex and rock and roll. He said that is now a passé, and reigned until 2008 or 2012 and now the scene is for disciplined music and singers.

There is no point of giving a ‘hung over performance.’ He said if he comes back to Bhutan for a music career, he would like to do good music and with a good sonic design.

Among the Bhutanese singers and groups, he said he listens to Baby Boomers, Misty Terrace, Drona (a cousin of Ryhaan), Chogo, Sonam Wangchen, and others.

Ryhaan’s mother, Geeta Giri, is a dancer with her own reputed dance studio located in Jaigaon called Yogi’s Dance Studio, though the family stays in Phuentsholing. The dance school offers courses in both classical Indian dance and also modern dance forms.

He said it was her advice to go bare feet on the stage to show respect for it. His mother is originally from Sikkim, and became a Bhutanese citizen a few years ago.

Since Ryhaan’s mother was Sikkimese, he also did not have citizenship throughout his school life using temporary travel documents to travel, and he got citizenship together with his mother.

The family’s paternal census is in Samtse, but their main family home is in Thimphu and Ryhaan describes himself as a ‘Thimphu boy.’

On plans after Voice of Nepal, whatever the outcome, he said he will consider if there are offers there, and other than that his interests are also in designing clothes, cutting hair, and he would also like to finish his ‘Bejo Sansar’ album.

He said a roadblock to a career in Nepal is a USD 50 per month visa fee, which needs to be renewed.

Advice for the youth

With Ryhaan becoming an overnight musical youth icon, he has an important advice for the youth.

“To reach your goal, you have to drive yourself to focus on one point and nothing else. I have been following my craft from a very young age, and I focused on it to almost the point of insanity, and lost most of my friends who grew apart,” said Ryhaan.

He also said from his own educational experience, and taking a look at his 11-year-old sister’s syllabus, he sees that a lot of the content in schools and institutes is mostly theoretical and not relevant to real life.

He said schools and institutes should focus more on how to respect women, talk to people in society, the etiquette, how to behave publicly, etc., and these social skills will take a person a longer way in life.

He also said it is not enough to just tell your parents you want to do something different, but you also must do something or create art, as in his case, and show your parents that you are worth their investment.

Ryhaan said his next battle, which will be fought among three singers, is likely to be in November, and the singers will keep getting eliminated with each round, until the it reaches the audience round where the viewers can vote.

There is an App to download and vote, but while the first vote is free, after which one has to pay to vote, and it is not clear if Bhutanese can do that.

Kathmandu fans

Prem Bdr Tamang from Kathmandu said he likes Ryhaan’s voice and is quite surprised to learn that he can sing their songs in their language so nicely. 

He said being on a big stage like the Voice of Nepal is something to be proud of. 

He said seeing a Bhutanese young boy singing on this stage shows the love of their language and songs.

“People in Nepal are really amazed to see him on the stage,” said Prem.

Similarly, Aashish, said the Voice of Nepal is his favorite show and seeing participants from other countries adds more charm to the show. His entire family loves Ryhaan and is pretty amazed to hear him singing Nepali songs with so much clarity. “We will support Ryhaan,” said Aashish.

Correction: The hardcopy version of the article mentioned Ryhaan’s father’s name as Roshan Giri. The correct name is Dilu Giri.

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