In January 2022, Abhaya and the Steam Engine released the music video ‘Laijau Malai‘ on YouTube, and within days the song was trending online. At the time of writing, the music video has had over 2.5 million views on YouTube and the song has been used as background music for thousands of short videos on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.
“The idea for the song germinated in late 2020 when the country was under lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19. It was an emotionally difficult year for me, and I also felt creatively stagnant. During this difficult time, the song came to me,” says Abhaya Subba, the lead singer and founder of Abhaya and the Steam Engine.
Known mainly for their rock music, Abhaya and the Steam Engine surprised many with the release of “Laijau Malai”. The melodious track that combined multiple musical genres showed the band’s versatility and ability to redefine their own standards.
But those who have followed Subba’s musical career know that she never hesitated to go against conventional wisdom.
She burst onto the music scene when there were hardly any Nepali women playing rock music, and for many years she remained the only rock musician in the country.
Subba began dreaming of becoming a world-famous musician when she was studying in sixth grade. She started writing and singing rock songs in English when she was a student.
“Even if I wanted to become an international rock star, at the time, there were very few possibilities of reaching this position very early in a musical career”, explains Subba. “But that’s not the case anymore. Thanks to social media platforms, it’s much easier to become an international sensation.
Subba started his music career by performing as a guest artist with bands like Parikrama, Red Skywalkers and Panchatatva.
“When I played with other bands, I operated as a vocalist, lyricist, and sometimes even as a music composer. I worked like a full musician, but I never took credit for what I was doing. because I didn’t believe in my musical potential,” says Subba.
After years of working with other bands, in 2003 she decided to form her own band “Abhaya and the Steam Engines”. But even to her bandmates, she had to prove her credentials, she says.
“Whenever I suggested changes to songs, my band members were either offended or questioning my musical acumen,” she says. But things started to change when she wrote “Hami Sabai Nepali”, which was the first song Subba created on her own.
“When I finished making the song, I let the other band members listen to the song, and they really liked it. From then on, they started to respect me as a musician “, explains Subba. “Now that I look back on my musical journey, I realize I’ve been through a lot. But back then, the challenges never really bothered me because I was so focused on what I was doing. always wanted to be, a musician. In the process, people started giving me this label of being a ‘bold’ artist. I think that says a lot about who we are as a society.
The same year she founded “Abhaya and the Steam Engines”, Subba also launched the “Women in Concert” campaign. “Having seen the music industry up close, I knew there was a need to create a platform where aspiring female musicians could come and learn everything it takes to form a band and become a musician,” she says. .
Subba also gave an intensive two-month training at the training camp to the participants of “Women in Concert”. During the training, the participants received singing lessons and classes on personality development and media management, says Subba. Bartika Eam Rai, Shreya Sotang and Megha Shrestha were among the trainees who went on to make their mark on the Nepali music scene.
When it comes to his musical career, Subba has repeatedly shown his penchant for experimentation. While rock songs might have helped “Abhaya and the Steam Engine” gain widespread recognition and fame, the group dabbled in various musical genres – EDM (electronic dance music), contemporary and hip hop. “I often had arguments with my band members about my choice of songs, and they pushed me to do rock music instead, but I couldn’t help but experiment. I just don’t want to be limited to a specific genre,” says Subba.
The process of experimenting with different genres is a tedious journey in itself. But Subba gets the job done by researching music from different genres and keeping up to date with everything that’s happening in the music world.
It was this musical curiosity that made Subba a fan of BTS, a South Korean boy band, in 2020. Talking about BTS brings another side to Subba’s personality. She turns into a fangirl who idolizes the boy band.
“This year , I was going through a difficult period and I was not able to make music at all. Meeting BTS and listening to their music helped me a lot during this difficult phase of my life. That’s why my relationship with BTS is quite personal,” says Subba.
In the 19 years that Subba has been active in the Nepalese music scene, she has experienced the ups and downs of what it takes to be a musician. In 2018, she was part of the judges of the first edition of ‘The Voice’, a musical reality TV show. The show’s success helped to skyrocket Subba’s popularity. The following year, his band released ‘Hawaii Huri‘, which was a huge success. But for the next year, Subba hit a creative stalemate and couldn’t compose any songs. In August 2021, she started a YouTube podcast, ‘Grooving with steam engines‘.
“The podcast was a big flop. The maximum number of views an episode got was 42,000. In my career, I had ups and downs in my music career. I’ve seen how people start looking at you when they feel you’re no longer successful. I saw people wanting to write me off and say I was no longer relevant,” says Subba.
But just when things seemed to go downhill, came “Laijau Malai”.
The song’s popularity put the band firmly back in the public eye.
“Having experienced setbacks many times in my life, I found that I was no longer afraid of failure,” says Subba. “I’m afraid not to try.”