Remembering Veteran Rock Guitarist Sonam Sherpa
On February 14th, 2020, Sonam Sherpa suffered a cardiac episode that led to his death in Kurseong, West Bengal, where he was recording music for an upcoming movie. Sherpa was the founding member and legendary guitarist of Parikrama, the luminary Delhi rock band that’s been around since 1991. His fellow musicians remember him to be a good-natured, soft-spoken virtuoso who was very generous with his time and resources.
Meanwhile, India and the rest of the world will no doubt remember him for his serpentine solos, wildly aggressive riffs, and technical playing style which he has so generously shared with the world over a stellar rock career spanning 30 years. As the backbone of Parikrama, Sherpa is a recognized master of the Boss SD-1W Super Overdrive, one of the most coveted guitar pedals in all of rock history. Overlaid with delay and a host of other effects on his pedalboard, Sherpa was the virtuoso that cemented Parikrama’s still legendary place in the Indian rock scene.
Just last year, Parikrama released their song and music video ‘Tears of the Wizard,’ which Rolling Stone reports was the band’s first music video in the last 20 years. The plan to release the song and video was conceived back in 2017 when the band played at the Mechuka Adventure Festival. This opportunity brought them to Mechuka village in the verdant northernmost Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. “I saw this place and the moment I landed, I said to the band, ‘Listen, I want to shoot the video here,” explains Parikrama keyboardist Subir Malik, the straight-talking outspoken counterpart to Sherpa’s preference for speaking with his guitar and pedals. The video for ‘Tears of the Wizard’ has since become the first Indian rock music video promoted by the government, when the state’s chief minister tweeted about the video on the day of its release, encouraging more artists and filmmakers to capture the magic of Arunachal Pradesh’s Mechuka Valley.
Little did his fans and bandmates know that ‘Tears of the Wizard’ would be the last great video recording of Sherpa’s signature bound long hair, goatee, and unapologetic onstage virtuosity. Away from the spotlight, Sherpa’s soft-spoken and humble nature influenced Parikrama at different levels. When they opened for Iron Maiden’s Bangalore concert in 1996 for instance, the band was surprised to hear the tens of thousands of Indian fans singing along to ‘But It Rained,’ which remains to be their biggest hit.
Apart from ‘But It Rained,’ ‘Tears of the Wizard,’ and their first song ‘Xerox,’ Parikrama has only recorded a handful of material over two albums. This is despite the fact that, according to Malik, they’ve written about 100 songs. And in each of these songs, Sherpa is the clear heart of the band’s sound. Sadly, he can no longer be involved in any of the band’s future plans to record. Be that as it may, there are plenty of YouTube bootlegs of Parikrama’s live shows and digital tributes to the veteran Indian guitarist’s contributions to the world of rock. And should the band press on with their plans to record their old and new material, there’s no doubt that the screening process for a guitarist that can possibly replace Sherpa will be a truly metal affair worthy of the overdrive guitar icon.
To learn about India’s next generation of rock stars, check out our articles on talent such as Jasmine Sandlas and many more.