Late last September, Nalina Chitrakar quietly drove south from Sonoma to San Francisco International Airport. Traveling excitedly, she and her husband Sanjeev Mishra were bound for Doha, Qatar. They walked through all the TSA checkpoints and endured all the shoe removals that we know and love. But when Chitrakar got there, she did not check in to a luxury hotel and begin to unwind. She climbed into a limo, and was soon onstage singing to 20,000 adoring fans attending the “Nepal Idol” finals.
You see, in Sonoma, Chitrakar is a stay-at-home mom and accomplished cook. In her native Nepal, she is a bona fide pop star.
Chitrakar was born in Kathmandu, Nepal. Her family knew that she had a special talent when she was just a young girl. She has been performing since 1989. She was twice named Nepal’s best pop singer (in 1999 and 2005). She travels all over the world to entertain fans. Recently, she was in Dallas, and then Omaha, singing before thousands. She has performed at Oracle Arena, as well as in 44 states. She has toured throughout Japan, and her extensive European tour begins in July.
She travels without a band – Chuck Berry-style – and performs with either pre-recorded backing tracks or with a band selected specially for her performance.
Chitrakar has released eight albums, all songs sung in Nepali. Her videos are on YouTube and, if you understand Nepali, there are several interviews.
As her career developed, and her popularity soared, Chitrakar began to understand her increasing social and political power. She began to choose and write material with a more political slant, often times writing about the unfairness of Nepal’s unwritten social caste system. But her musical style and approach has always been pop. She cites Madonna, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston as singers she looks up to. She confides that, one day, she hopes that she can be lowered from the ceiling to the stage on wires, like a true diva.
Chitrakar and her husband Sanjeev decided to move to Sonoma about six years ago, citing a desire to focus on their family and their middle-school-aged son. Sonoma was always high on their list of prospective new home towns, as they would often visit here when Chitrakar was appearing in the Bay Area. They made the big move about two years ago, settling into a home in Sonoma, not far from Chitrakar’s brother, Nima Sherpa. It has been an adjustment, as their native Kathmandu is home to over 2 million people, but they have learned to love the slower paced lifestyle.
Chitrakar loves her native Nepalese foods, and considers herself to be an excellent cook. When asked if she has any difficulty obtaining the proper and correct ingredients, she answered that she can usually find what she needs here in town. Sometimes she will shop at a Nepali store in Cotati, or even travel to El Cerrito for a more extensive selection of spices.
Mishra and Chitrakar have been busy while living here in Sonoma entertaining guests from back home. Their guests want to visit the local wineries and see the sights, and they are more than happy to play the role of convivial hosts. Naturally, a big dinner at their home always caps off the weekend.
Chitrakar began the process of becoming a U.S. citizen several months ago. That dream was realized recently when she and 1,000 or so others recently took their oaths at the Paramount Theater in Oakland.