RASHMI OBEROI | 17 MARCH, 2019
Folk Music: The Roots of Culture
You are living under a rock if you've somehow missed out on Indian artists from the North East.
The Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya in Bhopal has been spearheading an interactive Museum Movement in India, and in turn celebrating the simultaneous validity of various valuable cultural patterns evolved over thousands of years.
The Organization is working for national integration, and promotes research and training and inter-institutional networking for salvage and revitalization of vanishing but valuable cultural traditions. The aim is to highlight our unity and diversity; and organize exhibitions to present an integrated story of biological evolutions and variations.
To celebrate the 43rd foundation day, IGRMS organised a three day traditional festival of North East India in the second week of March 2019. All the north-east states were part of the theme this year – ranging from the handloom textile traditions of the states, the contribution of women, diversity, customs and traditions, arts and crafts, indigenous traditional cuisine and ethnicity. There was also a programme of performing arts that showcased music from the north east which was a variety of different genres of music entwined with folk fusion.
You have to be living under a rock if you've somehow missed out on the magic of independent Indian artists from the North East. Some of the most incredibly talented musicians come from here and have stayed away from the limelight and spotlight of their own free will. North East India, which is not only our unexplored paradise on earth but also blessed with natural beauty and a unique culture in music, traditional dance and instruments.
The inimitable style of classical and folk music of north east makes it one of the hot spots of the music industry in India. Shillong is well known as the Rock Capital of India for its best rock bands that are rich in various styles of rock music, from soft rock and roll and rock pop, to hard rock and metal. The Northeast of India has a glorious musical reputation that's sadly not been realised to the level it should.
During the festival, The Tetseo sisters from Nagaland celebrated the songs of life, the beauty of the hills and storytelling through the language of Li or folk singing in Chokri Naga dialect. Mo & The Shooting Stars, a multi genre band performed a variety of music that had the crowd mesmerised. Rida and the Musical Folks from Meghalaya played a style of music that is influenced by elements of Khasi and Jaintia folk music.
The instruments are all handcrafted by the musicians themselves. SAM PAA, a Manipuri folk experimental music band based in Imphal has been working relentlessly on promoting folk music. Most of their instruments are created and designed by themselves.
And last but not the least…and my personal favourite band, Soulmate and The Clansmen gave a scintillating performance that had the audience transfixed. I was also lucky to travel with the band from Delhi to Bhopal and have a ‘huge fan’ moment by interacting with them personally.
Genius guitarist Rudy Wallang and the magnificent vocalist Tipriti Kharbangar got together and created magic in a tape back in 2003. The two talented musicians have been ruling the Blues scene in India ever since. If you’ve never heard them before, you’re in for a jaw-dropping experience! Soulmate band created history by being the first and only blues band ever to represent India in the world.
Over the years, I have been following their music and how their personal beliefs are an integral part of their music. The idea for Soulmate and The Clansmen came about after they were asked to play the Paddy Fields Festival in 2017. Tipriti had never really sung in Khasi before except for the one song, Shad Pynnang Pynnang, which they performed live at one of the Mahindra Blues Festival (2014) as well as at a NH7 Festival (2018), where the organizers had asked them to do something different.
This is when they tried incorporating their Khasi traditional beats and musical styles and songs with their Blues style. Their fans were quite intrigued with this collaboration and it was something different for the band as well.
It was only when Paddy Fields came along and they were asked to do a Khasi Folk Music set combined with their Blues that they took this really seriously. They decided to form Soulmate and the Clansmen (The Clansmen being the 4 Khasi Traditional Folk Musicians who perform with them and who also belong to 4 different Clans in the Khasi hills.) Tipriti was very happy and excited with the idea of singing in Khasi, the local language of the Khasi People of the Khasi Hill’s tribe of Meghalaya of which they belong to.
They gathered a list of about 16 Khasi traditional songs out of which they chose around 10 songs written by great Khasi song writers most of whom have passed on. They went about getting permission from their relatives and from one of the songwriters himself, Bah Rana Kharkongor, who supported them wholeheartedly.
They also met with Bah Sumar Singh Sawian, who happened to be an expert on Khasi tradition and music. Then they set about arranging and re-arranging the music to suit the musical instruments that they chose to represent each song. They even wrote a song in Khasi which was performed at the Paddy Fields Festival.
The concert went down very well with everyone who attended and this gave a boost to their confidence and they decided to take this arrangement further. Mother Nature has blessed them abundantly; Meghalaya is one of the most beautiful states in India. This in itself is inspiration enough for any artist. But songs cannot be only about nature. Their songs have a lot to do with human nature as well.
Soulmate made a name for themselves by being true to their hearts. They didn’t want to be controlled by the ‘rat race’ so they decided to live at home and travel in and out of Shillong, when the need arose. The Blues, besides expressing a state of mind, is also a deep feeling. Singing the Blues is therapy for the band and medicine for the soul of the audience.
Music festivals and folk fusion help increase awareness about the North East and its people and culture. Most people are unaware about the simple and trusting folk that live in a very integral part of our country. There is a lot we need to learn from them.
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