SOULMATE was formed in Shillong, in October 2003 when Rudy Wallang and Tipriti Kharbangar decided to start a band dedicated to playing the Blues and committed to spread awareness about the music to the rest of India, whether the country was ready or not. Rudy was already a legend in North East India, making his name with the region’s most respected and seminal bands like Great Society and Mojo, while Tipriti was the little girl with the big pipes whom everyone knew was going places.
Author: K Mark Swer
K Mark Swer is a filmmaker, writer and a radio artist.
He is a resident rock critic for raiot. He is Executive Producer of BigFM, Shillong
Let’s start with the positives – a novel about the Bengali experience in Shillong, especially during the troubles, is always welcome. The novel has some nice passages and some wit at times, for example ‘…..he transformed himself into an amalgam of Devdas and Descartes—a perpetually intoxicated mathematical genius, composed, in equal parts, of alcohol and algebra’, to describe Debu’s tutor, Professor Bose… The novel’s treatment of the Sylhet-Calcutta divide imbibes it with an angle that will be new to Khasi readers while the episodes around the first TV in Upper Jail Road and the Bengali fish embargo during the troubles are well recounted. The loss of home or the lack of it, the longing and sorrow that emerges as a result and the plight of people who have suddenly become outsiders in a place they love can be felt throughout the novel and is movingly rendered in parts. But the novel also fails on many fronts. It surrenders too easily to stereotypes and it miserably fails to overcome the tropes that have become a bit tiresome in novels about Shillong…
In 2018, the musical North, West, East and South of Shillong have all combined to give us this very talented group of young musicians whose EP ‘Tempted’ is out now in all the world’s digital stores. They call themselves Blue Temptation and comprise, at some point or the other, Gregory Ford Nongrum, his elder brother El Nathan Ford Nongrum, Shepherd Najiar, Manavon Massar and Vincent Tariang (also of Soulmate). These five young men encapsulate Shillong’s old histories and musical geographies but, as they should, also burn them to the ground. Greg, El Nathan and Shepherd (Shep) are from ‘the West’ but they barely remember the Highway Band anymore and their journey into the blues was as simple and complex as the music itself. Manavon is a keyboard player/sound system blaster/DJ from the ‘Roots Region’ and his dreadlocks and patois, are therefore quite historically grounded. Vincent too is a direct descendant of the ‘Roots Region’ and I’m sure, his father Rudy Wallang must’ve played a small part in his love for the blues.
“If you look at people below the age of 40 in Bollywood, we’re working with at least half of them”. That is Anirban Das Blah; the CEO of the talent management agency KWAN, partly explaining what his company does…
Each and every opening line of the songs featured in this book ‘Ka Marynthing Rupa’ by L. Gilbert Shullai takes me back to the time when western music took root in the flesh and blood of Khasi musicians and when it seemed like the music itself was going to be an integral part of Khasi culture. Perhaps, this was possible because there hadn’t emerged at the time Khasi musicians who were skilled enough to understand the intricacies of songwriting. In those days, Khasi songs had a very strong mainland Indian influence and they were performed mainly in theatrical shows in places like Jowai, Mawphlang, Mawngap, Marbisu, Sohra, Mawsynram and among the Seng Khasis in Mawkhar.
” Isn’t it the bitterest irony of all that a town that likes to call itself ‘Rock Capital’ has largely forgotten or remains ignorant about a period of their history that might actually measure up to some claim of exceptionalism?”
2016 has dimmed the lights of two truly great artists –David Bowie and Prince. Both share a lot in common- their blurring of the lines of gender, sexuality and identity and their expansion of the vocabulary and possibilities of popular music. But in one area they differ. Bowie brought into pop music sensibilities from modern art, architecture and classical music but Prince developed into high art the popular black styles he loved. His work is art without being ‘arty’.
The missionaries gave us the written word though it could have easily been Bengali rather than Roman. It is in this process that a complex history of battling calligraphies contrived to sort out an oral tradition that they considered to be uncivilized.
MIA has sold over a million copies of her albums and god knows how many more downloads and in contrast to Bollywood actresses attempting crossovers, hers is really the story of a girl from south Asia making it big in the west. The fact that she made it by rapping about issues that most pop stars wouldn’t touch with a barge pole is all the more remarkable.
It is fair to say that in any writing of the history of western music in India, Shillong would deserve a chapter. It is just that the writing of this chapter has become way too problematic – too many loose ends, too many grand unifying theories. The culture of western popular music in Shillong has no shortage of hagiographers. In fact most of the writing on this field has been gushy, uncritical and downright fallacious (there have been so many that it would be worthwhile to bring out a compendium of these).