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Of Stories from the Khasi Hills

Of Stories from the Khasi Hills

Sentinel Digital Desk

Aiyushman Dutta

Summersalt is a unique Khasi folk fusion ensemble which was formed in the hills of Shillong way back in 2006. A group of four musicians who are all bound together by their love for their own traditions and culture, the band's music is an amalgamation of traditional Khasi music with soul, jazz, R&B and the like. The band has been on a roll in recent years as they have been performing in many prestigious venues and stages across the country. Just recently, they finished recording for their new album under the supervision of Shantanu Hudlikar at YashRaj Studios in Mumbai.

We recently caught up with the band's frontman Kitkupar Shangpliang to know more about the band and their journey so far. Following are excerpts.

  • Please tell us about your childhood.

Ans: Born and brought up in Shillong, I'm a typical Shillongite with music and football as naturals while cricket came later. I guess I was both a leader and a follower as a boy, I mixed around a lot and was introduced to music at a very young age, growing up singing in Church and All India Radio in the mid 90s. At the age of 12, the guitar picked me and I've never stopped learning the instrument since then.

The piano keys came later. In fact, there was a bit of humor if I tell you the process of me learning the keys. It was a stunt bicycle accident that broke my wrist and that left me restless because I couldn't play my guitar. Incidentally, there was an old acoustic organ lying in the house, as if, waiting for me to touch it. Somehow, it was easier for me to play around and pump the organ, despite the broken wrist of my right hand. My exposure to music and all sorts of musical instruments and playing with different musicians gave me a good grounding to understand the craft in its totality. I guess that lead me to pick up song writing and arrangement at my teens as well. After all these years, I realized now that all those experiences fell into place to shaping the song writer in me.

  • What where your interest during your growing up days?

Ans: I was interested in all of what life can teach me. My growing up days were full of experiment. Shillong was fun, we had our fair share of bandhs and curfews, video tapes, lots of cassettes, playing table tennis & badminton and riding bikes to keep the sanity. Of course, music was at the epicenter of things. And by the way, I learned drumming too by watching my father's friend playing it at our house – and I didn't dare to touch it, so i picked up the muras, turned them into toms and snares and used the steel plates as cymbals. I was just growing fast with the music.

  • How did you decide to form Summersalt?

Ans: I was outside Meghalaya and touring the country as a para-journalist working with an international development organization, thinking that music, was not a viable livelihood option until one day music called me back and I had to respond. In 2006, I was still traveling for work but got a chance to base out of Shillong. That gave me the opportunity to reconnect with the artiste community and particularly with a bunch of friends. That was also the time where music like Summersalt's didn't quite exist in Shillong.

The fact that I've learned so much from my traveling opened my eyes to see the Khasi hills and its music as a hidden treasure to be explored. Incidentally, my brothers who were already experimenting with folk-fusion were doing something uniquely interesting and that caught my attention. We got into talking and as one thing lead to the other, the music in and around this subdued crazy bunch of people gave birth to what is known as Summersalt now.

  • What is the basic idea of behind the formation of Summersalt?

Ans: We wanted to tell the stories of the Khasi hills and make it palatable for people of all generations to connect with it. We would like to believe that we are playing their music and telling their stories, which is our collective identity. Summersalt was also a counter-narrative to the thousands of songs that have come out from the Khasi hills generally based on pessimism and non-solution. We distinctly noticed the need to pump optimism back into our arts to get out from the fatalistic base of our folktales, not that we don't have spirited folklores but the number is less. You will, therefore, notice that Summersalt's songs have a bias towards a pragmatic life. We do this not because of the feel-good factor, but simply to inject a balance using music psychology and with the approach comes the intention to call people to hope, to believe in the abilities that God had given them and to live life to the fullest.

  • How would you define the band and it's music?

Ans: The idea behind Summersalt is as simple as it is about the Music, the traditional culture, the social nitty-gritty, the story telling style and the drive to live true. All this, to repurpose the Music from merely entertaining the audience to engaging with the audience. By any standard definition, we fall under the folk-fusion umbrella but I'd like to think that as offshoot of folk-fusion, Summersalt plays what it calls Transfusion ('Trans' being a word that denotes meaning of Across and Beyond and 'Fusion' being self-explanatory).

  • As a pioneering folk fusion music band from Northeast India, what do you have to say about its music and the people?

Ans: There's so much India's northeast can offer. As the people of the region, we are second to none and we have a plethora of stories to share through arts and music. It is a matter of researching, reorganizing and repackaging our traditional arts based on our unique identities to tell the rest of India and the world that we are here to stay. As much as we delight on other genres of music, folk-fusion is a real representation amidst the progressive world we live in. By that, let me give you the food analogy, where we have the option of continental dishes on one hand and Akhoni, Jadoh and Aloo Pitika on the other. So yes, realistically many worlds exist but as we delve into world of today – we also embrace the ancient wisdom of yesteryears. But how do we leverage on that is also important….It's time we think outside the box and don't get trapped into the mentality of over-depending on government's systems to monetize our music for sustainability. Innovation and action is the key.

Q, Does folk fusion have any takers in NE India?

Ans: Absolutely. Apart from pure traditional music, folk-fusion is the only genre that takes you closest to your identity and it is very natural for someone at some point in time to want to know oneself. The folk-fusion that we have experimented helps us to know, who and what we are, to the land and to the people. It also acts as a living root bridge between the past and present, helping us to look into the future. So folk-fusion is its pure intended form has the ability to connect not only with the maturing people but with the little children. I say this, because Summersalt's songs are being listened, being sung and being danced to by 3 year olds and 30 year olds and more. We can't underestimate the power of identity.

  • What are your future plans?

Ans: I am at the vortex of a Summersalt's second album project working with my esteemed friend Shantanu Hudlikar of Yaj Raj Films Recording Studios, Mumbai. It has been a labour of love all through. It is an honour for me to have played alongside maturing musicians like Dawad akka Weet, Baiaineh akka Nah, Ador, Greg, Pynsuk and Dajied who understand the sensitivities of the music and the culture we believe in. I'm working on opportunities to learn more about the traditional music of the other indigenous communities in the region as well and possibly, to chip in to making northeast the hotspot of ethnic musical identities and diversities.

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