Vocalist Rida never imagined that she would one day pursue music professionally, ‘Music has always been at the background since childhood. I grew up singing with the church choir but never considered it as a career.’
In fact, she had first intended to pursue a career in design. She moved to Bangalore where she signed up for a design course. After completing, she moved to Mumbai where she worked for quite a few years before she shifted back to Shillong to teach design. In the three years when she was working independently, she realized that there was a scarcity and shortage of natural resources and also witnessed the dying of local arts and crafts. ‘As one thing led to another, I noticed a connection between all things and nature. I noticed how we are all in this journey together and this perspective helped me gain my sense of purpose.’
She wanted to pursue a career in nature and conservation but that is not as easy as it sounds. Fortunately she came across humble folk who shared similar interests. The Musical Folks have played together since 2011. ‘It is a collective of artistes from various backgrounds and our interactions and expressions are open-ended so we enjoy teaching and learning from one another. We make music to the tunes of nature.’ Besides being musicians, the members also actively add to the society as farmers, instrument makers, teachers, designers, sound engineers, ceramic artists, painters, filmmakers, cooks and the like.
She started out small using whatever little she had saved from her design work, freelance projects and workshops conducted in craft clusters across Meghalaya. ‘I am very blessed to have come across a few key players in my life and profession who have inspired and supported me all along without whom none of this could have been possible.’ The band has travelled and performed across various cities and platforms in India, and most recently, they represented the country at the Handshake Concert in Vietnam.
Most of the instruments they use are traditional folk instruments made by the band members themselves. ‘We use various Khasi percussion instruments like the bom, the male drum (ksing shynrang), the female drum (ksing kynthei) and the kynshaw. Our wind instruments are the tangmuri and the flute. On strings, we use duitara, the maryngod and the sitar. The origin of Khasi music is considered to be as old and antique as the race itself. Music plays a vital role to Khasi life. Each traditional instrument or beat or melody that we use in our music adds meaning to the song. It has been interesting to work with acoustic sounds and instruments because we don’t feel limited in any way.’
Rida also founded Dakti Craft in 2013, which is an initiative to support and promote the artisans and craftsmen from the State. ‘The whole idea is to build a sustainable eco-system for craftsmen, musicians and other skilled artistes by way of training, encouragement and promotion. I wish for people to be aware of the art of conservation and to gain a new perspective on life the same way I did, when I found inspiration in nature.’
The Musical Folk
>Bah Rojet Buhphang and late Bah S Malngiang – duhalias (traditional folk musician and instrument makers) from Meghalaya make and play traditional instruments like the tangmuri, ksing, padiah, symphong, bisli and bom. They are the founders of Sieng Riti Institute for Traditional Music in Wahkhen, a village in East Khasi hills. Bah Rojet Buhphang was awarded the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar in the year 2007 for his contribution to traditional music of Meghalaya.
>Peter Marbaniang is a ceramic designer working with artisans and craftsmen from Meghalaya through various community development programs. A self-taught duitara and guitar player, he is also the backing vocalist and narrator in the band. Peter, along with Rida has helped create Dakti.
>Amarnath Hazarika is a guitarist and composer, currently based in Mumbai. Born and brought up in Shillong, he moved to Boston in 2007 to attend Berklee College of Music, graduating in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Composition. He has performed in the United States, Malaysia and Singapore apart from numerous festivals and venues across India. He was also the Music Director for the National Award-winning Assamese film Kothanodi. Amarnath also has a passion for music education which led him to teach at The True School of Music in Mumbai.
>Risingbor Kurkalang is a duhalia who has been making and playing the duitara, maryngod, sitar and other traditional instruments since his childhood. He also participates in making traditional instruments and designing traditional costumes and jewellery for performances. He has been performing with Rida and The Musical Folks since 2013.
>Sean Menzies Nongrum is a bom player, bass player and sound engineer. With many years of experience as a session musician and a live performer, he is now a full-time musician working from his ‘Home Studio’ in Shillong. He helps the band retain the purity of sound while recording and during live shows.
>Shaun Nonghuloo Morehead is a self-taught drummer, miniature artiste and ksing player who is based in Shillong. He is a session musician who likes to experiment with music and different styles of percussion.
>Benedict Skhemlang Hynniewta is a painter and musician based in Shillong. He learned music under Uwe Neumann while studying in Shantinekatan. Besides making and playing bamboo flutes with the Musical Folks, he is also a visiting lecturer in the Department of Cultural & Creative Studies, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong.
Follow the band – www.facebook.com/themusicalfolks
By Mrinal Paul
This article was first published in Eclectic Northeast December 2017 issue