Listen to music students from Meghalaya's original album with western, Indian elements
Listen to music students from Meghalaya preview an original seven-track album that has both western and Indian elements in it
A class is held outdoors
It is a truth nationally acknowledged that the Northeast is a hotbed of eager and talented musicians. Such that practically every family in a place like Shillong has at least one member who is a proficient pianist, guitarist or vocalist. Thanks to a close association with the Church, there is also a host of choir and gospel groups, who bring the city alive especially during the Christmas season. "In fact, I am told that if one can't play a musical instrument, finding a life partner becomes very difficult," says Shubho Bhattacharjee, who started The Centre of Excellence in Indian and Western Music (CEIWM) in the Meghalaya capital, with another branch seven hours away, in the remote town of Turo.
Students perform at a concert
But, at the same time, people's idea of Indian forms of music is restricted to contemporary Bollywood, Bhattacharjee adds. "They haven't really heard any other genres. Folk, for example, is alien to them, forget about Indian classical," he reveals. So, it is to bridge this musical divide that he co-founded CEIWM in December 2016. And now, the institute's students are ready with a multi-genre album, which they will preview at an Andheri venue this evening.
Students and their mentors
Bhattacharjee says, "We had told our first batch of students that while it isn't a compulsion, those who do want to learn Indian classical music would have to do it in the guru-shishya tradition. And we thought that there would be a lot of reservations about this. That's why we tweaked some of the rituals, like tying a band to their wrist instead of a thread during a particular ceremony, so that the entire process would not be too alien to them." He continues, "Surprisingly, though, everyone wanted to enrol for that very course. And on the day of the ceremony, they were in tears, because music is in their system, you know, and something about that process was just too overwhelming."
Why is that, we ask him. Is it because years of neglect have led to a sense of ostracisation from the so called "mainland", which has led to a socio-cultural wound festering deep within? And because becoming part of what is a quintessentially "Indian" tradition created a feeling of acceptance that manifested itself through tears?
"I'm glad you asked that question," Bhattacharjee answers. "I, too, have always felt that there is a clear alienation from the mainland, a term I hate, which made them feel, 'This is India, and this is us. And what is us? Us is Guns 'n' Roses, gospel music and choirs, and all of that.' But our mentors told the students that if they want to be heard across the country, it's important to sing what the country wants to listen to. And to be able to do that, you need to understand the various expressions of Indian music, not just classical. You need to understand, for example, Marathi folk or the Punjabi style of music. And I think they got excited about that possibility, since they now felt that this way, their music would be more accepted rather than remaining curtailed to the Northeast."
Which is exactly why non-Bollywood Indian music is one of the elements in the seven-track album the students have recorded, which also has jazz, rock, Sufi and even reggae compositions. All the songs are completely original, since Bhattacharjee was clear from the outset that CEIWM would maintain a distance from covers, which have traditionally been bread-and-butter music in the Northeast. "With covers, you are modulating your voice like a certain artiste who modulates his or her voice on stage. So, you are singing like someone else, and that is not your original expression at all. That's why we have more or less banned it on campus, though the students are free to upload covers online if they feel like doing it from home," he explains.
He adds that the preview will involve the students singing songs live on stage, apart from a few videos they shot on iPhones being screened for the audience. There will also be an artist, Subodh Poddar, who will paint live to the music, meaning that an entire multimedia experience is in store for the audience who, in the process of attending the concert, will also be taking a step towards promoting national integration.
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