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A different tune resonates

By Willie Gordon Suting

In every religion, music plays a role as a mode of communication between God and man. There is a spiritual connection which is developed which springs not only from faith, but also from the joy of singing from the heart. It is a powerful medium through which artistes find expression.
Hindustani vocal, an Indian classical style of singing, traces its origin in Lord Shiva who created ‘Sangeet’. When sung, the form of music in itself is a vocal exercise as there are octaves and intonations.
There is a soulful quality to this style of singing which elicits the music aficionado to listen carefully to the fleeting melodies. A sense of equanimity and sereneness from the sound of the sitar, harmonium, tabla and especially vocals is being felt in the listener.
‘Sangeet Pratibha’, recently organised by Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Department of Arts and Culture at U Soso Tham Auditorium, gave a platform to young classical, folk and traditional musicians to showcase their talent with an aim to spread awareness of the varied musical forms of India.
The third day of the event had three Khasi musicians — Budshaphrang Lyngdoh, Christopher Kurbah and Darilin Jovita Masharing — singing Hindustani vocal with their mentor and group leader Kanta Kaveri Das.
As the sitar, tabla and harmonium played to give way to the vocals, there was a cheer from the audience. It was not often that music lovers in Shillong witness some of their own sing Hindustani vocal. But Lyngdoh, Kurbah and Masharing sang effortlessly hitting the right notes with careful precision and restraint.
Lyngdoh, who says his parents WH Shullai and E. Lyngdoh were his first gurus who introduced him to music at a tender age, had finesse in his delivery singing from the heart.
Kurbah, who too was trained by father Wanker Kupar Bareh, utilised well his ability to shift from note to note. “I was in the church choir but my formal training in music started only after joining the Bachelor Degree in Music at St. Anthony’s College where I was introduced to Indian Classical Hindustani vocal music,” says the young singer.
Masharing, who graduated from St Anthony’s College with Music Honours in 2013 and studied classical music in Delhi, provided a feminine touch to the piece adding pathos and soul. Das, being a veteran performer, was elegant with articulation.
The audience was keenly receptive, and applauded well. The shift in notes of the singers was dexterous and impressive. The notes ranged from sadness to jubilance creating soulful melodies. A calm breezy feel was fused with magnetic charm. The shifting intonations were akin to a soothing gentle zephyr blowing from a river.
Music can achieve what political dialogues or diplomacy cannot. Hindustani classical, a not-so popular form of music in this part of the country, found a new group of audience who was more familiar with the western culture and art forms. The inclusiveness of Indian culture and tradition despite its varied hues was evident from the performances at U Soso Tham.
“We showcased that Khasis can also perform Hindustani vocal. To me personally, I believe Khasis can sing it having curiosity and lots of hard work,” Kurbah says.
Lyngdoh echoes the same view and adds, “As an art form it is very rich, and needs more promotion.”
It is not a common to see a Khasi sing Hindustani vocal in a concert. And this was the first time that such an occasion materialised. “We are trying to spread awareness among the youth in the audience. We want to arouse curiosity and encourage them that they too can achieve the same,” Marsharing feels.
Das, who taught Kurbah and Marsharing, says, “These two were my students in St. Anthony’s College. It’s a proven fact that Khasis can sing this art form.”
Kurbah did his Masters Degree in Hindustani vocal music in the Faculty of Performing Arts, Banaras Hindu University, specialising in Khyal Gayaki and Dhrupad Gayaki. Both Kurbah and Marsharing grew up watching Bollywood music videos and movies.
Though today’s Bollywood music is far from the elegance of the classical form it helps in making the language familiar to those strangers to Hindi.
“I believe this helps as it serves as an introduction to the language at a very tender age,” says Kurbah, who has performed in many local as well as national concerts and festivals like ‘Akhra’ Tribal India International Festival organised by the Central University of Jharkhand, ‘Surangan’ Festival of Music organised by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Northeast Centre, Guwahati and 8th Sur Sargam organised by Menorah Sports and Cultural Club, Shillong.
Marsharing, who also did her MPhil in Music from Delhi, says she would watch Doordarshan programmes like Rangoli and Chitrahar and never miss these shows though she did not understand the language.
Masharing has contributed to six albums released so far. She has performed in the Autumn Festival ‘Home of Clouds’ organised by the Department of Art and Culture, Goverment of Meghalaya in Delhi. In 2012, she performed at the Monolith Festival at Mawphlang under the guidance of Silbi Pasah.
On the language barrier, Lyngdoh says, “Even I faced it. And I am still working towards achieving a stronger command of it. I believe it all comes down to developing an interest and curiosity with the language.”
Lyngdoh is presently pursuing his doctoral degree from the University of Delhi under the supervision of Suneera Kasliwal Vyas. He has performed in the Festival of Music Surangaan organised by Sangeet Natak Akademi North-East Centre, Guwahati, in 2015.
All the three young Hindustani vocalists teach music at St Anthony’s.
Talking about bridging the cultural disconnect between the mainland and Northeast India, Das says, “It is all about patience and having an inquisitive mind. I’ve seen my Khasi students learn the language slowly but successfully.”
It must be noted that Dr Lapynshai Syiem was the first Khasi scholar to study Hindustani vocal. This paved the way for Lyngdoh, Kurbah and Masharing. As an art form, it is still not popular in the state. But in states like Manipur and Assam, there are many artistes who sing Hindustani vocal.
The Music Department of St. Anthony’s College gives exposure to its students by regularly organising concerts of various musical styles with Hindustani Vocal being included. As an academic subject, Hindustani vocal is also taught in Martin Luther Christian University and Shillong Music College in the city.
Talking about the event, Das said, “This is a great initiative and which should be organised from time to time.”
“Lately, I’ve seen my Khasi students working hard to learn Hindi language,” adds Das.
Helen Giri, who is a member of Sangeet Natak Akademi and Indian Council for Cultural Relations, says, “I’ve tried my best to establish music as an academic subject in the city. Youths are now learning various forms of music”.
“As a member of Sangeet Natak Akademi, I am glad that the event turned out to be a success,” adds Giri.

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