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Shillong choir:A tribute to the source

Guwahati, Oct. 27: What a certain Farrokh Bulsara (Freddie Mercury) having gone to the UK did with the music that dwells in that faraway land, Neil Nongkynrih brings back to India, still that much Indian in its soul — every musical pun contemplated — Bollywoodish when tweaked to be so; to the Northeast of India, still so western and classical in content, and onto Shillong, his home, where the music of the hills has played endlessly, as old and yet as green as the hills, where the Khasi sharati has long met the sax, the graceful Nongkrem moved to the dreamy nocturne. Classical and classy, Bach and Bollywood, Gershwin and glitz.

In the hills of the Khasis and the Jaintias and the Garos, Nongkynrih, attired in his carefully creased sherwani, brings forth his fusion once again tomorrow. The Vienna Chamber Orchestra is in Shillong to accentuate the effort. And he conducts the orchestra this time (it’s a first and he’s “so flattered”).

“With an Austrian teacher and mentor, I like the Vienna Chamber so much, not just because of their music, but the people who make it. They’re so warm-hearted.” As is the choir, perhaps, one that has become a family over the years.

“We have had the same people for five years. That is a miracle going by the number of splits we see these days,” he says.

But more about the source where from the sound flows forth: “Three of our girls are Nagas, there’s someone who is part Mizo, someone part African, someone part Bangladeshi, someone part Afghan, some Manipuri, I am part British… ours is an international sound,” Nongkynrih says.

In Khasi, “nongpule” is student, “nonghikai” is teacher and “nongkynrih” is the wanderer. “That’s what I really am.”

The concerts organised by Meghalaya Art Society in association with The Telegraph tomorrow and the day after will be “more masala than anything else”.

“There will be some classical music but listen to say Yaadon ki baarat … it’s almost a Strauss…,” he points out.

“More and more people are now into ‘something fresh and different’, in clothes, in food…” In sherwanis?

“Even when I played Mozart in the West, I never wore a suit and a bowtie,” Nongkynrih says. “I wore a sherwani. That’s because I’m Indian, I’m not born in England.”

He doesn’t sing, though, even as he agrees that it’s difficult to meet a Khasi who doesn’t.

And where does Farrokh Bulsara figure? “I grew up listening to Freddie Mercury and Queen,” says Nongkynrih.

“And while I don’t agree with music being elitist, I like opera music (a Freddy Mercury forte in the rock version). Like Mercury, I too went from India to train in England…”

And hence the occasional Queen classic that makes a part of the choir’s repertoire. “I picked up the discipline of music in England; raw talent maybe plentiful but music needs discipline and you need to be organised. Music needs to be done in stages.”

Tomorrow and the day after in Shillong, expect a next stage, a new high. The source is sound.

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