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Known notes

Shillong-based musi­cian, Hammarsing Kharhmar, whose musical ensemble, Da Minot, also uses traditional instruments, highlights a movement catalysed by an institute called Sieng Riti

Sudipta Bhattacharjee Published 17.05.24, 07:11 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. Sourced by the Telegraph

Amid the warp and weft of electioneering for the Lok Sabha elections in the country, there is an oasis of calm in the northeastern states, which witnessed polls in the first three phases. In the long wait for the results, there is a zephyr-induced cadence in states like Meghalaya, where music came to the fore last week for two reasons. On May 8, Shillong witnessed spontaneous musical tributes on the 163rd birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. The Nobel laureate had visited the town thrice and his literary outpourings bear evidence of the impressions he imbibed from the abode of clouds.

Last week, Meghalaya’s director of arts and culture, D.D. Shira, and the zonal director of ICCR, N. Mu­nish Singh, were present at a function offering homage to Tagore. Tributes were paid at Brookside, the bungalow where Tagore had stayed in 1919, and a cultural programme was organised in the afternoon, where the Shillong Tagore Choir rendered Rabindrasangeet.


The next day, in New Delhi, another icon from the state’s music fraternity, the septuagenarian, Silbi Passah, received the Padma Shri in arts from President Droupadi Murmu at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in the presence of the chief minister of Meghalaya, Conrad Sangma. Passah had received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for 2021 from the president on February 24 last year. A well-known folk musician, Passah, a resident of Shillong, teaches students traditional music and dance at home. Having returned from Delhi on Saturday, she said the recognition would be instrumental in taking her mission to promote traditional music forward. She had opted to don traditional attire at the investiture ceremony and hopes that the younger generation will learn to value and reignite interest in traditional music.

“I will continue to promote traditional music by collaborating with art and culture. The fact that my efforts are being recognised and appreciated by the government of India gives me hope that it will provide more schemes to help me in promoting our culture,” says Passah, who plays the drums and duitara (a traditional Khasi two-stringed instrument). Interestingly, among traditional instruments of the state, the drums are categorised as male and female. Thus, while ka ksing kynthei is the female drum, ka ksing shynrang is the male counterpart. The duitara that Passah plays looks like a guitar covered in animal hide. The gongmina or Jew’s harp, is made of a thin sliver of bamboo, while the tangmuri is a wind instrument and the besli a flute.

The fact that these traditi­onal instruments are also used by mainstream Meghalayan bands like Summersalt and Da Minot adds a fresh dimension to the narrative, enriching efforts to promote traditional music among the youth. Summersalt, which featured in the Bollywood film, Rock On 2, has made a conscious decision “to go back to our roots, to indigenous culture. We grew up in Church using modern instruments and wanted to make ours organic,” says its founder, Kitkupar Shangpliang.

The Shillong-based musi­cian, Hammarsing Kharhmar, whose musical ensemble, Da Minot, also uses traditional instruments, highlights a movement in the state catalysed by an institute called Sieng Riti. The gifted musicians, Rangbah Komik Khongjirem and Rangbah Rojet Buhphang, both associated with the San­g­eet Natak Akademi, are the living legends behind Sieng Riti. Komik says, “Sieng Riti was set up in 2005 after I received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award. Along with Rojet and late Samsit Malngiang, we set up the Sieng Riti Institute to promote, preserve and impart Khasi music as well as keep Khasi traditional music alive.”

One hopes that the recognition for Passah will continue to motivate her and others striving to bring indigenous culture and values to the mainstream and capture the imagination of the youth in this musically endowed state.

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