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Musician goes places with 'be fearless, be kind' wish

Hammarsing K. Sawyan

Calcutta: Music for him was an escape out of a directionless existence in a journey that took Shillong lad Hammarsing Kharhmar Sawyan from the hallowed portals of St Stephens to Berklee College of Music in Boston.

The courage that it took to step into the unknown was rewarded when he shot into fame with his EP, Exhibition, featuring a song in collaboration last year with an idol of his, Julian Casablancas of The Strokes.

Sawyan made his home country extremely proud after his first solo EP, Last Dance, was released and backed by Casablancas.

Casablancas also lent his vocals to Sawyan's song, No one there.

Sawyan grew up in Shillong, where he learnt to play the guitar, before he moved to Boston and started the band Mon Khmer.

He "stumbled" out of economics into music, after a childhood that was surrounded by music. "My dad loved to sing and play the guitar. There would be a music session at every party. That was my first introduction to music, rock n roll in particular. I grew up hearing a lot of Bob Dylan," he said.

"Dad taught me a very strange scale/finger exercise which he had made up and it helped build my technique. I guess being an architect he constructed it like he would a building. I picked up things mostly by ear, jamming, watching friends, performing in school and college. Learning by trying," he added.

For him, "music was an escape out of a directionless existence but also meant stepping into the unknown at the time".

He listened to and drew inspiration from experimental rock bands like Can, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, Bowie's Berlin Trilogy and the repetitive, propulsive rhythms of Krautrock and minimal electronic music.

"You can hear little bits of all these influences in my latest project, Exhibition, which is signed to NYC-based label Cult Records," he added.

Traditional Khasi rhythms and beats influenced him greatly. Hearing them as a kid at the spring festival, Shad Suk Mynsiem (dance of peaceful hearts) made a deep impact. "Birthplace, a song by my old band, Mon Khmer, evolved out of a Khasi beat and melody that I had heard as a child. Recently, I have been very inspired by a group of drummers who play at Shillong Lajong football games," the musician said.

His favourite tracks are No one There, Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie, his favourite artiste, Poinciana by Ahmad Jamal and Weird Fishes by Radiohead - the greatest band in his opinion. "I also absorb a lot from the people I am with. Far away places, immediate surroundings, distant memories, the present, the past, the days that wait ahead, fear of not doing anything, faces old and new, these all inspire and fuel the urge to create," he added.

Sawyan has an album coming out this summer via MAGNIPH (Japan) with Exhibition. It is called Sad Eyes, Happy Feet.

He has also been working on a restaurant in Shillong with his family. "It's been a dream of mine to build something with them for my beautiful hometown. Making a record with the Khasi percussionists is definitely on the cards," he added.

For those struggling or looking to make their mark in the field of music, he has a few words of encouragement. "Be fearless, be kind. Discipline is key," he said.

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