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Hafeza Begum Chowdhary and Group

Of Faith and Fidelity: Zikir and Zari music of Assam

If you appreciate Sufi music, then you’ll be compelled by the soulful folk genre of Zikir and Zari. Hafeza Begum Chowdhury deserves our heartfelt gratitude for gracefully introducing us to this genre of music. As a trailblazer in the Zikir Zari art form, she has elevated its stature through her dedication. It’s remarkable to discover that Assam, a world within itself, harbours such a splendid array of musical genres. From tribal melodies to the nurturing embrace of Zikir and Zari, the music from this region truly inspires and enriches our souls.

Zikir, derived from the Arabic term “Ziqr,” embodies the act of singing or recalling Allah’s name through spiritual chants and deep remembrance.

Upon asking about this folk form, Hafeza Bgeum shared that, During the 17th century, the songs of Zikir and Zari gained prominence, primarily attributed to the Sufi saint and poet Hazrat Shah Miran, also known as Ajan Fakir. Ajan Fakir, originally from Baghdad, arrived in Assam and settled in Suwaguri Sapori, near present-day Sibsagar town in northeastern India. Accompanying him on this journey was his brother, Shah Navi. Legend has it that Ajan Fakir earned the name “Ajan Fakir ” or “Ajan Pir” for introducing the recitation of “Azan” as a vital aspect of Muslim rituals among the Assamese Muslim community.

Hafeza further shared the profound philosophy underlying Zikir and Zari Sangeet, highlighting its three fundamental aspects: Namaz (Islamic prayers), Kulima (recitation of holy scriptures), and Rujha Haj Zakhat (pilgrimage and acts of charity during the holy month of Ramadan). The essence of these songs outlines and reflects the life of Hazrat Shah Miran, known as Ajan Fakir, as well as compositions centred around devotion, everyday life and spirituality. The Zari songs, with their poignant melodies, carry the weight of burial hymns, resonating with the tales of Karbala’s tragic event of Hassan, and Hussain (Islamic figures of Shia Islam). They find their solemn place during the sacred month of Muharram, their lyrics serving as reflections of societal injustices.

Ajan Pir, a visionary poet, took up his pen to craft these songs as tukari geet, weaving them with the essence of pure Assamese language. His aim was to ensure that the common folk could grasp their messages. With a touch of simplicity, he artfully conveyed the fundamental principles of Islam, safeguarding its religious doctrines within these songs.

Hafeza Begum’s group, consisting of seven members, showcased their folk form during the performance. In the traditional Zikir Zari style, they utilized instruments like the dotara (stringed instrument), ektara (one-stringed instrument), flute (wind instrument), and minor percussion to create a vibrant musical experience. One intriguing aspect of this folk form is the participation of women, with one taking the lead as the vocalist while the others provide harmonious backing vocals. Additionally, the women contribute to the music through rhythmic clapping, a vital element of every performance.

In their performances, the women grace the stage dressed in white, traditionally adorning the quintessential Assamese saree known as “Mekhela Chador.” As a symbol of reverence, they elegantly cover their heads with a white veil. Similarly, the men demonstrate respect by wearing the cap called “Taqiyah” on their heads throughout the performance. This attention to attire and adornment adds a touch of cultural authenticity and reverence to the mesmerizing display of Zikir and Zari Sangeet.

Hafeza Begum’s group had us completely charmed as they started performing, presenting themselves with utmost grace and purity. Dressed in bright white traditional garments, their presence against the backdrop of lush greenery created a visually mesmerizing scene. The soulful melodies of the Sufi genre added an extra layer of beauty, making their performance truly stand out and visually appealing.

Zikir and Zari songs were preserved and perpetuated by both Ajan Peer and his disciples, who served as the dedicated custodians of these musical traditions.

Unlike written compositions, these songs did not exist in documented form. Instead, they were shared and disseminated like other folk songs. Due to their oral nature, the transmission of these songs relied solely on the spoken word, allowing them to be passed down through generations.

Hafeza Begum Chowdhury, as the lead vocalist, was accompanied by Tasrin Ara Rohman and Sayeda Saikia on the backup vocals. On the flute was Harekrishna Talukdar, and the dotara was Tikendrajit Bharali and Nikunja Medhi; on the ektara warmed us all with their delightful performances; interacting and hearing their stories was even more heartwarming and behind their profiles were true artists who wanted to create a difference through their art and keep it going for as long as possible. 

Despite their diverse backgrounds and personal goals, these musicians are bound together by their music. When they perform, they unite as one, and their music has the power to unite the listeners as well.  In those moments, boundaries dissolve, and a sense of unity emerges, connecting the performers and their audience in a profound way.

Meghal Sharma (Research Fellow)

Mamta Sapera And Group

Breaking gender norms in the musical world of Rajasthan

Ever come across  a female playing the khartal, morchang or bhapang? 

Well, In the making, there’s a shining star whose musical approach is both unconventional and deeply rooted in her unwavering love for music. Our recording session with Mamta Sapera and her group was truly rewarding, offering us an intimate glimpse into her aspirations and passions.

Mamta’s affinity for music is profound, and her choice of instruments is nothing short of inspiring, challenging stereotypes. She plays the Khartal, Bhapang, and Morchang, traditionally reserved for male musicians in Rajasthan. Her journey began when her curiosity was piqued by the Morchang, hidden away in her mother’s almirah. Despite initial resistance due to societal norms, Mamta’s determination led her to embrace the Morchang as a birthday gift from her father, marking the beginning of her musical odyssey.

From the Morchang, she ventured into the Khartal, then the Bhapang, and now she’s mastering the violin. Her motivation to learn these predominantly male-played instruments stems from a desire to break boundaries and challenge conventions. In her own words, she expressed, “Mujhe kuch hatke karna hai” (“I want to do something unique”) in her sweet tone.

During our session, Mamta’s group treated us to a captivating folk song, followed by a mesmerizing jugalbandi featuring the Khartal, Dholak, and Bhapang. Their performance was not only catchy but also uplifting.

Our motivation to document Mamta Sapera’s journey lies in recognizing her immense potential and her determination to shatter barriers, not only for herself but also for her fellow female musicians and the community at large. Her resolute goal is to create a welcoming space for her peers to learn, grow, and pass on the tradition, ensuring that it thrives in the years to come.

Hrisha Rashmi (Volunteer)

Beg Raj And Party

The Enchanting Words of Haryanvi Bhajans

In the heartlands of Haryana, a group led by Beg Raj has been serenading the divine with their enchanting Haryanvi folk bhajans for over two decades. These melodic hymns, rooted in tradition, find their sacred space in the tranquil ambience of temples. Beg Raj, mentored by Mr. Hukum Singh, has emerged as a torchbearer of this musical legacy.

One of the key highlights in Beg Raj’s journey is the vibrant celebration of Gugga Madi, a festival where he and his group harmoniously unite with the melodies of their bhajans. The festival serves as a testament to the power of communal devotion, where spiritual vibrations are heightened through music.

Beg Raj’s musical odyssey began in 1998 when he first started singing, accompanied by the rhythmic beats of the Benjo and the melodious tunes of the matka. Over the years, he honed his craft and took a significant step in 2008 by forming his own musical group. This transition marked the beginning of a harmonious journey that continues to resonate with the masses.

The essence of Beg Raj’s bhajans lies in their instrumentation, comprising the Benjo, Harmonium, Dholak, and occasionally, the mellifluous Matka. These instruments combine to create a symphony that transports listeners to a higher plane of spirituality. Beg Raj firmly believes that these folk songs carry a wealth of knowledge and should be shared with the public. He passionately endeavours to ensure that these melodies are not just heard but cherished by all.

The first of Beg Raj’s bhajans playfully depicts the mischievous antics of Lord Krishna during his childhood. Particularly, it narrates the endearing tale of Krishna’s penchant for stealing maakhan (butter) from the pots of the gopis, much to their exasperation. This song not only showcases Lord Krishna’s eternal charm but also underscores the unwavering love and devotion of his mother, Yashoda, and the villagers. These timeless stories are an integral part of Hindu mythology, celebrated with fervour during festivals like Janmashtami.

The second bhajan delves into the poignant story of Sudama, Lord Krishna’s dear friend. Sudama, despite his humble circumstances, embarks on a journey to reunite with Krishna, emphasising the purity of their friendship and Sudama’s selfless devotion. This narrative resonates with themes of humility, friendship, and divine connection, all cherished in Hindu culture.

Beg Raj and his group’s Haryanvi folk bhajans serve as a bridge to the divine, weaving together the spiritual fabric of Haryana. Their music not only celebrates Lord Krishna’s playful nature and Sudama’s unwavering friendship but also encapsulates the essence of devotion, humility, and love. Beg Raj’s mission to share this musical treasure with the public ensures that these ancient tales and melodies continue to thrive in the hearts of those who listen.

Hrisha Rashmi (Volunteer)

Babulal Bhat And Group

The evolution of Rajasthani Maand

Babulal Bhatt, affectionately known as Guru ji, is a remarkable singer specializing in the traditional Maand geet of Rajasthan. He not only warms hearts with his music but also plays a paternal role for those who know him.

Babulal and his group were from the village Renwal manji in Jaipur. While many people perform reinterpretation folk songs, there are folk singers who drop in the shoes of write and bring new dimensions to the art form as well. Where folk music is to be treated as a living tradition it is also important to constantly evolve and bring newness and creativity into songs, and Babulal ji shares the same idea.

 As a writer and Maand singer, he generously shared his original compositions, including “Mhara sahina padharya dodya mahi,” offering a unique interpretation that piqued our curiosity. He humorously questioned if the beloved “Kesariya balam” had truly arrived, which he later conveyed through his heartfelt performance.

Another composition, “Aulyu,” portrayed the intense yearning of a woman to reunite with her beloved. The entire group, guided by Babulal’s warm leadership, made us feel part of their musical journey. Maand, a folk singing style akin to thumris or ghazals, carries a classical essence and demands vocal prowess and extensive practice.

Historically, Maand graced royal courts and celebrated various themes like romance, valor, separation, longing, and everyday life. This sophisticated genre within Rajasthan’s folk music exudes elegance and grace, conveying stories and events. It harmoniously blends with traditional instruments like harmonium, tabla, dholak, sarangi, and embellishments like bhapang, morchang, taal, khartaal, and more.

In some of Babulal ji’s performances he also employs the violin which is a new finding and innovation in the world of Maand sangeet. 

True Maand singers, like Babulal Bhatt, effortlessly transport listeners into a world of melodic enchantment, where every note carries a tale waiting to be heard.

Hrisha Rashmi (Volunteer)

Hanuman Sahay Bunkar And Group

A Harmonious Blend of Philosophy, Authenticity, and Musical Magic

Nirguni Bhajans of Rajasthan are a soul-stirring form of devotional music deeply rooted in the state’s rich cultural heritage. These bhajans are characterized by their lyrical and philosophical exploration of spirituality, often focusing on the formless, attributeless aspect of the divine, known as “Nirguna.” 

Meeting our Nirguni bhajan artist was an unforgettable experience. Hanuman Sahay Bunkar was a true follower of the wisdom of Nirguni bhajans and Kabir Das’s philosophy. He had this endearing habit of seamlessly weaving dohas (couplets) into everyday conversations, showcasing his deep love for this art form.

What made Hanuman Sahay truly special was his delightful blend of humor and raw authenticity. He could make you burst into laughter one moment and then ponder the profoundness of life the next.

One fascinating tidbit he shared was the reason he preferred calling them Nirguni Bhajans instead of just songs or geet – it’s because these compositions are steeped in philosophy, carrying a unique depth and meaning.

In the nirgun bhajan of Rajasthan, the tambura is referred to as the “Chautara” and is often accompanied by dholak, manjeera, harmonium and in their performance, even the chari (the steel pitcher with sticks). 

The singing style in Nirguni Bhajans is heartfelt and emotive. The singer often infuse their renditions with deep spirituality, pouring their devotion into each note. The lyrics, typically in the local Rajasthani dialects, are profound and philosophical, exploring the relationship between the individual soul (atma) and the universal soul (Paramatma).

The melodies are often characterized by a blend of classical and folk music elements, creating a unique and enchanting musical experience. The songs are sung with devotion, and the tempo can vary from slow and meditative to more lively and celebratory, depending on the mood and theme of the bhajan.

The group sang two songs. The first, titled “Janam Maran Ka Kaate Morcha,” delves into the idea of breaking free from the ceaseless cycle of birth and death. It emphasizes the path to liberation (moksha) through the veneration of Sadhguru’s name and self-inquiry.

The second song, “Sadhguru Sangat Teerath Jal Nirmal,” beautifully conveys the transformative power of being in the company of enlightened and wise individuals. It highlights the purification of one’s own consciousness in such company and calls upon all to seek the pure, holy, and spiritual presence of Gurudev.

Hrisha Rashmi (Volunteer)

Amara Ram Bhopa And Group

Carrying forward the legacy of Devnarayani, an Odor of Culture and Tradition

Have you heard of the instrument Jantar? Or Have you heard of the Rudra Veena? Well, if there existed a folk version of this instrument it would be the Jantar. Thanks to its rustic structure and deep sound, it immediately captures anyone’s attention. Jantar is a string instrument that has existed since ages and another notable aspect of this instrument is its connection to Devnarayan ki phad. 

On our journey to listen to Devnarayan ji ki phad, we came across Amara Ram Bhopa, a guardian of tradition, who dons multiple hats as a Bhopa (priest singer), Jantar player, and even the maker of this mystical instrument. 

The Jantar’s significance lies in its connection to the Bhopas of Lord Devnarayan, a beloved folk deity revered across Rajasthan. This instrument plays a pivotal role in the ancient tradition of “Devnarayan ji ki Phad.” This sacred storytelling, unique to the Gujjar, Jat & Rebari caste of Rajasthan and exclusively performed by men, unfolds through intricate scroll paintings known as “Phad.”

Lord Devnarayan’s story embodies values of devotion, righteousness, valor and so on. He manifested himself in the village of Malasar (Malasari), nurtured by the loving embrace of Mata Saadu. According to legend, Lord Devnarayan emerged on a moonlit night during the Hindu calendar’s Magh season. The songs that narrate his birth echo with verses like “Narayan aaya pawna” and “O Thane jal me narayan aapo aap,” signifying his divine birth from the lotus leaf on water. He is revered as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, bearing values of pride, righteousness, honor, and duty.

In a world where ancient traditions are slowly fading, Devnarayan ki Phad stands as a guardian of Rajasthan’s cultural heritage. And the accompaniment of Jantar  carries the essence of Devnarayan’s epic, connecting us to a time when stories were sung, and history painted on scrolls. 

Devnarayan ji ki Phad, an age-old oral storytelling tradition, unfolds exclusively through male performers, often under the veil of night, as they enthrall the audience with their songs and ballads. Typically presented by a duo, this folk tradition possesses the enchanting power to captivate anyone who experiences it.

With finding such artists who not only perform but also preserve and promote the folk forms such as Amara Ram Bhopa ji, the folk forms become all the more extraordinary and endearing. We can’t help but imagine all the other remote forms like this one, and hope to document them in the near future where we shed light on the form and spread its brightness far and wide.

Hrisha Rashmi (Volunteer)

Meva Sapera And Group

Carrying forward the legacy of Bhavai Dance, a Symphony of Colors and Culture

Rajasthan’s folk can never be glimpsed through one glance. Like a book, it unfolds its diversity in every page and every turn. There is music, there is dance, there is arts & culture and, all well cooked together to serve anyone with delightful heritage and awe. 

Today, we were documenting two beautiful folk forms Kalbeliya and Bhawai. 

The Kalbeliya and Bhawai both echo distinct yet ethereal tunes, one that can charm the listeners. The essence of Kalbelia on one hand, represents the coexistence of culture with that of animals, especially the snake. While the Bhawai on another, showcases the poetry of songs of water. Bhawai refers to a pitcher and often in Rajasthan songs of water or “Panihaari songs” are sung in connection to the water. 

Our recording sessions featured the talented Mewa Sapera & group, whose warm spirits and heartfelt performances left a lasting impression. With songs like the renowned “Kalyo kud padyo” and “Bheeti mharo sone ki hoti,” their graceful swirls and twirls, reminiscent of serpentine movements, along with acrobatic feats in their costumes, stirred a range of emotions.

On another note, Poonam Sapera, Mewa Sapera’s daughter showcased exceptional balancing skills during her Bhawai performance, gracefully carrying pitchers on her head while executing precise moves. Balancing on the rim of glasses with their feet and pitchers on top is no small feat, but they executed it effortlessly.

What’s intriguing is that many of Rajasthan’s musical dance forms incorporate elements of acrobatics, demanding immense focus and determination. Women, in particular, shine on these stages, seeming as though they were born for them.

In the realm of Rajasthan’s culture, music and dance are intricately intertwined, akin to two facets of a precious coin. They not only complement each other but also boast a resplendent and regal heritage. 

As the folk music fills the air, it breathes life into the dancers, who, in turn, animate the audience. This synergy creates a captivating cycle where everyone converges into a shared moment, transforming it into a cherished memory.

Hrisha Rashmi (Volunteer)

Bijaya Bora Group

Borgeet – A Melodic Journey through Assam’s Spiritual Musical Heritage”

 

With the sun setting down, we saw the arrival of another folk form that we were to shoot in Guwahati. This group particularly performed Borgeet, a devotional folk form of Assam.

Presented by Bijaya Bora and the group, the group has been performing Borgeet form of music for years now.

Borgeet is an enchanting form of devotional music that holds a significant place in the cultural tapestry of Assam. Rooted in ancient traditions, Borgeet has been an integral part of Assamese religious and cultural practices for centuries. This unique musical genre blends soul-stirring melodies with profound spiritual themes, compelling listeners with its allure.

The origins of Borgeet can be traced back to the 15th century when the great Assamese saint, social reformer, and poet Srimanta Sankardev founded the neo-Vaishnavite movement known as Ekasarana Dharma. It was during this period that Borgeet emerged as a form of devotional expression, aiming to disseminate spiritual teachings through music. Sankardev and his disciple, Madhavdev, played instrumental roles in shaping and popularizing Borgeet, infusing it with elements of devotion, righteousness, and social harmony. The language used by them for all their Borgeets is believed to be Brajavali, which can be described as an amalgamation of Maithili and Assamese, resulting in an artificial linguistic blend.

Talking about its musical structure, Borgeets draw their musical inspiration from ragas, as explicitly stated, while raginis, the female counterparts of ragas, are notably absent in their compositions. The presence of rhythm (tala) in Borgeets, however, is not specified, and these devotional songs can be performed without adhering to a particular rhythmic structure.

Borgeet compositions primarily revolve around the praise and adoration of Lord Krishna and other deities of the Vaishnavite tradition. The lyrics depict various aspects of Krishna’s life, including his childhood antics, divine love, and his divine incarnations. Alongside devotional themes, Borgeet also encompasses narratives from great Indian epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, incorporating moral lessons and spiritual teachings into its lyrical foundation.

Bijaya Bora’s group performed two eccentric songs from the collection of age-old Borgeet composed by Srimath Shankardev.

Both of their songs depict Sri Shankardev, a 16th-century scholar and saint, singing to the lord about earthly problems.

Both the songs eloquently explore the intricacies of human nature, delving into the elemental traits of Kam (lust), Krodh (anger), Madh (intoxication), Lobh (greed), Moh (attachment), and Ahankar (false pride). These traits, representing worldly desires, often lead individuals astray, distancing them from their spiritual connection with the divine.

Furthermore, the song poignantly portrays the narrator’s plea to the Almighty, beseeching for guidance and a path to transcend the entrapment of these materialistic desires. It reflects the universal struggle faced by humans in their earthly existence, where they find themselves entangled in the pursuit of fleeting pleasures and distractions. The yearning to break free from these shackles and attain a higher spiritual realm resonates deeply within the lyrics, expressing a heartfelt longing for enlightenment and liberation.

Bijaya Bora’s group performed these two songs by Srimanth Shankardev, which, through their music and melody, teach all listeners to reflect and understand the true essence of being born as a human. They teach us the qualities of being connected to the almighty and giving up excess materialistic desires.

With Bijaya Bora on vocals, the group was accompanied by fellow musicians Rajkumar Rabidas, Numal Rabidas, Jogen Basumatary, Taranga Kashyap, Lekha Rani Bora, Chandamita Borah in their Borgeet showcase.

All of these artists, humble and down to earth, performed and brought forth their culture before us and harmoniously held their ground while performing.

Borgeet is a form that requires major vocal emphasis, as the singers really need to get the complexities strong. The Borgeet group of Bijaya Bora gracefully presented themselves from start to finish.

Meghal Sharma (Research Fellow)

Da Thymmei Performing Arts

Hoi Kiw – The Call of Khasi 

In the heart of Meghalaya, the music flows like year-long rains, awaiting its time to embrace the people. Inspired by the natural beauty that surrounds them, the melodies of Meghalaya’s music mirror their everyday lives, their heritage and history.  

One of the captivating discoveries we made in Meghalaya was the paramount significance bestowed upon its music. The people of Meghalaya possess a profound familiarity with their tribal music and cultural heritage. Many individuals further deepen their understanding of music by pursuing formal studies through various courses provided by institutions. This dedication and reverence towards music are integral to the fabric of Meghalaya’s cultural identity, making it a truly remarkable and enriching experience.

Immersed in the enchanting world of Khasi music, we were greeted by the strings of the “Duitara,”(string instrument), the melody of the vocals entwined with the rhythms of “Ka shynrang”(percussion) and “Ka bom” (drum). The group Da-thymmei warmed all of us with their uplifting music.

“Da-thymmei” which means “from the roots” is indigenous to the Khasi and Jaintia tribes. The group led by Daijed Sing Kharkongor aims to “Preserve folk culture and defend dignity.” The group laid before us a mesmerizing performance, the tunes and words of which are etched in our minds & hearts even today.

As the documentation began, the group started with the song “Ka shad ka kmen,” where the chorus of “Hoi Kiw” effortlessly uplifted our spirits. This heartfelt song pays homage to the Khasis of Meghalaya, painting a vivid picture of their culture, traditional instruments, their vibrant clothing and so on. It has truly become a Khasi anthem that leaves a lasting impact, as the chorus finds its way into the hearts and minds of listeners, lingering for days to come.

In their second song, “Thawlang ïawbei,” the group pays heartfelt tribute to their ancestors, expressing gratitude for their wisdom and protection of the tribe’s interests. Listening to this piece was a surreal experience, as its musicality and structure swept us into deep reflection, even though we weren’t familiar with the language. Such is the power of music – it transcends barriers, evokes emotions, and bestows upon us the precious gift of listening and feeling.

Daijed, the leader of the group shared that, Khasi being one of the most prominent tribes of Meghalaya, their culture is synonymous with that of nature.  Khasi musicians draw inspiration from the melodies carried by the rustling leaves, the melodious calls of birds, and the gentle murmur of rivers and the trees that stand tall within the sacred forests. They also embrace the profound wisdom inherited from their ancestors. Rooted in the knowledge passed down through generations, their music reflects the rich societal fabric, the philosophy of life, and the significance of events like Thanksgiving, harvests, and changing seasons.

Their group Da-Thymmei emerges as true leads in reviving the vibrant folk music culture of the Khasi community, skillfully blending traditional ensembles with contemporary fusion elements. As a versatile performing arts group, they encompass the realms of Music, Dance, and Theatre, showcasing the diverse facets of their rich heritage. Each artist within the group possesses exceptional skills in their respective disciplines, united by a collective mission to safeguard and preserve their revered cultural traditions for generations to come.

As the group prepared for their performance, we witnessed a beautiful ritual led by Daijed. With utmost care, he wrapped the silk turban known as “Jainspong” around each member’s head, symbolizing unity and respect. The group donned traditional attire, including the elegant “Paila” necklace, a sleeveless jacket adorned with motifs known as “Jymphong,” and the graceful dhoti called “Jainboh.” The female group member looked beautiful in the “Jainsem,”(Traditional clothing for women) completing their ensemble. Their attire not only reflected their cultural heritage but also added an enchanting touch to the entire performance. 

Our initial introduction to Khasi music began with this incredible group, recording their soulful folk songs. It was a wonderful experience as they played with absolute ease and precision, transporting us effortlessly along with Meghalaya’s gentle breeze. We found ourselves captivated by their melodies, swaying to the rhythm of their music. It was a truly lovely encounter that left a lasting impression, inviting us to embrace the world of music in Meghalaya.

Meghal Sharma (Research Fellow)

Banshailang Mukhim Group

Born to be Musicians!

Bravo to Mr. Banshailang Mukhim for effortlessly embracing numerous roles in the musical realm. A true Duitara wizard, let’s dub him as such, Banshailang’s ensemble possesses the ability to elevate the music, lending more essence to its performance.

As our time in Meghalaya drew to a close, we met with the talented musicians of “Shlem”
Institute of Music in Smit village, led by Mr.Banshailang. The name “Shlem,” which translates to “home” in Khasi, is a perfect embodiment of the institute. Within its welcoming walls, every artist feels a sense of belonging as they embark on their musical journey, making it a true home for their passion and growth.

Amidst weather-induced delays and location quests, we were treated to a cherished experience of immersing ourselves in Banshailang’s understanding of Khasi folk forms and being inspired by his musical journey.

Upon asking what is the speciality of Khasi music in terms of its structure,
Banshailang shared that Khasi culture possesses its own unique structure of rhythms (taalas) known as “skits,” with three particularly popular ones. In addition, there are rhythm cycles that are exclusively performed during rituals, such as the Nongkrem autumn festival, which is a time of giving thanks and celebrating the harvest while paying homage to the deities.

He also shared that the Khasi people have a deep connection between music and their rituals, as well as their everyday lives. Music serves as a medium that not only maintains their connection with nature but also acts as a reminder of its origins, as music is believed to have originated from nature itself. Within Khasi culture, songs are predominantly sung to express reverence and gratitude towards all-natural elements.

The Khasi people hold a strong sense of love and pride for their tribes, which is reflected in many of their songs that highlight the community, its people, and the surrounding nature.

At the Shlem Institute, many students flock to learn the intricacies of Khasi folk music. Each student within the institute possesses remarkable talent, whether as a skilled singer or instrumentalist, showcasing musicianship in their performances. Notably, their performances are further heightened by the interplay and playful camaraderie between the musicians. This joyful interaction reflects their deep dedication to their passion for performing, creating an impact as their music is straight from the heart. Under the nurturing umbrella of the Shlem Institute, it is evident that every individual is cultivating a spirited and vibrant performer within them.

During their first performance that day, they shared an exquisite composition called “Shyrta,” derived from the Khasi language, meaning “For the rest of the life.” The song was composed by Banshailang Mukhim. This enchanting instrumental piece featured the melodious tones of the Khasi instrument ka duitara, accompanied by the harmonious sounds of ka Bom, ka ksing shynrang, and ka kynshaw. Through this musical masterpiece, they conveyed the sheer joy and a heartfelt longing to preserve the experience of love and happiness throughout their lives.
This instrumental piece is a treat for the ears, showcasing the intricate craftsmanship of each instrumentalist, woven together into a harmonious and rhythmic composition.

Their second song, “Ka por” stands for time. “Por” (Time) is a song delving into the concept of time’s impact on our lives. It skillfully expresses the fleeting nature of time, urging us to embrace the present and shape a better future. The lyrics evoke nostalgia for lost moments and highlight time’s regal influence.The song reflects on the cyclical and irreversible nature of time, encouraging us to learn from the past and create a brighter future. Despite challenges, it urges us to pave the way for progress. Ultimately, “POR” invites contemplation on time’s essence, inspiring us to cherish life’s precious moments. 

Both of these songs, the song performers, the sound of instruments and the melodious vocals set the stage for a perfect end to our days in Meghalaya. Being in Meghalaya became all the more special only and only because of the people we encountered during our time there. And we’re proud to say that our encounter was with the storytellers who sing the truth they’ve learnt, that they’ve lived and that which they want to share with the world and beyond. 

They say, that sometimes people choose music, but so to say, it is also true that sometimes music chooses people, so it can flow through someone’s melodious note, a rhythmic beat, a soothing string or even a breath of air. Music is in the air, and everywhere. Are you listening?

Meghal Sharma (Research Fellow)