Feeling the Blues: Shillong-based band Soulmate, on how they make their honest, soulful music
If you watch Soulmate's most popular videos 'Voodoo Woman', 'I Am', you'll realise why they're a promising live-performance act — Tipriti 'TIPS' Kharbangar's effortless singing and Rudy Wallang's ease with the guitar make for a great package. Their music been compared to Janis Joplin, Alanis Morissette and Freddie King, but the band describes its own style pretty succinctly — "honest, soul-filled blues music". In this conversation, Wallang, who plays the lead guitar and is one part of this two-piece band from Shillong, talks to Firstpost about their journey, the Blues music scene in India and their Spirit of Shillong Tour. Interestingly, he is a man of few words and quite a few emojis, as we discovered over our e-mail conversations.
The band considers its music a blessing, because it has allowed them to touch the hearts of so many people. They have performed at various venues in India and abroad, even representing the country at international festivals. Initially, Delhi was their favourite city to perform in, because they had a large fan following there. While the duo like most of India's metros, they seem to prefer Bengaluru. "Bengaluru has one of the most responsive audiences and they know their Blues music. The city also has some of the best venues in the country for live music!" he says, adding, "We have a fan base in Kolkata too, and like performing there, but it has only one live music venue."
Have they never considered moving to a metro or somewhere outside the country? Wallang says that they did consider this, but realised that they needed to stay grounded to where they come from, to be close to family and friends, because that is where they draw inspiration from. "If we had to move to a city in India, I don’t think we would be the same people we are, and that would show in our music eventually. We have realised that it’s all about living; we can go chase money or a better lifestyle or whatever but in the end, we are simple folk with simple dreams. We are blessed enough to be able to live this dream while being close to those who love us."
This is why it is not surprising that their latest offering, The Spirit of Shillong Tour, which is their most extensive India tour yet, throws the spotlight on their hometown. Apart from Shillong and its people, Soulmate's sources of inspiration are nature, beauty, love, negativity and positivity, as well as artists from several genres of music ranging from Blues and Jazz to Reggae, Soul, Rock and Roll, and even RnB.
Over their journey of 14 years, they have witnessed several career-defining moments, such as the release of their three albums Shillong (2005), Moving On (2009) and Ten Stories Up (2013). "When we went to Memphis the first time in 2007 to take part in the International Blues Challenge, we were the first Indian Blues band ever to do so. Then, the second time, again in 2010! There was also that time when we met Buddy Guy (an American blues artist), one of our ‘alive and kicking’ inspirations, at the Mahindra Blues festival. There are quite a few moments like these," he explains.
Thus far, they have collaborated with other artists at avenues such as NH7 and the Mahindra Blues Festival, as well as Khasi folk musicians for an episode of a travel show. But the collaboration that stands out among these experiences is when they opened for Carlos Santana at the F1 Concert in Noida in 2012. "Although it’s been five years since it happened, we still consider it a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Santana walked on stage and jammed with us, which is an honour we will always hold close to our hearts. He is a humble, wonderful person."
When asked what they make of the Blues music scene in India and what direction it is headed in, Wallang says that there seems to be a lull of sorts. "There was a point in time when we thought that the Blues ‘scene’ in India was really picking up in terms of the number of bands and artists that emerged, playing and singing the Blues and Blues songs, but suddenly, there seems to be a certain kind of quiet and calm that took over. We know that Bengaluru does have a few bands like By2 Blues and Chronic Blues Circus who play pretty often. Delhi, too, to a certain extent, but overall, I would say its hanging in the air right now. Only the Mahindra Blues Festival creates excitement when it happens. And of course, when Soulmate is on tour!" he adds, cheekily.
Soulmate will be performing in Mumbai on 27 July, and in Pune on 28 July as a part of The Spirit of Shillong Tour.