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Blues is my Soulmate

Artist in Focus

Blues is my Soulmate

Up close and personal with Soulmate, SoundTree’s Artist-in-Focus, about what makes them tick in life, and what ticks them off.

soundplunge_test talks to Soulmate, Blues band from Shillong, on conflict and its resolution through music. It is not easy to pin the duo down to one idea, if it were other than lovers of music. soundplunge_test’s Artist-in-Focus  also happens to be one of the best known bands in the country as well as worldwide. 

Rudy Wallang and Tipriti K Kharbangar

Rudy and Tipriti in concert. – ” “Artists should be accorded more respect than anybody else”.

“Sexy and tough” is how Washington Post once described Tipriti K. Kharbangar. At the same time, you have the soft-spoken gentleman in her counterpart Rudy Wallang. Soulmate, Blues band par excellence, nurtured from scratch by both Rudy and Tipriti which has come to become a benchmark for how bands who stay true to their music can reach and touch the whole world with their music without making too much of a noise about it. Recently in Delhi before the launch of their third album Ten Stories Up after the eponymous Shillong and Moving On, we caught up with both Tipriti and Rudy for a chat that veered in interesting directions.

The band made up of the duo Tipriti K Kharbangar and Rudy Wallang, who are the founding and permanent members of the band, are both residents of Shillong, a place whose presence is inseparable from them, as if it were a friendly ghost of a well-meaning uncle lurking about. When we met Soulmate it was nowhere near the misty lanes of that city however. In the stark green room in Delhi’s Okhla grounds before a routine sound-check for a concert, tired after a long flight, Rudy and Tipriti sat down with us for a chat before they were to go on stage. We ended up talking about their decision to not put up their music for free online, as a lot of bands are wont to do, preferring exclusivity over mass reach. Soulmate, as it happens however is hardly insecure of their fan base. They have been a band since 2003, and in a little more than a decade, they have fans of their music cross countries from Europe to South America, The Middle-East and the USA, where they have performed multiple times in the past. Holding a contrary opinion to many independent musicians who have put up their music for free download on the internet, Soulmate stands for respect for its own music and learning to value it. “Artists should be accorded more respect than anybody else – that is how it is abroad even above corporate and politicians. Unfortunately, bureaucrats and politicians receive respect that in our society, while artists are nowhere”, says a visibly stern Tipriti. Talk swerves to the election fever coursing its way through everyone, and while Tipriti seems deeply sceptical, Rudy is a little more positive of change coming into the city. Both believe music has the power to catalyse change, but also believe artists must be heard and respected first for that to happen. “When music concerts are arranged, money becomes a deciding factor. Why must it be like that? Music has a higher purpose than that; art has a higher purpose than mere collection of money. But will these politicians, these bureaucrats ever realize that? All they see is money.” Yet, when they went on stage later the next day, amidst ironically a lot of conflict between the police and the organizers of Sound of Freedom, Tipriti and Rudy delivered a performance to be remembered for a while, not caring about any of the trouble that day had put them through. Aptly, the song chosen for that occasion was, “Blues is My Soulmate”.

They share a curious bond with Shillong, and refuse to even entertain the thought of ever moving out of there. “Why would we? It is our home. That is where our ideas come from”. However, that said, they do not entertain any rosy ideas of the scope for musicians in Shillong. As Rudy puts it, “The less said the better. While there is a lot of talent coming out from Shillong, we’re among the lucky ones who have made it out of there.” Talking about the political nexus which throttles talent from surviving there, it seems like a bleak scenario for musicians shuttling between middle-men trying to make fast bucks off them while political conflict always casts a shadow of doubt over whether public concerts can be held or not. Soulmate has performed at some of the most prestigious festivals such as the International Jazzmandu Festival in Kathmandu (2004, 2005 and 2008), Mosaic Music Festival, Singapore (2009), Du World Music Festival, Dubai (2011), Harley Rock Riders Season III Bangalore (2012), Maximum India Festival at Kennedy Center, Washington DC (2011), Jakarta Blues Festival, Indonesia (2009 and 2010), Monsteros Blues Festival in Sweden and Norway, Baltic Blues Festival in Eutin, Germany (2012), Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014). They opened for Carlos Santana at the Formula One Rocks 2012 event in Delhi, and Santana famously came up on stage to jam with them, Rudy recalls fondly. Soulmate plays everywhere, and blues dedicated clubs such as Haze in Delhi has fond memories of featuring them, as does Oasis 2013, the cultural fest of BITS, Pilani which is one of Asia’s largest student-organised festivals.

At the same time, they’re content staying in a beautifully remote town, over a fast paced metropolitan that may or may not offer more opportunities for concerts. After all, that is where their blues springs from, and blues is indeed their collective soulmate.

To read an earlier interview of Soulmate with soundplunge_test, click here. To read about the Sounds of Freedom Concert, click here

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