27 Jan - 2 Feb 2017 #843

Sounds of Shillong

With their upbeat medleys and soothing vocals, the Shillong Chamber Choir is out to get the world
Smriti Basnet

All pics Shillong Chamber Choir

One country at a time, the Shillong Chamber Choir (SCC) and the soothing scores of this group from northeastern India are echoing across the world. With tours through China, the United States, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, and now in Nepal, the multi-genre choir has created a big buzz with its distinct blend of Bollywood and Western music.

When Neil Nongkynrih (pictured right) started the choir in 2001, he had never imagined it would go so far. “It was never meant to be professional, it started as a fun thing. When we began we were never interested in making a living out of it,” he told us this week after a performance in Pokhara.

After returning from Europe where he worked as a classical concert pianist for 13 years, Nongkynrih saw the potential of starting a choir back home in Shillong. Using his vast knowledge of Western classical music, the 2015 Padma Shri award winner brought sounds India had never heard before.

“We don’t simply do covers, we try to do each piece differently and these pieces are fresh for India,” explained the maestro. The choir performs from Mozart, Handel, Bach, Gershwin, and adapting songs by more recent bands like Queen and ABBA, Bollywood numbers as well as Nongkynrih’s own compositions and medleys.

“People are still trying to understand how we have managed to dovetail classical and Bollywood,” he says.

Their medleys like Disco Deewane / Voulez-Vous and Baar Baar Dekho / ’S Wonderful have crossed 100,000 views on YouTube.

This attention and appreciation for the SCC reached its height after the group won the India’s Got Talent show in 2010. Following the win the band performed for Barack Obama during his visit to Delhi and also shared the stage with Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan on Kaun Banega Crorepati, an Indian television game show . Winning three golds at the 6th World Choir Games is another highlight for the group.

Shillong Chamber Choir during one of their performances

“Now youngsters look up to them and admire the work they have done. They have redefined the music culture and made their name known all over India,” said N. Munish Singh of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

Looking back, the band’s alto Donna Marthong says the group has become more versatile because of its willingness to adapt local songs and tunes to their repertoire.

This week in Pokhara and Kathmandu, they won the hearts of many Nepalis with their beautiful rendition of 1974 AD’s Gurasai Phulyo.

Besides concerts, the choir is also taking over YouTube by storm with its well choreographed videos.

What has remained the band’s biggest strength is team work and their mentoring. “Uncle Neil is the tree, and we are its branches. He is preparing us to become our own trees someday,” said band member, William Richmond. “Music has the power to transcend all differences that have been created by people.”

After their concerts in Nepal, the group has gigs in Mumbai, Jaipur and Delhi. Later the band flies to Russia, Sweden and London for concerts.

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