This February, when 150 blues bands from across the global meet in Memphis to compete at the 23rd annual International Blues Challenge, a band of four Indians will be among them.
Soulmate would be the first Indian blues band to be performing in Memphis - a city known as the Home of the Blues, where some of the biggest legends such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, BB King and Howlin' Wolf are known to have found and sold their souls. The contest is being held from February 1 to 3. If Soulmate qualifies for the semifinals, it will perform on Beale Street.
Soulmate first boarded the blues train five years ago, on one clear evening in scenic Shillong. Now they have smiles to assure: Damn Right, I've Got the Blues.
Soulmate's singer, songwriter, blues guitarist Rudy Wallang, who grew up listening to Otis Bush, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and BB King, knew if he was going to be a musician someday, he just had to play the blues. Everybody has the blues, he tells you.
"And everybody has a different way of dealing with them. Some people go to the club and drown them in a drink, others go to the streets to fight them away," he says. "We just like to play them. The blues has always been simple music that wails of hardship and loss. It's the root of all popular music today."
The band has performed around the country and often plays in Delhi's original blues watering hole, Haze. "Over the past two years, we have seen our audience grow," says vocalist and rhythm guitarist Tripti Kharbangar.
The band claims it never plays the same blues track twice in the same style. "Feelings have a lot to do with the way you perform a particular song in blues," Kharbangar adds. "Different days, different ways. Our music is extremely sensitive to our mood swings," she says.
Haze's Kiran Sant, the founding member of the Blues Club of India set up in April 2006, is sponsoring the band to perform in Memphis. He feels motivated music clubs are a must to promote bands in the West.
According to the Memphis Blues Club, for a band to participate in the contest, it must have the approval of a similar blues club in India. "By sending Soulmate to Memphis, we are trying to create a channel with other international blues clubs so that we can invite their bands to come and perform here," says Sant. "Over the years, I have seen more and more people coming out of their homes to listen to the blues live at Haze," he adds.
At Memphis, Soulmate plans to play most originals and a few cover versions of other songs. Ask them about winning and they cross their fingers. But putting their fears behind, they say: "What the heck, we're just going home." And while they are in Memphis, George 'Buddy' Guy would be here, singing the blues in this country."