Tipriti Kharbangar’s mother never wanted her to take up music as a career. “There’s no stability, unlike in a government job” is the logic, she says. Tipriti is one half of Soulmate, the two-member band from Shillong (guitarist Rudy Wallang is the other half), that’s counted among the finest blues bands in the country.
Back in the early 2000s, when genres like rock ’n’ roll, jazz, pop and heavy metal were ruling the roost, Soulmate decided to break the shackles. Their genre of choice wasn’t the most popular. And musicians from the north-east rarely made it big at the national level.
We caught up with them post a recent gig in the city.
You are known for spearheading blues in India. How did your journey begin?
Rudy:In the early ’90s, rock ’n’ roll, pop, soul, gospel and jazz were the popular genres in India, but there wasn’t a lot of blues. I got into blues in 1993. We decided to form Soulmate when Tips (Tipriti) landed up at my studio; this was in 2002. The genre was almost non-existent at that point of time. We finally formed the band in 2003. Back then, the younger generation was blindly aping the music they were listening to, without understanding the roots, which was the blues… Today, we feel proud to be addressed as India’s best blues band.
In the decade since you started, how has your music evolved?
Rudy:We’ve certainly grown. We’ve played with different musicians. So, our sensibilities have evolved. We call our sound the ‘soulmate sound’… and it feels special when people can recognise you through your music, without even seeing you.
Also read: Into the souls of the Soulmate
The north-east has always been musically inclined. Then why don’t we see more bands or musicians on the national stage?
Tipriti:I believe we’ve worked hard to be where we are. And we’ve taken a lot of risks. Most people in the north-east are still very shy. [They need to understand that] if you are good at something, doing it at your home or church is not enough; your talent needs exposure. When you perform at the church, people don’t even clap for you. So, you don’t know if people have liked your performance or not.
Rudy:Another plus point that big cities have, and we don’t, is that we don’t have many venues to perform at. Also, sponsorship is a problem. In Shillong, sponsorship amounts to an alcohol sponsor giving you a free bottle of booze.
Tipriti: The money you make is little. So, you’re not encouraged at home to take up music as a profession. Even now, my mum’s not happy that I’m a musician; there is no stability, unlike in a government job.
Doesn’t your popularity mean that you have more work now?
Tipriti: Musicians don’t have a fixed monthly income. Often, you don’t have a gig for three-four months.
Rudy:It’s very uncertain. We had no gigs in July, and had one in June. It’s a continuous struggle. We need at least four gigs a month to survive. But, we don’t mind it, actually… We never took up this profession for the money.
Will you ever venture into Bollywood music?
Tipriti: I’ve been called by many composers; but I didn’t take up the offers because I love my freedom as a musician. And working with Bollywood composers requires licking a**, which I can’t do. I’m open to doing Hindi film music if given the freedom to do my sort of music. I love the sort of music AR Rahman makes.
What are your upcoming ventures?
Rudy:We’ve just come up with our third album. So we want to perform those songs.
Tipriti:We will be touring Indonesia and Malaysia soon.