Uncle Neil is what Neil Nongkynrih, the founder of The Shillong Chamber Choir, is lovingly called by his students who sit around him on walnut coloured pallet bar stools. They begin to sing Yeh Dosti Hum Nahi Todenge from the 1970s movie Sholay, a composition they’re rehearsing for their upcoming show, The Rhythm and Blues Festival on November 4 and 5. Seconds after Nongkynrih’s cue, they pick crescendo to match it perfectly with the momentum of their graceful swaying. Lead by Nongkynrih’s, they’re come to give things new musical shape.
This festival is an extension of The Kasauli Rhythm and Blues festival that takes place in Kasauli and Goa every year. It’s presented by the Genesis Foundation that facilitates medical treatment for critically ill underprivileged children suffering from heart disorders. All the money raised will be utilised for the same.
The 25 member Shillong Chamber Choir will be accompanied by performances by Delhi Drummers, Prem Joshua & Band, Ministry of Blues, Swarathma, Atul Ahuja RocksU, SubraMania, The Sami Sisters feat. Usha Uthup, and Neeraj Arya’s band called Kabir Cafe.
Back in the rehearsal room, Nongkynrih is contemplating some changes in the song arrangement. The dilemma is whether to include O Mio Babbino (Puccini Aria, a kind of Italian opera music) or Somebody To Love by Queen. After brooding over the matter, Nongkynrih announces, “Let’s have both.” The choir breaks into a cheer of excitement and continues to enlist other tracks.
A special track called The Great India Train Journey has been included for the programme. It’s a collage of tunes Nongkynrih mustered up to pay homage to Indian train travels. “I remember a hawker on the Saraighat Express that runs between Guwahati and Howrah, trying to sell Fredrick Forsyth’s The Afghan for less than `20. Why? Because he unashamedly admitted that the first chapter was not printed as he had a pirated copy. These humorous encounters reveal that our country, although evolving, retains precious simplicity.
Following trends is important for this multi-genre collective but not loosing their identity is crucial. “To ensure that, we sign up for masterclasses online, and rework choreographies, but nothing can match learning on the job,” he says.
Choral Music has seen great resurgence of late, the choir feels. “And we’ll dare say that the Shillong Chamber Choir has had a part to play in this, especially after winning India’s Got Talent in 2010, and continuously showing that ensemble singing is a beautiful art that brings people together,” says Nongkynrih.
At the moment, he’s occupied with creating an orchestra. Listeners want to see them with larger ensembles of 20 to 40 players, according to him. “We’ve also founded the European Concert Orchestra which has been doing the rounds of late. It’s niche but very sort after,” he says, slowly covering his key board to rest his tired hands on his laps. With this end, he looks forward to another beginning, and that for now is going to be his upcoming show. Rhythm & Blues Festival: November 4-5, from 4 pm-11, Zorba, 166 MG Road, Sultanpur.
About The Rhythm and Blues Festival
It’s an extension of The Kasauli Rhythm and Blues festival that takes place in Kasauli and Goa every year. Presented by the Genesis Foundation that facilitates medical treatment for critically ill underprivileged children suffering from heart disorders, all the money raised will be utilised for the cause.