Monday, 8 April 2013

Tips, Soulmate (Deccan Herald, May 2011)

Flower child

Juanita Kakoty
Musical Blues
Tipriti Kharbangar, the lead vocalist and guitarist of the cult Blues band, Soulmate, believes in spreading love and touching lives through her music, writes Juanita Kakoty
Tipriti Kharbangar calls herself  “a flower child” and does great justice to the culture of Shillong, her hometown and the rock capital of India.

Her voice is as captivating as her face and she is the lead vocalist and guitarist of Soulmate, the Blues band that is two albums and over 500 concerts old. Reminiscing about the old days, Tipriti, or Tips as she is popularly known, says, “The band came together in 2002.

Rudy Wallang and I were performing as a duo at a couple of shows when we decided to form a band and play the Blues. Prior to that, I had met Rudy at a recording session when I was singing for a gospel album in Shillong.” That’s how they met and that’s how they started. And since then, the band has come a long way.

Soulmate has acquired quite a cult following in India and Tips’s mesmerising effect on her audience has assumed legendary status. The band has represented India twice (2007, 2009) at the International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis, United States of America. 

What has made history is not just the band’s participation at this prestigious event but the fact that in 2007, Soulmate became the first Indian Blues band ever to find a place in the IBC. Tips observes, “Performing at the IBC Music Fest in Memphis in 2007 was a breakthrough as we got to travel to the ‘home of the Blues’ and perform alongside 150 bands and solo/duo acts from across the globe.” This brought them recognition whereby they received invitations to perform in different parts of the world, at different festivals.

“At IBC in 2007, people did not know what to expect from an Indian Blues band. But on the first night, after we performed, a gentleman came up to us and wondered aloud as to how we, from India, have ‘the soul of the Mississippi Delta’. We went back to perform at the festival in 2009 and Soulmate was the buzzword on Beale Street!” says Tipriti. 

The Director of IBC, Jay Sieleman, wanted the band to perform in 2010 as well but Tips and Rudy couldn’t make it. They have plans for next year though. Speaking of the experience, Tips adds, “For me, it was a great feeling to be accepted by the Blues fraternity at Memphis. Especially when a few Black ladies came up to me and said that I had the soul of a Black Blues singer! That was a huge compliment.”

Assumptions about how busy the band is could be made from the fact that they have already played at important festivals like the Mahindra Blues Festival, Mumbai in February, the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in March, and the du World Music Festival in Dubai this year.

The band played at the Jakarta Blues Festival last year and has been invited again this year. Tips and Rudy are also busy at the moment writing songs for a new album. The lady with the golden voice is well complemented by Rudy, who is one of the best Blues guitar players, singers and songwriters in the country today. Like Tips, he too has a profound musical history, having been part of Shillong’s well known rock and Blues tradition.
Tips draws inspiration from life.

She has grown up singing in church and listening to local bands. The fact that her father played and sang in a band has had a major influence on her career choice. Singing, therefore, has been an integral part of her life. Even her mother used to enthrall them at home with her beautiful voice. Thus, her music is all about “spreading love and touching lives”. And she strongly believes in it. 

With the amount of recognition that Soulmate has brought to India in the Blues circuit world-wide, one wishes to hear more from this band in the coming years. But “the Blues scene in India is still very young for such an ‘old’ form of music although it is picking up pretty quick,” feels Tips. She is quick to add though, “Now we can boast of at least one International Blues Festival (the Mahindra Blues Festival) in the country. Besides, I hear of a few new bands every now and then, forming to play the Blues, which is good for this genre!” The flower child says that she has really enjoyed performing in New Delhi and Bangalore “because these places have people who appreciate Blues music.”

Tips, who won the best female vocalist at the Jack Daniel’s Awards (closest to Indian Rock Music Grammys) in 2009 recently performed at the Bob Marley Tribute concert. “For all those who are curious, we can play reggae too! We love roots music!” But, Blues is the genre, which is closest to her heart. And it is not very difficult to understand why when one sees it through her eyes, “I was very young when Soulmate started. I have grown older and wiser with the Blues.”

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