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Soulmate Launch Third Album ‘Ten Stories Up’ At Mahindra Blues Festival

The Shillong blues band will collaborate with Khasi folk musicians for a special set at the fest

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Rudy Wallang. Photo: Courtesy Prashin Jagger

India’s best known blues band, Soulmate, have been together for a decade. Guitarist and vocalist Tipriti ‘Tips’ Kharbangar and guitarist Rudy Wallang have taken their style of Shillong-inspired blues all across India, South East Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. The band will release their much-anticipated third album Ten Stories Up at the Mahindra Blues Festival commemorating 10 years together with 10 stories in the form of songs. Soulmate will also collaborate with folk musicians from the Khasi tribe from Shillong, who will accompany them for a part of set on traditional instruments. Says Wallang, “We just wanted to make it a little different this time and try and connect the blues with our folk music.” 

Soulmate’s set will include Wallang on guitar, Tipriti Kharbangar on vocals and guitar, Leon Wallang on bass, Karan Joseph on keyboards and Gino Banks on drums.

With your third much awaited album releasing soon, how different would you say is the sound from Soulmate back in 2003?

Very different. I think we’ve progressed quite a bit musically as well. We’ve matured. And at the same time, I think just the fact that Tips has written four songs on the album brings her perspective to songwriting and lyrics. And overall, I think production-wise it’s huge. It’s been recorded in Mumbai by Shantanu Hudlikar. It’s sounding really big, which beats the main criticism our first album received as it was recorded at a home studio in Shillong, which didn’t capture the sound of Soulmate that came through when we performed live. I think this time around, you are going to get that and a little more than that.

You’ve played every Mahindra Blues Festival so far and opened for some of the greatest blues musicians like Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal. Which edition would you say peaked the highest for you?

Last year, we got a chance to jam with all the artists at the festival and that I would say was the highlight. We look forward to that one time where we share the stage with people who we love to listen to or people that we’ve heard about or inspire us – just being on stage with Robert Randolph, Jimmy Thackery, Popa Chubby, Dana Fuchs all of them together – it was kind of a big deal for us. Also, the people who came down for the festival were pretty surprised and amazed as to what we could do. I think that was a good thing, very positive.

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How much would you say has growing up in Shillong influenced your song writing?

I think 95 percent. It’s not only about growing up in Shillong though. It’s also about the music that you grow up listening to – bands that we listened to in Shillong in the Sixties and early Seventies. We listened to the radio. We’d listen to a lot of rock ’n roll, country, gospel, pop of the day like The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five and Elvis. At that point, while growing up, we didn’t realize that this was rock ’n roll and this was the blues. It was just something we loved.  Also, my dad was a musician who used to write songs and I think it was kind of already there in my blood. Same goes for Tips, of course, whose dad did play in a band or two. He’d play guitar and Tips would sing in church. I was with the Great Society and Mojo, which happened to be the first few bands in the country who were performing their own songs at gigs. So it gave me the encouragement and confidence that if there’s going to be good music, of course there will be people coming in to listen to it. That really influenced us where Soulmate was concerned. Shillong has been a really great influence, no doubt about that – everything including the schools, music, landscape everything has inspired us.

Could you tell us about other budding blues bands in the country who have impressed you?

There are actually quite a few bands in India, some I can remember names of and some I can’t. Bengaluru’s Chronic Blues Circus, [frontman] Peter Isaac who’s been around for a long time. I like Chronic Blues Circus, Chennai’s Blues Conscience, The Saturday Night Blues Band from Calcutta.  – Vocalist Arunima and vocalist-guitarist Jayanta Dasgupta [of The Saturday Night Blues Band] have been around a while and they played at the first Mahindra Blues Festival as well.

Warren Mendonsa with Blackstratblues – although very frankly, I think Warren, my buddy, would also agree that they are not a hardcore blues band. But he definitely has the blues, no doubt about it. They lean towards rock. And I love that they don’t have a vocalist, but their guitars do all the vocals for them. Then there’s young Ayushi Karnik from Surat who is making waves now. She’s good. There’s also Delhi-based Kapil Chetri who has been doing old school acoustic blues stuff. He came to Shillong and did a gig or two and I was really impressed with his guitar playing and slide playing. It was very heartfelt. Delhi’s Big Bang Blues also. I’m just truly happy that there are enough blues bands coming up in India.

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What is your tour schedule for the rest of the year? Will you be traveling abroad to promote your album?

At the moment, we don’t have any label that we’re working with. There’s going to be a tour which we are working on. We’re also trying to work out on playing the blues festivals in Canada and maybe in and around Britain in the summer. Those are our plans right now. We’re taking it a step at a time.

Are you going to be showcasing the new album in its entirety in your Mahindra Blues Festival set?

We are going to get a solid one hour to play. We’ve decided to bring along three folk musicians who are a part of Shillong’s Khasi tribe – the tribe that Tips and I belong to. We’re going to open our set with them and play three songs with vocals, drums and traditional wind instruments. We just wanted to make it a little different this time and try and connect the blues with our folk music. We already did this for an episode on Fox Traveller and it sounded pretty good and we got a lot of positive feedback. We asked the organizers and they jumped at it and said, “Sure, why not?” We’re really happy that they’ve given us this chance to explore this side of the music. Then we’ll have about six to seven songs of our own material. I think from whatever time we have left after the folk session, we’re going to be playing stuff off the new album. We may just include a song from the first album, Shillong.  

Soulmate perform at the Mahindra Blues Festival on February 16th, 2014, 6 pm – 7 pm on Stage 1, Mehboob Studios, Mumbai. Event and ticket details here.

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