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Exclusive Premiere: Khasi New Wave Act Nion’s Evocative Debut ‘Jer (Rites)’

The audio-visual duo comprises filmmaker-musician Wanphrang Diengdoh from agitprop/punk band Tarik and guitarist-composer Hammarsing Kharhmar aka Exhibition

Anurag Tagat Dec 21, 2018

Shillong new wave duo Nion's Hammarsing Kharhmar and Wanphrang Diengdoh (from left). Photo: The Hillspeople Collective

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In just a span of three months, New York-returned guitarist and composer Hammarsing Kharhmar (who performs music under the moniker Exhibition) found a way to homage to his roots with a new project called Nion. Earlier this year, the Shillong-bred musician reconnected with filmmaker and musician Wanphrang Diengdoh, and the two worked on music featuring Khasi percussionists for the latter’s film.

Diengdoh says, “Hammar wrote a piece and sent it across and I fell in love with it. It was too great an opportunity that I felt I couldn’t pass on it, so it became a full-blown audio-visual project with traditional Khasi percussionists.” Working with Da Thymmei ”“ a group of percussionists and pipers using folk instruments that is part of Khasi oral tradition ”“ they formed Nion, which has meanings in both an archaic (“to push or press”) and colloquial (“a sensual assertion”) contexts. Their first single “Jer (Rites)” ”“ about the Khasi naming ceremony ”“ is an invitation into their world, one that seeks a conversation between the past and the present.

Kharhmar notes that his perspectives gleaned from growing up in Shillong and hearing traditional music at festivals as well as now working in the music space in New York has informed the sound and look of Nion. The guitarist and singer, who’s previously been part of indie rock band The Strokes’ guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.’s solo act, says using a wind instrument like the Tangmuri – something like a trumpet ”“ meant that the sound remained dynamic. “It can’t be played the same by someone else because of how the instrument is constructed. The nature of that instrument never allows it to sound the same. That’s the beauty of it in a world where everything is becoming one, mass produced and replicative,” he says.

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Their debut song and music video for “Jer (Rites)” features glimmering guitar lines matching hypnotic beats and the duo singing and speaking in Khasi about the naming ceremony. Kharhmar adds, “A lot of people here don’t know about it, and we’re showing this ancient practice, and at the end we’re also addressing the complex relationship between human beings and a fragile ecosystem.” The traditional beats seamlessly transition into a synthetic beat that elevates the song.

Part of a four-track EP Ki Dak Ki Shin (Signs and Letters), Nion make their live debut in Shillong on December 29th. It’s also a pre-gig for the day-long Nowhere Is Here festival, which takes place on December 31st in the city. The festival includes performances by Exhibition, as well as a short set by Nion and New York singer-songwriter Jesse Harris, hip-hop group Khasi Bloodz and more. Diengdoh says about rehearsals with their Khasi percussionist troupe, “We have to get on the same page as them! We’re somewhat trained formally, but with these guys, they already have that imbibed.” Kharhmar adds, “It’s about merging and everyone connecting and creating the energy.”

Nion performs at Cloud 9, Shillong on December 29th. Event details here. 

Know more about the Nowhere Is Here Festival and buy tickets here.


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