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In The Studio: Shillong Folk Fusion Act Summersalt Scale Learning Curves for New Album

The band is readying a diverse 11-track release called ‘Kliar’

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David Britto Jan 22, 2020

Shillong folk fusion band Summersalt recording at Yash Raj Films Studios in Mumbai with sound engineer Shantanu Hudlikar (center). Photo: Ashish Saha

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When we arrive at Mumbai’s Yash Raj Films Studios to chat with multilingual Shillong folk fusion band Summersalt about their 11-track sophomore album Kliar, singer-guitarist Kitkupar Shangpliang is in the midst of cutting his vocal parts for their song “Captivate Me.” The band, formed in 2006, has been working tirelessly over the past week in putting together a record that melds Khasi culture, rock, jazz, soul, R&B and more under the watchful eye of sound engineer Shantanu Hudlikar.    

Summersalt comprises Kit, Duitara (four-stringed Khasi folk instrument) player and keyboardist Adorbha Shangpliang, guitarist Gregory Ford Nongrum, vocalist Pynsuklin Syiemiong, drummer Dawadhok Shangpliang and bassist Baiaineh Shangpliang. “All of us have had our own musical journeys and we came together because some of us have had the experience of working outside and studying outside and having learned all the cultures of the other places, we realized how valuable our culture can be to the outside world,” says Kit.

According to the vocalist-guitarist the band’s music has always had some sort of attachment with the Khasi philosophy even though their sound is more diverse. Kit says, “That’s how it’s making it more palatable not just for the youth in Shillong but also youth everywhere.” He adds, “We’ve got unemployment, we’ve got young people losing hope every day and the songs that we’ve heard in the Khasi hills have a bias towards pessimism. Therefore it could sound boring when you talk about all these social issues and all of that but then we believe for arts to be arts, it has to be socially relevant.”

The songs making it on Kliar have been performed live for over five years and have gone through their own changes over time. The musician tells us that the song we heard him tracking, “Captivate Me,” taps into the feeling of nostalgia about their hometown Shillong. “When we were growing up it’s not the place that it is now. In terms of everything from the ambience to the birds that sing to the trees and the colors.”

In regards to the title track, Kit narrates that the song was inspired by a friend of the band, Gary, who conquered Mount Everest. He says, “Gary was talking about when he reached the summit of Mount Everest, he could see all of this cloud below and it made him think and he said to me, ‘I can see the world as it is.’” The song is also based on unsung heroes who have achieved plenty without receiving much acknowledgment.

Although artists from the North East have come down to Yash Raj Films Studios before to record (Shillong blues band Soulmate in 2013), it can be quite an undertaking when it comes to finances. Kit tells us that the band had set aside funds from performance fees from gigs to make it happen. Kit says, “Each band member has sacrificed a lot.”

Another reason Summersalt wanted to cut their album at this particular studio was because they were keen on working with Hudlikar. The sound engineer was the one who mixed the band’s track “Hoi Kiw/Chalo Chalo” for the 2016 Bollywood film Rock On 2. “It’s been a humbling experience working with him [Hudlikar] who is really a mature producer and engineer. I think it’s a privilege and honor for the band and I believe we are in good hands.” says Kit.

As the band wraps up their stint at Yash Raj Films Studios, there is no talk about a release date yet as the next step is to raise funds for mixing and mastering the record. Kit says, “It’s a learning curve for the band, just from miking to listening to each and every detail after we playback a song.”

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