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Hear Shillong Chamber Choir’s Multilingual Holiday Album ‘Come Home Christmas’

The celebrated vocal group’s founder and director Neil Nongkynrih talks about the creation of the record and how they’ve had a productive year despite the pandemic

Anurag Tagat Dec 18, 2020

Shillong Chamber Noir with director, founder and conductor Neil Nongkynrih (center) on the cover of their new album 'Come Home Christmas.'

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In the process of creating a multilingual Christmas album that was far removed from the Westernized signifiers of the holiday, the Shillong Chamber Choir’s director Neil Nongkynrih and his group even tracked down “an old man in Switzerland” who was familiar with ancient Aramaic for the track “Go Tell It On the Mountain/Glory to God” off the just-released Come Home Christmas.

Nongkynrih says, “That was for us quite a miracle. We had a lady from London to translate ‘We The Kings’ into Farsi and collaborated with a sand artist from Israel for its music video and the list goes on.” Although the choir had released a Christmas album in 2010 (right after their big catapult to national fame, following the top place on reality T.V. show India’s Got Talent), the director says that it didn’t bear their signature back then.

Traditional carols are staples this time of the year, never to go out of fashion, but the choir wanted to stand out. “The Christmas market can be so crowded and trends go more towards competing as to who can sing more elaborately or we get 279 years of the Messiah blared every winter and Easter season especially in the Western world. But it was different for us this year in particular; everyone got excited when I got this crazy idea of mixing all these Middle Eastern languages with English as the backbone,” Nongkynrih says.

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Spanning languages such as Hebrew, Urdu and even Khasi, the sound of Come Home Christmas further pushes it away from a play-it-safe Christmas record, dabbling in fusion. “The familiar marries the unfamiliar and hopefully they live happily ever after,” Nongkynrih adds.

The eight-track record – covering everything from “Deck the Halls” to “Auld Lang Syne” and “Silent Night” – caps 2020 as a year that Shillong Chamber Choir has adapted to quite deftly. Nongkynrih dismisses the idea that the year was an anomaly for them, as it perhaps was for most performing musicians due to the coronavirus pandemic. The group set up a virtual concert stage and performed for clients in India and abroad. The director adds, “In fact, being at home is such a luxury and gives us space to create more music. What is coming up in 2021 are albums with two major record labels.”

Additionally, Nongkynrih explains that he’s been working on an opera for a full symphony orchestra performance, six soloists and up to a hundred singers. It’s a three-hour musical saga called Sohlyngngem which is set in the 1860s in British India, when Shillong would often be a summer retreat for Britishers and royals and in this, narrating a “tragic love story of a Khasi prince and a poor girl.” Nongkynrih is quick to add, “Unfortunately, this is not ‘COVID-19 friendly’ for now but hopefully by 2021 we can have it staged.”

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Stream ‘Come Home Christmas’ on Spotify below. 

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