Notes Of A’rongga, literally meaning ‘Notes Of the Hill People’, is a 6-piece folk fusion band. The band focuses on Garo indigenous music with elements of rock, blues and other genres. They incorporate traditional instruments like dama (long drum), chigring (bamboo strings instrument), bangsirori (flute), kakwa or chapcheng (cymbals) with drum kit, guitar and bass guitar.
The line-up includes Tengnang D Sangma (vocals and chigring), Chukambe Ch Marak (bass and backing vocal), Sunsylevan Sangma/Sansan (drummer), Jingo N Sangma (guitar and dotrong), Tangsrik A Sangma (solo/guitar), Prokan R. Marak (dama).
Rudy Marak speaks with frontman Tengnang D Sangma to know more about his musical journey, the band and his views on Garo music.
When and where were you born?
I was born on June 3rd, 1992 in the remote Garo village of Rangasora, Ranikor of South West Khasi Hills closely bordering to Bangladesh. Later, we shifted to Shillong hoping to live a better life.
How did it all start? What inspired you to play folk fusion music?
Initially, it was all about compulsory singing as part of the choir at Don Bosco, Boys’ Home Hostel, Tura in 2006. I sung bass with that teenage vocal cord. I never knew that this compulsion would make me realize one day that I can sing!
I will not say it was ‘inspiration’ that made me sing folk fusion music. I would rather say the ‘slow death’ of my culture, language, flora, fauna, ornaments, dress, food culture and nature of human (including myself/loss/extinction/negativity) that made me and my band play folk fusion music. This loss is happening not only in Garo Hills but other ethnic groups in India are also facing the same problems. Very few people play folk and folk fusion music in Garo Hills. I guess till date, we (Notes Of A’rongga – N.O.A) are the only folk fusion band in Garo Hills.
How long have you been actively playing this kind of music?
I have been playing this kind of music actively for three years but as a band N.O.A is six months old now.
During which occasions, do people in Garo community play and listen to this type of music?
How I see it, people in Garo community are still into rock, classic Garo pop, rock and roll and modern pop songs and hip hop when it comes to occasions and festivities. I have been to quite many places for performing, but it has never been easy to please the audience of Garo Hills. If you want to please them, sing classic rock. You will have thousands of fans! But they have finally accepted us now. If not many, some at least do. I think it’s time for our type of music to be popularised. Now we play this kind of music wherever we go, whatever the occasion. Now people listen to it during festivals like Wangala, Ahaia, Tysam, Chygywn, Nokpante, A’we and Simsang festivals in the Garo Hills.
Have you passed your tradition on to others, who and when? Why is this important to you?
Yes. We pass it to all ages, all genders and all communities whenever and wherever we play. It is important for us because there are not many books, films and songs on our culture, folklore, legendary stories, Gods, deities and angels, legendary creatures or origins. By singing on these themes and daily life activities, we try to highlight our culture, tradition and idea of the GARONESS (being A’chik) through different forms of singing of the A’chik in rendition with western music. It is important for us because we still have thousands of people from A’chik community to realise that this generation is going to be the last to see our culture, if not preserved through language and practices. If not, poor A’chik community will be waxed inside the museum.
How would you describe the music scene in Garo Hills?
The music scene in Garo Hills is slow moving but it is progressing gradually. I feel, there are lots of good bands, individual artists and good upcoming bands, but they have no platforms as there are not many event organizers. Musician and singers who do not get gigs depend on competitions, touring outside for a living, as there are few shows within the region. But today, there are a few individuals taking up the interests of the artists by organizing small shows within the region. It was same with us. We wanted to base our band in Tura (Garo Hills) but it became impossible as we were unemployed and solely dependent on gigs for our house rent and daily expenses. So, we are based in Shillong.
According to you, which artist/band from the Northeast are really taking the music scene forward?
Lou Majaw, Soulmate, Guru Rewben, Abiogenesis, Tetseo Sisters and Dossers Urge are amazingly representing their own genres and their taste of music from their land to others, knowing no boundaries. I look up to them for courage.
What are your ambitions and challenges?
Our ambition is to keep on singing songs and sharing stories. To preserve and promote our culture through songs. To perform for a larger audience. To keep on striving towards the global music scene and to always stay original.