Strains of a guitar being tuned wafted towards us from the pitch-black stage. On the other side of the dark auditorium, the sole lamp was focussed on the sound console and on guitar-player AJ Sen as he bent over it to turn the dials. I was at the U Soso Tham Auditorium in Shillong, waiting for the first Shillong Blues and Jazz Festival (September 27) to start. I was, metaphorically speaking, at the festival wearing two hats: as a performer (my band Parvati la Cantante was to perform later that evening) and as a fan of Lou Majaw, AJ Sen, Plan B and the Rudy Wallang Band, all of whom were performing at the festival.
There is something about Shillong that induces instantaneous love; maybe it’s the air, or the people who welcome you with open arms, or the fact that everywhere you go, you can hear a guitar playing, or find a band in practice — the hills echo with the sound of music. The goodies you can shop for are an added bonus. I had stopped at Police Bazaar to pick up beautiful red, white and black Naga shawls and mufflers — that’s all I had time for before the show.
A loud sound shook me out of my reverie. Red and blue lights had flooded the stage onto which walked Lou Majaw, Dylan of the East, in his signature denim shorts and ganji and mismatched blue and yellow socks. I had heard Majaw several times in Delhi and Bengaluru performing with a variety of artists and sometimes solo; today, AJ and Sam Shullai were part of his band — and the band sounded even better in Shillong. They belted out popular Dylan numbers and originals as members of the audience whistled and applauded.
It was time to get some sustenance before the next band came on stage. The festival’s promos had promised an exciting array of food and drinks. The three stalls outside the auditorium did not disappoint: there was a range of fantastic locally-brewed wines (the ginger wine gave you the much-needed tingly warm feeling), the Khasi food stall had local pork and chicken delicacies displayed artistically in hollowed-out bamboo vessels, and the Li’s Kitchen stall served delicious rice beer, wine and Naga food.
Inside the auditorium, Guwahati-based M-Trio had just finished their energetic performance, after which came performances by Fringes and Shillong-based 4th-Element, with whom many a drink had been shared while I was backstage. Possibly one of the most pleasant surprises that day was the performance by pianist Ronojit Chaliha and cello-player Adiel Massar. Self-taught Adiel played his cello like a double bass on some of the pieces, astonishing members of the audience and musicians alike. Other favourites that evening included the Rudy Wallang Band (there was a roaring applause when Rudy came on stage), made up almost entirely of Rudy’s family — his daughter, Andrea, and his two sons were part of the band — and Kolkata-based Plan-B. Fantastic guitar playing by Rudy Wallang, Pranai Gurung (Parvati la Cantante) and Sumith Ramachandran (Plan-B), and awe-inspiring singing by the gorgeous Rila Banerjee (also Plan-B) were the icing on the cake.
Later that night we gathered for dinner and drinks at Cloud Nine. The Shillong Blues and Jazz Festival had brought us all together to sing about peace, hope and reconciliation. And here we were, artists and members of the audience from different parts of the nation and from across the world, sharing our love for music.