Shillong: Flute is an eminen ptart of tribal Khasi folklore, but the musical instrument is still struggling to gain momentum. Tribal Khasi flute player Benedict Skhemlang Hynniewta says it is because western music is invading his state.
"One thing quite evident from the music scenario here (Meghalaya) is that western music has captured most of it. Rock bands are flourishing as compared to the traditional ones. Hence, traditional artists are given less importance. Maybe this is one of the reasons why it (flute playing) has not been pioneered by anyone in the Khasi hills," Benedict told IANS in an interview.
For the ethnic Khasi people residing in the eastern part of Meghalaya, the association with flute is not new. A flautist played a key role in a popular folk tale "U Manik Raitong". But since the legendary fable, the state has not seen any major development in the musical form.
"Flute playing is perceived as an entertainment tool and not a serious art form. I myself ponder why after 'U Manik Raitong', we haven't heard of other flautists of his kind," he added.
One may take playing a bamboo flute as facile, but it requires a lot of hard work and precision. Benedict asserts that it takes a lot of "hard work, dedication, concentration and patience" to master the instrument.
"As some flautists say, flute is a very simple instrument to extract sound, but a very difficult instrument to extract music. It takes years of hard work, dedication, concentration and to top it all, patience, which when combined together, develops the sweet intonation that composes soulful music," said Benedict, who is a visual artist by profession and a visiting lecturer in the Department of Cultural and Creative Studies, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong.
The enchanting sound that captivates audience depends not only on precision in playing, but on the make of the flute as well. Benedict plays bamboo flute.
He purchased some of his pieces from Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, while some of his flutes are also made by me from local bamboo which he collected from the Bhoi area of Meghalaya.
"There are also other flutes which were presented over to me in exchange with my paintings. One of these is the Wooden Irish Flute which was handcrafted by Martin Doyle, a flute maker from Ireland. I'm also trying my hands on the metallic concertflute which has its own style of sound quality," he said.
The artist was inspired by the music of Georghe Zamfir, James Galway, Yusef Lateef, Roland Kirk, Herbie Mann and Hariprasad Chaurasia as he grew up.
"As a young boy, I used to turn to tape recorder to listen to their music," said Benedict.
So what's the similarity between the classical flute players of India and the tribesmen?
"The similarity is only that both play this wind instrument, made from bamboo. But there are also many intricate differences within this frame of similarity. Classical players prefer bigger flute for their rendition of the ragas, whereas the folk prefer the small flute for their shrill and lively sound.
"In terms of playing also, the classical players use different techniques, like the 'meend, gamak, alankaras ornamentations', while the folk players are slightly limited on these technical aspects," he said.
The flautist, who is a member of a folk fusion band Na Rympei, warns flute enthusiasts to avoid smoking, while he himself plans to "create more works of art, compose and record a solo flute instrumental album".