Of music &purpose: A Summersalt story


There have been quite a few from the music fraternity in Shillong who have taken the vibes from the hills to the world. But that does not stultify this group of artistes who call themselves Summersalt. What started as a group of likeminded people playing in church and talking music for hours is now a band that can claim to be a household name in Meghalaya and beyond. With a high-profile Bollywood project and a debut album in their kitty, Summersalt is craving for more.

Their song ‘Hoi Kiw Chalo Chalo’ from Rock On 2 has already drawn much appreciation as Shillong eagerly awaits the release of the movie onNovember 11. The band members — Kit Shangpliang (kit), Adorbha Shangpliang (Ador), Baiaineh Shangpliang (Nah), Dawad Shangpliang (Weet), Pynsuklin Syiemiong (Suk) and Gregory Ford Nongrum (Greg) — took out time from their busy schedule for a tête-à-tête with Nabarun Goswami. Excerpts:

NG: Tell us how the band came into existence and why do you call it Summersalt?

Summersalt: It started as a vision and the need to write our own songs. We would spend a few months just talking about what was needed of us as songwriters and musicians; sometimes we would not touch an instrument but just talk. Besides, we started as musicians in Church. Then one day, the thought crossed our minds that some of the good things that happened in church, should be freshly relevant to the outside world. When the idea was clear in our minds, we took that to the jam pad, and Summersalt was born.

On calling ourselves ‘Summersalt’, (they smile) seriously, it doesn’t need to mean anything, but since you asked — we’ll tell four things about the name. It is a fun word, easy to pronounce and sticks to your tongue once you say ‘Summersalt’. Many people spelled it right as ‘somersault’, meaningfully it could be that way, calling us for some fun action. As a juxtaposition of two words, ‘Summer’ being a vibrant season and ‘Salt’ being a preservative, usually always the minor ingredient but the most important one.

NG: Tell us something about your kind of music, which is interesting because you have tried to revive the traditional Khasi musical instruments in your own unique way?

Summersalt: Except for a few songs, we’re essentially minimalistic and give equal importance to lyrics, rhythm and melody. We’ve also been very careful that our folk-fusion music doesn’t sound forced, because it’s so easy to land in such situations. As far as revival of Khasi music is concerned, we’re not the only ones but thanks for the compliment. We do folk-fusion sets, not purely folk and that gives us a little more freedom to play around, but we’d like to think that we’ve done it responsibly. We’ve done it with respect to all genres and overarching all the sounds is the music that sits restlessly on the lap of the Khasi Hills, now embedded in Summersalt ‘soundscape’.


NG: How and when did Rock On 2 happen?

Summersalt: April 2015. It just happened. We had our friend Ashley Lyngdoh and Vicky (the tourism specialist) who thought of us and fixed up a meeting with Shujaat Saudagar, the director. We played a few songs and then screened our original track and draft music video of ‘Pyrta Shnong’ now versioned as ‘Hoi Kiw Chalo Chalo’ for the film. And guess what? The team liked it and they went back to Mumbai, talked to Farhan Akhtar and others about it. Two months later, we were at Yash Raj Studios working with Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. Our songwriter Kit worked with Javed Akhtar, after which Usha Uthup gracefully joined us to lay the lines in Hindi. It was an honour and a humbling experience to have had the creative opportunity. Now, everyone is eager to watch the picture.

NG: The song ‘Hoi Kiw Chalo Chalo’ has already become a rage here. What was the inspiration and how did the amalgamation happen? How challenging was the Khasi-Hindi gelling part?

Summersalt: The popularity of Summersalt’s songs is because of the Truth (in them). Therefore, it has life in it and a listener is provided with some sense of direction — a thing that we need so badly these days. We sing because we mean every alphabet of every word and we play every note of every bar with creative and ethnic conviction, hence the energy.

The Hindi version happened at Yash Raj Studios in Mumbai where Kit spent some time with Javedji. It was more of a natural creative encounter and in a way, it was effortless and we couldn’t think of serious challenges. It was a soothing workspace that we had.


You talked about amalgamation. You see, the song has already been part of Summersalt’s lineup for more than seven years now and we’ve sung it everywhere we had gone to in Meghalaya and outside. All we did for Rock On 2 is take it to the next level and contextualise it for the Bollywood audience. The ethnic inspiration remains.

NG: What does Hoi Kiw mean to the Khasis? Do you see this song becoming a cult here?

Summersalt: People coming from different corners of the Khasi Hills will have a different take on this and we respect that, but what Summersalt had learned is that Hoi Kiw is a victory cry of a realist. It might actually carry more meaning than the previous Obama slogan of ‘Yes We Can’. There’s already so much energy in that expression of conquest calling people to mount up and march forward and faster. Hoi Kiw becoming a cult — don’t think so. Give a chance to the song to evolve.

NG: Apart from ‘Hoi Kiw Chalo Chalo’, is there any other song performed by you in the movie?

Summersalt: Everyone likes surprises — shall we follow the drill this time?

NG: How was the Rock On experience? How important was the collaboration to expose local bands to the national as well as global levels?

Summersalt: Humbling and enriching. We believe that this is not about Summersalt alone and it can’t be — it has to be to everyone’s benefit. Summersalt was needed to represent…so if it is something to celebrate it should include all.

On the collaboration front, we think it is important for local musicians to have that kind of exposure. Having said that, don’t forget that we’ve had many artistes from here who have been Meghalaya’s ambassadors to the outside world. It is important for upcoming artistes to find their niche, only then they can think of collaboration.

NG: Can projects like these take the Khasi Hills closer to the mainland as music is an integral part of Khasi culture and people here connect through music?

Summersalt: Comparatively, we think that people from Meghalaya have always had the understanding that they are the integral part of India. Obviously, there are discrepancies and minor disconnects and to bridge that, we’d like to believe that what happens between Summersalt as the representative of the evolving Khasi culture with Rock On 2 is a connection that should be valued to propel more future creative interactions and integration.

NG: Tell us about your debut album? What was the inspiration behind the compositions? How are you ensuring that it reaches as many people as possible?

Summersalt: In the age of single releases, we have taken the courage to release a conventional pack of 12 songs, of which 4 were made into music videos. This album was recorded by another known musician Ribor Mb at Merliham Studios, Shillong, while the mastering was furnished in the US by SageAudio. Shillong’s renowned Director of Photography, Kamki Diengdoh of State of Mind Productions, with the support of Mebanker Lapang and his team at HMG Productions took care of the music videos for the band.

It might be worth it to note, that for the first time, the band from Meghalaya will have its music digitally distributed online by Times Music. Physical marketing is taken care of by Yarap Marketing with support from media partners, including Red FM and Batesi TV.

NG: Music albums have almost become a thing of the past in India. What is the possible way forward?

Summersalt: We’re looking at a multi-prong approach and you’re right about the market trends… As artistes you need to evolve with time. As for us, we’re producing just enough copies for fans who have expressed interest in buying the hard copy which we call them ‘Deluxe Copies’. We’re honoured to have a team at Yarap that does pre-marketing research locally and Times Music will help us with the online nitty-gritty.

When you talk about artistes’ livelihood, there’s no easy way out — artistes need to work to earn their bread and do what they love. So we keep producing songs, singles, music videos and do more gigs as much as possible. The internet in itself is changing and the artiste needs to keep up with the change that’s coming every minute. That’s the way forward.

NG: How crucial and challenging was shooting the video part for the numbers?

Summersalt: Nothing is easy, talents alone can’t keep you up there — hard work, discipline, skills and resources will. In shooting the music videos, we had to deal with budget, the climate, punctuality, permissions and many more. Thankfully, we had the support of the video specialists who understood what we were trying to do. We’re so thankful to Kamki Diengdoh and Mebanker Lapang and their team members for support.

NG: Summersalt has tied up with the State Skills Development Society to support human capital development in Meghalaya. Why do you think it was important for you to opt for it?

Summersalt: There has to be a purpose behind anything we do. The songs we write have social concerns and we take them sincerely. The project we are associating with is a government project called “Supporting Human Capital Development in Meghalaya’ and it deals with skilling some 45,000 youths pan Meghalaya. The government thought that Summersalt could help. With unemployment and employability challenges in the state, to have been given a chance to chip in, we thought — why not us?

NG: After Rock On 2 and of course now your debut album, do you think a band like Summersalt can make a living by making music?

Summersalt: Yes, why not. But it is a matter of choice at the end of the day. As for now, we think that Summersalt’s timeline is time bound. We’d like to go for another album because we already have songs to record — so we’ve got plans.

NG: Anything else that you would like to share?

Summersalt: We obviously cannot name names to thank fans and well-wishers of Summersalt, but they should know that we’re truly grateful. Keep supporting the music and the message that Summersalt stands for. And we’d like to specifically thank The Shillong Times and the entire media community for their overwhelming support that we’ve had all these years.