Pioneering modern Khasi music

By Raphael Warjri

Amid the chaos and commotion of social life in Shillong and the frequent political turmoil around the years 1980 onwards, people had more reasons to cherish the patriotic songs as the genre was of ethnic enthusiasm and passion. Those were the days when melody was the source of solace for the society in the midst of the regular social disorder that prevailed, particularly in Shillong city.
Among all creative pursuits, music has the power of motivation. During those turbulent days, the vocal force of the Pohrmen Sisters, Margaret and Mary, had overwhelmed the entire Khasi land. Their mellow voices discovered the essence of modern Khasi music.
Both Margaret and Mary Pohrmen were part of the Jingkieng Ksiar music album, led by renowned music exponent Rana Kharkongor, for the first ever Khasi music album in 1982. They were the only female vocalists in the group, which included veterans like Headingson Ryntathiang, Tom Taylor Mukhim, Amio Lyngskor and Snarwell Syiemlieh, the younger brother of another folk music legend, Skendrowell Syiemlieh.
One of the finest Khasi musicians and a folk thinker, Phyrnai Marbañiang, opined that the popularity and versatile performances of the Pohrmen sisters have facilitated the emergence of modern Khasi music that has evolved through western fusion and other innovative pop music techniques.
This was endorsed by few eminent local artistes of western music. On the one hand, Lou Majaw termed fusion music as the noise of confusion, on the other Rudy Wallang acknowledged the tremendous influence and attraction of Khasi modern music at every occasion of local entertainment through the duet performance of Margaret and Mary Pohrmen. Along with few other versatile artistes of the era, they have set the benchmark for modern Khasi music genre that has developed in to the tradition.
Margaret Pohrmen was born on March 29, 1962, the middle sibling among three daughters — Elizabeth, the eldest sister, and her musical companion, Mary, the youngest. Their parents, Everest Jitem and Lawrencia Pohrmen, were the constant source of inspiration and encouragement for the daughters’ passion for music.
Mary said their father encouraged them in every musical assignment and their debut performance took place in 1980 at Don Bosco Hall, Laitumkhrah. Their proficiency and enthusiasm in the field of music was further endorsed with a commendable gradation at the All India Radio on November 22, 1982, and the production of the superhit audio album Namar Jongphi in 1986, composed by Ores Thangkhiew.
Thereafter, Margaret joined Air India service in 1989 and the legacy was being continued by her youngest sister Mary. She subsequently produced a solo album, Jingkynmaw, of her own lyrical composition in 1987.
It was a short music career for Margaret but it created incredible impact as some of her songs still echoed in certain households in Shillong even today, said some of the ardent fans of Khasi modern music.
Wallang said the Pohrmen sisters dominated the prestigious entertainment functions for nearly a decade. They used to be the guest singers for few reputed pop bands of that time and they were popularly known in the region as the ABBA of Shillong.
After almost three decades of service, Margaret desired to take care of her ailing mother but destiny proved otherwise as she breathed her last on August 2, 2020; leaving several fans in shock and despair. She will be remembered in the annals of Khasi music archives.

(The author is a Shillong-based painter)  Photo provided by author

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