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Saturday, 8 September 2012

An evening with the Yeti, Chi and music

Source:Sikkim Now

LISTEN TO THIS, HIC! Acoustic Traditional's Salil Mukhia Kwoica narrates a Lepcha folktale about the Yeti in the 'drunken style' accompanied by Sonam Chopyel on the tungbuk at Mayfair Resorts on 31 August

GANGTOK, 06 Sept: Acoustic Traditional unveiled its drunken style of storytelling at the ‘One Tribe’ concert at Mayfair on 31 August. In a rare moment of shamanic music and oral storytelling, a unique journey was embarked upon, something that will perhaps in future find a lasting tie with indigenous oral traditions in and around the region. For the moment, the word is out and the world is keen on knowing what this style could possibly mean.
“Acoustic Traditional has been telling stories for over a decade now and throughout our journey, we have never stopped ourselves from being influenced by community-based storytellers. They are remarkable storytellers and we have constantly reinvented ourselves over the years taking inspiration from them. One important area in our work is that of documenting the oral traditions maintained by our shamans such as Bongthings, Fedongmas, Jhankris, Poibas, etc., and somewhere we have been compelled to bring their traditions and ways of storytelling forward. These are vanishing traditions. All our shamans use some form of ‘chi’ or the other in their rituals and this is not unusual”, says AT founder and storyteller Salil Mukhia Kwoica.
The ‘chi’ [ fermented millet beer], he says prepares them for a spiritual journey and the drunken style of storytelling borrows from this tradition and uses their system of mapping (shamanic) to tell stories or build narrations. It isolates the storyteller from his set of distractions and enables him to go where he usually cannot.
This seems to have worked, as Salil explains, “The first musical verse played by Sonam Chopyel on his flute took me very far and I suddenly realised that I was telling a story I heard from Mr. Netuk Lepcha in Dzongu when initially I had something else in mind!”
On the whole, the style touches upon two things: stories being sacred and use of ‘chi’ as a spiritual offering to our deities to help enable us to tell and interpret the stories, he further informs.
Session organiser Abhishek Pradhan adds, “We could not get the traditional ‘chi’ [millet beer] so we had to do with beer. I have been organising sessions for some time now and Salil did not sound the same as before. He had been drinking a week before to see if he could remain in his senses while narrating. We now look forward to taking this style before others in our National Storytelling Tour.”
With musicians and bands from across Gangtok and Darjeeling (Michelle Pradhan, Neha Pradhan, Adams Apple, Debashish and international Baul singers Satyananda and Hori Das), the concert proved to be more than what it had intended to be, share members of AT.  Impromptu performances, last minute changes and support from unexpected corners brought the whole endeavour together turning it into something more than what had been planned.
For Sonam Chopyel who accompanied Salil through the storytelling session with a Lepcha guitar [tungbuk] and flute, it was an experience which offered him a different perspective on the music he had been playing till now. Interestingly, Chopyel would not have been part of the show if it wasn’t for his uncle who could not make it to Gangtok from Dzongu for the concert.
A teacher at a government school here, Chopyel says “It was something that I did not expect. I felt being taken over through my own music and perhaps it’s because there was this element of sacredness at play. I played the music that is used to invite our deities and with the storyteller on a ride of imagination, it took me far deeper in my music than before.”
From music enthusiasts to educators to intellectuals to media professional who were present at the concert, the event brought in a wide spectrum of audience. As the last story was told with notes fading off the flute, those present were lost in a trance which was broken only a while later.
“It was one of its own kind - different and unique. Acoustic Traditional contributed towards the promotion and preservation of this art form”, is what Tseten Lepcha had to say of the evening. “The overall show was great and really enlightening especially the story regarding the Yeti and I liked the drunken storytelling style by Salil. The song ‘Handy boy’ by Debashish was simply awesome with lots of bitter truth in it”, said Tshering Wangchuk Lepcha.
Acoustic Traditional has now got quite a few invitations to showcase the ‘drunken storytelling’ style, as Minket Lepcha of AT informs, “We have just received an interesting invitation from one of our supporters to do our session at an upcoming Festival at Hyderabad this October where people from around the world will be present, especially from civil society organisations”.

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