The Roots Of A Revolution: Tipriti Kharbangar On Her Khasi Identity, Going Solo, & More

The Roots Of A Revolution: Tipriti Kharbangar On Her Khasi Identity, Going Solo, & More
Abhishek Gupta

Lovingly referred to as ‘Tips’ by the internet, Tipriti Kharbangar, the powerhouse vocalist behind Shillong's blues-infused juggernaut, Soulmate, shreds labels along with her guitar strings. Her journey is a soaring melody of cultural pride, artistic transformation, and a relentless fight for inclusivity in India's music scene.

From the outset, defying expectations is ironed deep into the very fabric of Tipriti's being. A Khasi woman fronting a blues band, her identity is a departure from the norm; a beautiful anomaly. Yet for Tipriti, the blues weren't a foreign import, but a language that resonated with the depths of her soul. "My cultural heritage is so much a part of me," she says. Even her name, "Tipriti" is a Khasi word that translates to "know your roots". This deep connection to her ancestry shapes everything she does, from her soulful delivery to the raw emotions that pour out through her lyrics.

Growing up in Shillong during the 80s and 90s exposed Tipriti to a contrasting reality. The peacefulness of the hills coexisted with the turbulence of political unrest. This duality, as she explains, became a defining element in her music. "We had a very simple yet peaceful connection with nature," she reminisces, "but we were also going through hardships of various agitations." This juxtaposition of serenity and struggle finds its voice in Tipriti's songwriting, creating a chronicle of her experiences.

A Khasi woman fronting a blues band – it's a departure from the norm, a beautiful anomaly.
A Khasi woman fronting a blues band – it's a departure from the norm, a beautiful anomaly. ABHISHEK GUPTA

In 2003, alongside her musical partner Rudy Wallang, Soulmate was born. The band quickly rose to prominence, not just in Shillong's spirited music scene, but across India and beyond. Their success, however, goes beyond awards and accolades. It lies in their ability to imbibe their unique identity into the blues. Their music carries the echoes of Shillong's rolling hills and the whispers of Khasi traditions.

Soulmate's journey has coincided with a significant transformation within the Indian music industry – the question of inclusivity for women and diverse voices. Tipriti acknowledges the progress but emphasizes that their vision extends far beyond just performing. "We need more women taking up instruments," she emphasizes. She sees the urgent need for a more balanced ecosystem and wants to see women in music production, sound engineering, artist management so as to shape the industry from all sides.

This commitment to inclusivity spills over into her experiences at music festivals. Recently, opening the first all-women blues festival in India, Tipriti reflects, "It got me thinking of how we need more moments to celebrate not just women, but music itself, the arts, and life."

Having soared to great heights with Soulmate, Tipriti Kharbangar is now on a new chapter in her musical journey – her solo career. This transition marks a shift in her creative process, one that is both liberating and challenging.

"I've been gradually getting into a work process that works for me," Tipriti explains. She's taking a more relaxed approach, collaborating with a diverse range of musicians she's known for years. It's a chance to experiment or as she puts it "... to test myself and my ability to spread my wings and soar in the vast landscape that is the music scene."

For years, Rudy Wallang shouldered the responsibility of bandleader in Soulmate. Now, Tipriti steps into that role, embracing the challenges and opportunities that come with it. "There's always so much to learn," she exclaims. Even after two decades in the industry, the prospect of growth keeps her motivated.

While the blues remain a tenet of her sound, her solo sound delves into new sonic avenues.
While the blues remain a tenet of her sound, her solo sound delves into new sonic avenues.ABHISHEK GUPTA

While the blues remain a tenet of her sound, her solo sound delves into new sonic avenues. R&B, soul, reggae, and even early afrobeat and bossa nova influences find their way into her music. For Tipriti, these genres share a common thread: their roots in the blues. "All music genres stem from the blues," she believes. "They're all about celebrating life, the joys, and sorrows that shape us.

As one of the finest singers to have emerged from North East India, she recognizes the importance of mentorship, striving to be a role model for aspiring musicians. "I always try to be a role model for anyone willing to listen and take my advice," she says. Whether it's offering guidance to young performers she meets or collaborating with them on tours, Tipriti actively fosters the next generation of talent.

This two-way exchange is enriching. "I've been learning as much from them as I've hope they learnt from me," she reflects. The exchange of ideas and experiences keeps her music fresh and relevant.

 It's in her name, "Tipriti," a constant reminder of her roots.
It's in her name, "Tipriti," a constant reminder of her roots.ABHISHEK GUPTA

Tipriti's music is intensely personal, often blending together themes of empowerment, cultural pride, and social justice. "I don't think about a subject when I write my music," she clarifies. "I feel it." Her songs are like "memory capsules"; documenting moments and emotions in time through words and melodies.

There's no pretense in her music. "I'll never try to be something I'm not," she asserts. Her cultural pride and her commitment to social justice flow naturally from her identity. It's in her name, "Tipriti", a constant reminder of her roots. She signs off by quoting Bob Marley, "You can't run away from yourself." 

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