“How about holding on to something so close to your heart so that you just can’t let it go?” That is the question that best describes a man’s roots, and that is what makes Xipaa a special song. We have heard the serenading rhythm of the first song Muktokontho and we probably thought nothing else was going to beat it. But with the release of Xipaa, SMACK is proving to Assam, and indeed, the rest of the world, that they’re here to stay.
The song, Xipaa, is dedicated to the late Assamese journalist, poet and social worker, Arnav Jyoti Deka, from Sarthebari, for his outstanding connection to his roots and for inspiring people around with the knowledge of values and principles that “make one worthy to be called human”. For this particular song, the tempo changes four times, and yet one can always hear and fill how connected it is to their style and rhythm. The band reveals the project has been on for five years, and is grateful that it is finally out and widely accepted.
It took a lot of effort and contributions to make Xipaa, as one would expect. The lyrics was put together by Nawanita Bwisumuthihary; and composed by Rupam B. Rupam B took charge of the vocals and acoustic guitar on this one, leaving the lead, rhythmic and bass guitar roles to Chinmoy Sharma, Mukumoon Saikia and Bhargab Choudhury, respectively. Raja Sarma took charge of the keys with Kamal Boruah handling the drums. Credit should also go to the amazing poster designer, Bandita Tahbilder, and cover artist Sankar Bharali. Uddipta Kumar Bhattacharya took care of the animation.
As a band, SMACK is known for hardwork and consistency. Destiny played its part by bringing together such talents. Though closely knit, it is difficult to find a band as such that allows its members so much space to express themselves.
“The inception of SMACK dates back to the Cotton diaries of 2015-16,” they say. A bunch of the boarders of SMH hostel had been planning to establish a musical community including other disciplines of art within Cotton College, Guwahati, namely ‘Music For The Soul’. The degradation of ‘soul’ in Assamese music, in terms of lyrics, monotonous tune and business oriented production was arguably was in its peak at that time. One of its prime objectives was to challenge and find ways to overcome it and inspire the students to do art the sake of art.
The deaths of core band member Priyanshu Nath and friend Siddhant Saha to a tragic bike accident hit them really hard. But that loss has inspired them further to go on to make beautiful music and sounds that have travelled across land and climes. They explain how those two heroes have been immortalised. An annual event called ‘Abege’ is held at Cotton University, on February 25th, to remember them. It serves as a source of inspiration to younger music enthusiasts to learn, team up, jam and create music.
“We just couldn’t let these two souls disappear in vain; be it our obstinacy or be it our determination, we shall keep them alive always through art, through music. In 2016 in a collaborative album called Geet Gua Pokhiti Uri Juar Pisot, which was released in memory of Priyanshu and Siddhant, we introduced ourselves with our song Shotobaar which is an Assamese-Bengali fusion. Abegey sung by Zubeen Garg, Ananya Dutta and Prabin Bora and Mom Hoi Goli Goli sung by Zubeen Garg was the creations of Priyanshu which was included in the album,” they said.
As a group, each member has a peculiar role to play, all combining their individual talents to produce ever-green songs. Mukumoon Saikia writes almost all the lyrics of their songs, plays the guitar and composes songs as well; Hridoy Khound plays the drums; Rupam B. who is the lead vocalist and composer; Happy Lark Hato (ex- keyboardist/band member) were the members of the ‘Music for the soul’ initiative that began years ago. Chinmoy Sharma, the lead guitarist; Bhargab Choudhury, bass guitarist, Kamal Boruah who plays the percussions and drums; and Raja Sarma, the keyboardist all joined the band eventually.
The new album is more or less a result of popular demand. “To be honest, we have more than 40 compositions already in our stock. Muktokontho and Xipaa were two among them. We used to perform some of the songs in the street jams or in some shows or in addas and we started receiving very positive responses from our listeners and well wishers and that’s how maybe the idea of putting those up in an album came up”, they said.
Like the first song, Xipaa too has a strong element of rock music and a beautiful humanistic blend to it.
The band has won several awards within and outside Assam. “We were overwhelmed to receive the ‘Best Audio Album of Assam’ in the Gupshup Music Awards, 2016. We have to mention the name of Himanshu Nath, brother of Priyanshu, and always an elder brother figure of SMACK family for his immense effort for the album. In 2016, an inter-Northeast band competition called Future Sound of India was held where we bagged the runners-up prize”, they mused.
For SMACK, the goal is to impact lives and the Assamese society as well as support the progressive music in Assamese language encompassing humanitarian and social issues. Their desire is to keep learning and exploring new avenues, as they continue to promote the culture of band music in Assam. Another major goal the band is pursuing is to try and bridge the gap between the economical credits given the singer and the instrumentalist.
While the journey has been a struggle and quite inspiring, it is their fans and loved ones that have pushed them this far. The lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic was not expected. The band had to postpone the release of Xipaa, several events were either cancelled or postponed as well.
Again apart from music, it has been frustrating as we are not even able to meet each other. Except Kamal and Chinmoy, everyone is at home. We do video/voice conferences whenever we get a chance”, they say.
On artistes that inspire them, the band has quite a long list. From the spectacular A R Rahman, Fossils, Shankar-Ehsan-Loy and Indian Ocean to Amit Trivedi, Lucky Ali, Parikrama, Mother Jane, Girish Pradhan and the evergreen Jayanta Hazarika and Bhupen Hazarika. Names like Zubeen Garg, Papon, Joi Baruah, North East Breeze, Aniruddha Baruah, Anuraag Saikia, and Ibson Lal Baruah also came up.
There is an extraterrestrial connection that music creates among people, irrespective of language and ethnicity. Most of the songs produced by SMACK can achieve that purpose due to their strong social messages. They spend a lot of time planning, writing, researching and composing, but one thing they never compromise on is quality time for one another.
“When not making music we talk about movies, football etc; do some crazy stuff that can’t be justified by words. We hang out a lot, and yes, talk about music,” the band notes.
Fans and music lovers can anticipate more songs from this talented band. With the album’s third song titled Eserenga being worked on, there is nothing more to ask for. Their recognition has been so far-reaching that even the national award winning music director Anurag Saikia described Xipaa in very stellar words. “This is one of the best songs I have come across from Assam. Loved it. We shall treasure it forever,” he said.