Rida, a NIFT graduate, left a lucrative job in Mumbai because she missed the songs of the birds and the sounds of the rivers and forests and returned to her hometown in Meghalaya in 2009.
However, she was disappointed to see the once pristine landscapes and rivers now polluted, with illegal coal mining turning the hills, which were once covered by dense forests, into a barren landscape. People in the surrounding villages began showing symptoms of diseases associated with pollution and there was an increase in the incidence of cancer among them. Meanwhile, she also noticed that the local cultural traditions had also changed, with high voltage rock, pop, hip-hop and reggae replacing folk music.
For thousands of years the people of the northeast have lived in perfect harmony with nature and Rida was concerned that the younger generation would lose their roots. She took upon herself the task of restoring nature and saving the culture and traditions of the land with the best medium she could think of - music.
When Rida had an opportunity to hold a design workshop to train artisans coming from various backgrounds in Meghalaya in handicrafts, she used sustainable, natural mediums like bamboo, cane, clay and fibre. “What I really liked about doing these projects was that I could connect with people from the grassroots and explain to them how to conceptualize their perceptions and about the significance of their craft,” she said. She worked at the grassroots level with farmers, potters, weavers and instrument makers. This re-kindled a creative streak in her to work further for the conservation of the flora and fauna around her.
Thus began Rida’s journey for reviving and restoring the past glory of her homeland. “Life is but a dance to the tunes of nature” - that’s what Rida and the Musical Folks believed in when they launched their first album “Musical Nature” in 2010, an ecological art project that collaborates with folk musicians from Meghalaya. The group spreads the message of nature conservation through music, culture and craft. Musical Folks is a treasure house of folk music, traditional crafts and instrument making that uses natural materials found in and around Meghalaya.
The songs often highlight a specific form of nature as a subject of celebration. The group works with sustainable resources to create art, craft and music and through their songs that are inspired by elements of wildlife and nature they encourage people to think of nature conservation.
The band members include Rida Gatphoh, founder, songwriter and singer of ‘The Musical Folks’ who travels extensively and collaborates with folk musicians, contemporary and traditional artists in Meghalaya; Bah Rojet Buhphang and (Late) Bah S.Malngiang – duhalias (traditional folk musicians) from Meghalaya on the tangmuri, ksing, padiah, singphong, bisli and bom; Peter Marbaniang, a potter who is a self-taught duitara and guitar player; Amarnath Hazarika, a composer and guitarist whose music spans an eclectic mix of sounds from contemporary jazz to urban soul, Sean Menzies Nongrum, a bom player , bass player and sound engineer; Benedict Skhemlang Hynniewta, a painter and musician; Risingbor Kurkalang, a duhalia who has been making and playing the duitara, maryngod, sitar and other traditional instruments from his childhood; and Shaun Nonghulo, a self-taught drummer, artist and ksing player.
“A sound, balanced ecosystem simply presents life in the most perfect way and this can be translated and expressed artistically in an infinite number of ways. My aim at this point is to appreciate, comprehend, reinstate and preserve this balance, not because of the inspiration it creates, but because it is the purest state of expression,” she signs off.