The accompanying music video starts off at the bustling Howrah Station in West Bengal, and eventually takes viewers back to the 1960s and ’70s

The accompanying music video starts off at the bustling Howrah Station in West Bengal, and eventually takes viewers back to the 1960s and ’70s

What are your train journeys synonymous with? For the Shillong Chamber Choir, it is chai, coolies, samosa, mishti doi, board games, conversations, a hard disc full of music, a pen drive filled with movies… And now all these elements from the choir’s many train rides have made their way into an upcoming single titled ‘The Great Indian Train Journey’. The peppy track mimics the rhythm of a train and 70% of the lyrics comprise sounds of the station and names of food that the choir unfailingly feasts on every time they are on board.

The song is a tribute to Uncle Neil (Neil Nongkynrih, the founder of the choir) who passed away earlier this year. “He loved train journeys and spending time with people,” says William Richmond Basaiawmoit, the lead singer of the choir, over a phone call from Shillong. He adds that the song, a collaborative creative process by the team, was created 10 years ago, but will be released only this year, in July, for sentimental reasons.

A still from the video by Shillong Chamber Choir

A still from the video by Shillong Chamber Choir
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The accompanying music video starts off at the bustling Howrah Station in West Bengal, and eventually takes viewers back to the 1960s and ’70s. “We want to bring back the nostalgia and romance of train travel,” says William. Members of the choir make their appearances in various roles: coolies, qawwali singers, dancers, vendors. “This is the first time the audience will get to see Uncle Neil dance. It was supposed to be a Hitchcock-like special appearance but the next thing we knew, he was teaching the dancers his moves,” laughs William.

Uncle Neil always had fascinating tales to tell about these travels. “He was once walking on a platform and a bookseller offered him 10% discount on a novel by Frederick Forsyth. Why? Because the first chapter was missing,” laughs William. 

The choir almost always regales other passengers with impromptu performances. “Uncle used to play a small keyboard and we used to love writing music together on the train,” he reminisces. 

Members of the choir

Members of the choir
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

While SCC’s USP has been Bollywood classics mixed with Western Classical, its repertoire also includes classical opera, rock ’n roll and Punjabi music. “We will also be releasing quite a few originals. It is our goal to introduce Uncle Neil’s works to the world,” William says. Among the upcoming releases planned is a three-hour long musical saga in Kkhasi. It is a fantasy folk tale in operatic style.  

The choir was founded in 2001, and over the last two decades has performed across the world and stuck together. “There have been IIMs and corporate houses that have wanted to study us to understand how we have been able to function and stay together all these years,” he says, “Today, we are closer than ever and all we have is each other.”



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