Meghalaya, the picturesque and bountiful land surrounded with green hills, magnificent dales, gushing waterfalls, meandering streams, along with its colourful and vibrant people presents a vivid spectrum like the colours of rainbow. This pristine land is not only home to a rich and abundance of flora and fauna but also an abode of culture, festival and lifestyle of the people inhabiting the land. Since time immemorial this land had a unique tradition and culture that has stood the test of time and over the years, despite the onslaught of westernisation and modernisation the ethos and values of the land continues to add to its ethnicity and vibrancy. This has been particularly possible because of untiring services of many of its people and their love for their land and culture. Among all the people, there are a few however who have always played a gigantic role in upholding the rich and vibrant culture and tradition. One such luminary that stands tall in the midst of all in relentlessly progressing, propagating and proliferating the enriching original folk tunes and singing style of the Khasis is H Kerios Wahlang.
Known as the face and the voice of Khasi folk music, H Kerios Wahlang’s passion for music began since his early childhood years. He lived a simple life that came full circle in more than one way. Music was his elixir of life and for as long as he survived, he practised and propagated it with passion and enthusiasm.
H Kerios Wahlang briefly educated himself under the care of Ramakrishna Mission, Sohra and during those early years he nurtured his love for football and also occasionally engaged himself in singing in various local functions. He however could not complete his schooling and initially became a bus driver. He later engaged in coal trade with late K M Diengdoh, a renowned local entrepreneur. He married early and occupied himself with transportation and trading on market days all over the Khasi Jaintia territories. Despite his obligation as a family man, he always kept himself engaged with his passion for music. Later when he settled at Mawngap, Kerios Wahlang was fascinated with theatre and some of his songs even featured in the drama performances. It was in 1978-79 that he ventured into a professional singing career through the platform of All India Radio, Shillong and later even in Doordarshan Shillong. Almost all of his songs were based on nature and culture of the people, though he also composed a few love songs and philosophical compositions as well. It was also since his school days that he had composed and sung his own songs. His soulful singing style endeared him to many and soon he was invited to perform on many prestigious events outside the state. Kerios Wahlang also pickedup the skill of playing the Duitara, a two stringed musical instrument which he henceforth always played while singing. He was known to have made his own musical instruments including the Duitara, Marynthing and other accompanying folk instruments. Expressing his love for instruments he once stated ‘I made the instruments and performed them my way, because I am not educated in music and I do not acquaint with other folk musicians’.
Over the decades Kerios Wahlang had composed hundreds of songs and few of them were featured in certain films by some reputed filmmakers. In-fact almost sixty lyrics were also found from his hand written manuscripts. H Kerios Wahlang was one of the respected elders of the organisation called ‘Seng Khasi’ a socio-cultural organisation of the Khasis. H Kerios Wahlang was a great nature lover and this love was so strong that it permeated his very existence. Till a few years ago he would be found roaming around the Mawphlang sacred grove and even walked upto the summit of Sohpetbneng peak during the annual pilgrimage festival.
For his remarkable contribution to Khasi folk music and the cultural upkeep of the land, he was felicitated by a number of organisations and institutions including the Raj Bhavan Shillong, Doordarshan Shillong, traditional institutions such as the Seng Khasi, Seng Kmie, National Institute of Technology Meghalaya, Riti Academy of Visual Arts etc.
Despite his frail health H Kerios Wahlang never failed in upholding his passion for singing about his land and its cultural ethos. Though we lost this great legend on 11th January, 2020 at the ripe old age of 94, he has left behind a legacy to cherish through generations. He is survived by four children comprising two sons and two daughters and blessed by sixteen grandchildren.
It is said that the highest tribute that we can pay to those gone away to another world is not grief but gratitude. H Kerios Wahlang’s husky, muffled and melodious voice will be forever etched in every mind and resonate sweet music in every ear. Though in his passing away, the deep sense of loss to the cultural ethos of this land is palpable; we are sure that his tremendous contribution to the folk music of this land will be gratefully remembered for generations to come and hopefully in the years ahead his footsteps will also be emulated by the true music lovers of this land and people.
Ka Jingshai pays its humble tribute to this benevolent legend. May his soul rest eternally in peace.
Presently an Administrator of Women’s College Higher Secondary Shillong. Has been a Radio Jockey in All India Radio and a News Reader and Moderator of Doordarshan Shillong for over 25 years. Also the Co-Convener of Indian National Trust of Art and Cultural Heritage INTACH, Meghalaya Chapter.