A family that prays together, stays together, goes the old adage. It has now found a new meaning with the Chullai family (father and son) and their band from Meghalaya, who ‘play together’.
The North East is a hotbed of talent and it’s no wonder that a band from the small hilly town of Jowai, nestled in the Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya, has bagged this year’s Mahindra Blues Band Hunt, cutting across several blues bands across the country and claiming a chance to play at the Mahindra Blues Festival, this year.
Quiet Storm is the latest to join the list of winners of the Mahindra Blues Hunt. Three bands were shortlisted for the finale that took place a week before the Mahindra Blues Festival. The final event was held at the True School of Music in Lower Parel, Mumbai. Judged by Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa, the winners got the chance to perform at the Garden Stage of Mahindra Blues Festival 2020 at Mehboob Studios, Mumbai, on 8th and 9th February.
The Homegrown Blues Collective, a specially created line-up comprising some of India’s best-known blues artistes, saw bands like Shillong’s Soulmate guitarist Rudy Wallang with his band member Tipriti Kharbangar singing songs like The Way We Are and Set Me Free in her distinct style.
A regular every year, guitarist Warren Mendonsa of Blackstratblues had an outstation commitment and gave the fest a miss, though a video of his Blues For Gary was played.
The fest also saw vocalists Rohit Lalwani, Arinjoy Sarkar (of last year’s Mahindra Blues Band Hunt winner The Arinjoy Trio) and Kanchan Daniel taking turns. Overall, it was the perfect showcase for the blues in India.
Now back to Quiet Storm… the band was formed in 2018 when Starly saw the unique talent of his son, guitarist Ian and nephews, Dami (guitars) and Sam (drums). Soon the four began to work on original materials in Starly’s jam room.
Their musical influences range from Buddy Guy and BB King to Janis Joplin. In the past, they’ve also shared the stage with incredible musicians such as Ehsaan Noorani, Rudy Wallang, Lou Majaw, and have also recorded sessions with Ribor Mb and 4th Element (a talented Khasi session musician and founder-cum-frontman of 4th Element).
Starly Chullai, 40, has been a guitarist and vocalist for over 20 years and an integral part of a plethora of bands as a session guitarist. As a family band, Starly is in control, but tries to avoid putting the pressure on the boys who are almost half his age. “Do what you love and love what you do,” is how Starly puts it to them. “Work hard, have patience, be truthful, maintain discipline, because music teaches everyone how to maintain good attitude.”
Ian and Dami first began playing music in church, when in 2017 Starly decided it was time to break away and form a band. Ian has a lot to thank his father for, not just for being a role model, but as someone who has nurtured him from childhood. “I do look up to him as my role model in moulding my career, because he’s the one who introduced me to play the blues and I’ve seen he’s a hardworking man. He taught me how to play the guitar and he’s the only person that I can rely on,”says Ian.
While Ian and Dami are still students,Starly and Sam are self-employed.The magic of the quartet comes even though the youngsters are new to the genre, but have adapted to it with practised ease with all four contributing on vocals. “They just clicked and they knew the time was right to bring back the blues, R&B, soul, funk and blues rock alive,” says Starly.
While their songs kick up quite a storm of swing and blues, the band’s name stands for something they feel within themselves. “The name Quiet Storm stands for patience and doing what you love deep inside quietly, but with passion and dedication,” explains Starly.
While their musical influences are many as mentioned earlier, they shortlist Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Luther Allison among many others. Starly credits Rudy Wallang of Soulmate for giving his band a reason and the unconvincing passion to take up the blues seriously. This determination, the urge to succeed and to make a mark, helped them overcome the obstacles to stand out and win the Blues Band Hunt by outwitting Mumbai bands Bluestackface and the Varun Singh Trio.
“Music is not all about competition, it’s only about love, being together and sharing the stage with these two bands like brothers. We all know that music is an endless process,” says Starly, adding that the quartet is all set to release original material this year, starting with the song The Road I’m On, that talks about a person’s past life addictions and his tryst with change to become a better person.
As young boys playing the blues, the younger members feel fortunate to be embraced by the community.The band also dabbles in R&B, soul, funk and blues rock. “Sometimes we do shift to pop for a change,” adds Sam.
With every song they sing, the band admits that they are learning something new each day and trying to take a hold of it. “Blues is the root of all types of music and every player can express his own feelings with his own uniqueness,” states Starly who hopes to make his band a travelling band.
According to them, the blues in India is expanding day by day. “People in Meghalaya love the blues and the blues in Meghalaya is growing, too,” says Starly, who was excited to be able to pull off a knockout set at the festival.
And why not, for the band is on a mission to keep the blues not just alive, but thriving.