Tripura’s first girl band is breaking barriers—A broken guitar to India’s Got Talent

Tripura’s first girl band is breaking barriers—A broken guitar to India’s Got Talent

Amar Ghosh gave the lyrics and composed a song for the 10-member band for which they also won a state-level competition.

Meghbalika members after winning the NACO state-level competition in February | special arrangement

Meghbalika members after winning the NACO state-level competition in February | special arrangement

New Delhi: Moon Saha was devastated when her father slammed her new guitar on the wall. She had saved her lunch money and her earnings from sewing clothes to buy it. The guitar survived and years later, the music she plucked from its strings was an integral part of Tripura’s first all-girl band Meghbalika she founded in 2017.

“I had finally gathered the courage to take the guitar home after months. My father got furious and banged it in anger. It somehow got saved,” she said.  31-year-old Saha is now a musician and a businesswoman.

It took a few years and more than a few sacrifices but the 10-member band has conquered many obstacles to recently win a state-level music competition on 26 February held by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). The band has crisscrossed the Northeast performing at various festivals, contests, and the clouds.

Her mother, who was more supportive of her music career, did not always feel ready to take on the stringent opposition from the men in the family, Moon said.

With time as more and more people praised her performances on television and elsewhere, her family came around. But the snide comments from neighbours and extended family members continued. That is when Moon started thinking about a girl band, seeking acceptability in numbers. In 2016, she left her banking job, and dropped out of the masters programme in rural development.

“I started scouting social media for promising girl musicians — vocalists, instrumentals, anything. Each of these girls I have approached myself — sometimes through cold calls or messages, sometimes after hearing about them through common friends. People got together, then left for studies or personal reasons. But more people connected and the band continued,” she said.

Meghbalika (cloud girl) was officially born in 2017 with guitarist Moon, Ankita Roy (lyricist, kahon player), Ananya Sarkar (lead vocalist), Debjani Nandi (vocalist), Mammon Debnath (flautist), Jyotishree Chakraborty (keyboard),  Portia Chowdhury (keyboard), Dishari Saha & Soniya De  (drums, kahon, tabla) and Sharmistha Sarkar (keyboard). Some of the members are trained while others are self-taught.

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Family pressure, rejection of artists

Soniya, who recently gave her Class 10 boards, is the youngest member of the group. It was not easy for the young women to keep performing in a conservative society like Tripura. There was not just pressure from the families to quit but also disparaging remarks from the music fraternity. Both acceptability and recognition were slow to come and the personal toll was sometimes too high.

“We were doing something that no other girl group had tried in Tripura and there were only a few people who stood by us. Established artists were dismissive of us. We heard things like ‘You are girls, how can you perform together? Just see in a few days the band will fall apart because girls cannot get along with each other’,” said Ankita,28, a contractual employee with the Tripura government.  “We took it all in our stride and persevered. Slowly things started changing, views [on social media] started increasing and then we started getting programmes — first within the state and then outside. We just performed in Sikkim. Before that we were in Assam.”

Meghbalika in Assam | special arrangement

Ankita and Moon, who runs a small home food delivery business, are the only members of the band earning through non-musical means. The others are school and college students. The younger ones have their own hurdles to overcome but their stories get less complicated as they grow older.

Mamon, who plays the flute and is the first girl in the state to do so, lives far away from Agartala and has a Cinderella hour to adhere to every evening as she rehearses with the band. But her music has ready encouragement from her father. “People say things about me reaching home late but my family is very supportive. My father is very proud of me for playing the flute, it’s something entirely limited to boys. He has always supported me with whatever I want,” Mamon said.

But the challenges are steep for most of the band members. Two of them who did not want to be named faced the difficulty of choosing between long-term relationships and the band. Both chose the band.

“I was in a relationship for about ten years. Then in 2021, Meghbalika was selected for the television round of India’s Got Talent and my boyfriend decided that we need to get married. His family said there was no way I could do that TV programme after marriage. So, we decided to go our separate ways,” one of them said. A year or so later, the story repeated itself with another member. The IGT appearance did not work out over some differences with the channel, said a band member, refusing to go into the details.

For Meghbalika, encouragement often came from unlikely quarters. Samiran Roy, editor of Tripura Darpan, invited the band to use one of the rooms of the newspaper’s office in Colonel Chowmuhani for their rehearsals. Surrounded by the paper’s publications on topics ranging from Rabindranath Tagore to tribals of Tripura, the band assembled on a wooden bed with their instruments to spin music.

The song, Sathi Hathon mein hath rakhna, that won them the NACO contest was written and composed by lyricist and composer Amar Ghosh. 

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Fossils, Ayub Bacchu and Meghbalika

The band started out by singing hit songs of famous artists—Bengali band Fossils, Jol from Bangladesh and songs by Bangladeshi rock singer Ayub Bacchu. They would come up with their first original song in 2021. Along the way, one of the band members’ art teacher designed a logo for Meghbalika. Money from stage events started trickling in and was spent on procuring musical instruments and outfits for the band members. “We wear matching clothes for every programme we do,” Ankita said.

Meghbalika’s sartorial uniformity recently earned a unique moment when they performed on board an Indigo flight from Bagdogra to Kolkata. “We were returning from Sikkim after participating in the NACO event. We were dressed identically and had our instruments with us so the cabin crew got curious and started asking us who we were. Mid-air they asked us if we would perform. We were happy to, and people also encouraged us a lot,” Moon said. A video posted on Facebook shows a mesmerised audience listening to Meghbalika up in the clouds with many passengers recording the performance.

The band members at the recording of their song Ami shei meye | special arrangement

The band makes it a point to talk about current issues in their original songs. Ami Sei Meye talks about the challenges of being a woman in India. The song starts with Durga Stotra, a Hindu prayer, and goes on to mention rapes and violence against women, making the point about women being persecuted in a nation that worships the Goddess Durga in various forms. Their other popular number is a song of love and longing titled Ami Tai.

The band has now started doing small workshops for musicians of Tripura. At the recent workshop, the band explored the connection between the Dotara, an instrument played in villages of Tripura and West Bengal, and the Ukelele of Portuguese origin that has gained popularity in Hawaii.

The band members are acutely aware that the long-term sustainability of Meghbalika depends on how far they spread their wings beyond Tripura and beyond social media.

And there is nothing clouding their resolve.

(Edited by Ratan Priya)