How an all-girl music band went a note ahead of times in 1980s Assam

In 1979, five teenagers from Nagaon formed a music band. Four decades later, a documentary tells the story of their quiet rebellion, one that led to the making of Assam’s first all-girl band.

The year was 1979 and Assam was on the brink of a movement that would come to change the course of its contemporary history. In this season of protest, five teenage girls met in a room in Nagaon, their mandolin, guitar and a pair of bongos in tow. They locked the doors, bolted the windows and drew the blinds to keep the music they made a secret from the world outside.

A few months after their first practice session, the girls — all between the ages of 15 and 16 — found themselves on stage in front of a boisterous crowd at a Puja pandal. “Girls are playing”, an incredulous member of the audience said. In the cacophony that ensued, the band members were certain no one heard their music. But it gave them enough confidence to give themselves an identity and a name: Sur Samalaya, or a medley of melodies.

Four decades later — Anjali Mahanta, the one who had got them together — chuckles at the memory. “We were young, rebellious and we wanted to do something different, something no one else was doing,” she says.

And they did. Today, Mahanta, her sister Arati, and their three friends, Kabita Nath, Sewali Lekharu and Nazma Ahmed, are the subject of Breaking The Silence, a 30-minute documentary on Assam’s first all-women modern music band.

This article was originally published in The Indian Express in December 2020. Full article here.