TODAY -

Another musical voice stilled: Remembering Kuki iconic singer Benny Khongsai

John Phaltual *

 Kuki iconic singer Benny Khongsai
Kuki iconic singer Benny Khongsai



Another giant of music in Manipur has gone and his fans are in mourning. It is with profound sorrow I wrote that legendary songwriter and artist, Benny Khongsai has passed away. Honestly, I don't want to write an obituary. I just want to write to remember the iconic singer of our time.

Benny Khongsai, the legendary singer who lent his mellifluous voice across thousands of the Bnei Menashe tribes of Kuki, Mizo, Zomi and Chin in India and across the world died on 1 February, 2021 in Imphal Sky hospital after a months-long battle with heart complications.

Some of the Kukis biggest artists count Benny among their influences. Of all the great singer-songwriters of our generation - Benny Khongsai -is obviously one of the most self-absorbed. He was one of the many artists who can be cooler, admire more, and more often listen to, and more original artists. Everything that everybody loves about Benny is already there in his music.

Last month, recording in 'Jam session' with host Muanlal Tunglut was his last music studio event. Interestingly enough, Benny's 1983 first ever composed song "Kilungsetna mitcho" which never was recorded in a studio was recorded in that jamming session. In a strange kind of way, the artist first song becomes his closing song.

His first album "Chung Chollha a Hung Vah Kit tai" was released in 1983. Benny composed roughly 200 songs which includes the classic Kukis songs "Jan pung 8-9"; "Khen louding aw guol"; "Vangkhojol"; "Nangla jinga" and "Pathen siemkhel lanu."

At that time, musicians would be recorded as they played or sang in real time, and the performance would be captured directly on master cassettes. It was the pre-digital tape recorder cassettes era.

His music, the stuff he made in the 80s, is the music of adolescence, self-seriousness mixed with a poetic expression of romantic love. With the lyrics entwined in social message and human images that which cannot be put into words and which cannot remain silent is quite a testament in itself. He was one lonely songbird piercing the wall of silence with his stunning serenade.

I remember first listening to his music from a friend's house and that time in was a reel cassette recorder. Frankly, I was not so much to local music as my musical genre's soul is crafted to western molds, but I knew even then I was engulfed in his unique voice type the soprano and high pitch tenor.

Mass mourning over celebrity deaths is not just a current-generation phenomenon- the internet and social media accelerate and amplify how fans process profound visceral sorrow. Many fans have a story to tell about the legend, from his early days till his last day.

Revisiting these memories again and again can feel nostalgic, and the most sensational uniqueness of his voice and talents will reverberate for many years to come. The icon has reshaped the music culture from the acoustic guitarist folk songs to the modern techno tribal music culture.

The most amazing fact of his life is his religiosity. Benny remarkably was deeply a religious man, devoted husband and a caring father. As followers of Judaism religion, he keeps his Jewish faith openly till his last breath.

His Jewish faith is back in the spotlights as his burial rites were done according to Jewish traditions. Benny commonly wears a baseball cap or a Kippah (Skullcap worn by Jewish men), follows all the Jewish dietary laws, observes the Sabbath on Saturday, and keeps all the traditional Jewish festivals.

Along the way, Benny Khongsai touched dozens of lives and made believers out of skeptics who said a secular singer was an Orthodox Jew. And he would just be the kind who would say with his big smile, "Music is about the human voice expressing the emotions of the souls for all faith."

Honestly spoken, he expressed deep longing for Jerusalem (Israel), and like the psalmist's longing for this place he went about singing in every religious event.

Goodbye old brother! See you down the road. May your soul find peace and be bound up in the bond of life.


* John Phaltual wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at yochananyy(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on February 02 , 2021 .



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