Monthly Archives: April 2010

Shillong’s Bob Marley tribute fest into 15th year

“My music will go on forever. Maybe it’s a fool say that, but when me know facts me can say facts. My music will go on forever.” Bob Marley – June, 1975

I guess even the legendary Rastafarian did not know the amount of truth the words he uttered more than three decades back held. For Bob Marley – undoubtedly one of the greatest reggae artistes to have ever walked this earth – would not have imagined how hard his fans all across the globe would strive to carry forth his legacy. The extent, I guess, can be judged by a musician from our own region who has left no stone unturned to pay obeisance to his idol.

You have guessed it right. I am talking about the Northeast’s very own Rastafarian Keith Wallang – the man behind the much popular Bob Marley Tribute fest. Inspired by the words and music of Bob Marley, this annual event was started by Springboard Surprises way back in 1996 in Shillong. The only musical event of its kind in the country, the Bob Marley tribute made a debut with the audience of reggae and Marley lovers from Shillong and Guwahati.

Bob Marley or Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley was born on February 6, 1945. He was the front man, songwriter and guitarist for the Ska-reggae bands The Wailers (1964–1974) and Bob Marley & The Wailers (1974–1981). Marley was responsible for spreading the Jamaican Ska/Reggae style of music and the Jamaican ‘religion’, the Rastafari movement to the world. Bob Marley’s best known hits include ‘I Shot the Sheriff’, ‘No Woman, No Cry’ and ‘Redemption Song.’ He has, with The Wailers and the Bob Marley & The Wailers about 15 studio albums and a score other compilations, live albums and recordings. The compilation, Legend (1984), released three years after his death, is reggae’s best-selling album.

The Bob Marley fest in Shillong has had a humble beginning. As Keith himself says, “We surely had a humble beginning in 1996 with only one band playing Bob’s songs and reggae and all the other artists singing songs they liked to a audience of only about a hundred people.” But over the years, through word of mouth and media coverage, this lively reggae event has grown drawing audiences not only from the region but also from around the country. The festival is now into its 15th year.

Last year was a major leap for the festival for it crossed borders for the first time since its inception. Having become almost like a home-grown festival, the festival moved out of Shillong for the first time to enthral reggae lovers and Marley fans in Imphal. Held on the iconic Rastafarian’s birthday on February 6 at the Iboyaima Shumang Leela Shanglen, the event had seen performances by the Roots Reggae Band from Shillong, Daniel Boko from Itanagar, Rewben Mashangva from Ukhrul, Dymsal from Shillong, Phuningding from Karbi Anglong, Sarah Lee from Shillong, Jerry Sailo from Mizoram and X Cannibals from Imphal.

This year, the festival had moved into Dimapur as well with Bob’s birthday being celebrated in Jumping Bean cafe of Dimapur. “We specially wanted to bring in a taste of Reggae music to Nagaland which has never been done before, or has been attempted but received poorly. We hope to make this an annual thing if it kicks off well with the audience here in Dimapur,” said Jumping Bean’s proprietors Sarah Pongen and Nokcha Aier.

But today, after a hiatus of three years, the festival is back to Shillong once again. The 15th annual BOB MARLEY tribute concert will be held in Tango today with Live Marley music by the Roots Reggae Band featuring Andrea, Amit, Elaine, Jeremy, Keith, Mup, Ribor, Sarah, Scarllet.

The celebration has truly grown.

Europe beckons rock bands of Northeast India

Rock bands of the Northeast, especially Guwahati, couldn’t have had it better. A chance of a lifetime awaits them today if they can perform and impress a panel of judges selected from Guwahati and Shillong.

The Honorary Consul General of Montenegro in collaboration with KMP SKALE, the organizers of the Suncane Skale International Music Competition and festival in Montenegro, is organizing the first ever India rounds of the Suncane Skale Festival in New Delhi. As a gesture of goodwill with India, KMP SKALE has assured the wining artist from India the chance to participate in the International Music Competition and Festival to be held in Montenegro on 7, 8 and 9 July in Herceg Novi this year.

You might be wondering as to what possible attraction a music festival in far away Europe could possibly have for bands in Northeast India. Well, interest it definitely holds for a challenge is now open to the Indian artists.

Informing about the event, Janice Darbari, the Consul General of Montenegro-India, says, “Will the Indian musicians, artists and singers be able to compose an excellent song to win the competition in the International Music Festival in Montenegro and become the ‘song of the Summer’ of the entire Adriatic coast, the Balkans and Europe? For if they can, they will get the chance to perform live in Europe!”

NEZCC programme in-charge Oliver Rai, a musician himself, tells me, “This competition gives an opportunity to Indian music artists not only to enter the world of Balkan music and make a breakthrough in Europe but also holds an opportunity to win the New Stars Evening, which is held on the second day of the festival.” More than 1000 songs are performed every year by artists from all over Europe in this international music festival in Montenegro.

The good news for Indian bands is that a special audition has been organized for the bands of the region today. The bands selected here will be sent to Delhi where they will perform live, and the winner would then be sent to participate in the Suncane Skale International Music Competition and Festival in Montenegro.

This is a chance the rock outfits and independent musicians and composers of the Northeast should not miss. For the chance to enter Europe awaits them. The audition will be held today at Shilpgram from 3 pm in the afternoon and a expert panel of judges will select the best of the lot. Around 25 bands from different parts of the Northeast, including States like Nagaland, Sikkim, etc, have already confirmed their participation till now. Who knows the next Europe sensation may very well be from our own Northeast!

When a river cries…

An installation art work and performance on river pollution was recently performed by noted artist Debananda Ulup in the Uzanbazar Ferryghat area of the city.

debananda ulup

the play

While the performance was conceptualised and directed by Debananda Ulup himself, a number of artistes from Assam as well as other States participated in the project. While the script was written by Prodyot Pran Saikia, the other participants who supported Ulup were Lalita Umbown, Umakanta Sonowal, Khanin Chaliha, Rimjim Deka, Indrajit Nath and Khirod Neog. Besides Ulup, the participants from Assam were Bhaskar Hazarika, Samiran Deka and Pravin Mech. Artist Dorendra Singh from Manipur, on the other hand, arranged his programme at Manipuri Basti. The participants at the camp hailing from outside the North-east were Prayash Abhinav (Banglaore), Sharmila Samant (Mumbai), Showket Kajoo (Srinagar) and Sambhavi Singh (Patna/New Delhi).

The performance conceived by Ulup was highly interactive in nature with the artist drawing various aspects of the River Brahmaputra to signify the extent of river pollution in our lives. The sole prop was the carcass of fish, while actors in different costumes operating at the behest of a script provided the framework for the entire performance.

Amidst the lined-up canvases containing the fish skeletons, a black-attired man symbolizing ‘pollution’ was shown to be attacking a woman, who represented the ‘River’. Ulup dressed the woman in traditional Singpho attire, making a lot of subtle hints. As he says, “As the Singpho community hailed from the upper reaches of the River Brahmaputra, the traditional garment comprised a subtle reference to the downward flow of the river. Secondly, the ‘River’ (enacted by Lalita Umbown) hummed a poignant tune in the Singpho language at a later stage of the show. This was done by the artist keeping in mind, on one hand, the universality of music, and on the other, the pure effect that a song in an uncommon language might have on the people watching the event.”

All in all, a commendable effort to revive public art in the region.

‘I want to travel and click every part of the Northeast’

If you thought that photography was all about capturing that perfect moment, you better think once again. Ace photographer Arif Siddiqui feels that the mission behind his photographic messages is just as important as the images themselves.

Arif Siddiqui is a civil engineer by profession. But alongside his construction activities, he also has another mission to fulfil: to project the myriad and rich cultural traditions of the Northeast through his photographs and prove that the region is not all about violence. Based in the small hamlet of Nampong in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh, Arif Siddiqui is an ardent nature photographer who has been striving to unravel the elegance and splendour of the State, as well as the entire Northeast, to the world outside.

A giant in the realm of photography, Arif Siddiqui’s photographs are literally a visual treat. His candid shots of Arunachal Pradesh and its people, through which he recites their history, legends, hopes, and aspirations, have gone on to adorn the pages of countless coffee-table books, newspapers, tabloids, prestigious publications and journals – both in the country and abroad. And the best part is that he does all this, not for the sake of professional gains, but to show the world the “incredible nature of the Northeast”.

Arif Siddiqui

Receiving the Governor's award

green paddy fields of assam

I recently had an absorbing conversation with the ace photographer and activist. Following are excerpts:

Aiyushman: Is your passion for photography limited to capturing the perfect photograph?

Arif: Besides capturing the elegance of North East, I also endeavour to project the myriad tradition and culture that the seven sisters follows. The rest of India, thinks the North East to be one of the most violent part of country. Well, with my photography, I would elongate the message – no, it’s not. Tell me, where in the country can an amicable smile win a lifetime of friendship?

Aiyushman: If not Arunachal, where would you want to be to practise your passion i.e. photography?

Arif: I can’t thinks of any place other then the North East. The elegance of Arunachal has invoked in me the passion for photography.

Aiyushman: You have been bestowed with the Governor’s award…

Arif: Awards don’t generate any interest in me but the curiosity and admiration of the younger generation does. It gives me the satisfaction that an award never can. I’m also content that my art has been able to bring Arunachal Pradesh in particular, and the North East in general, to the notice of nature aficionados through the various national and international publications that have published my photographs.

Aiyushman: What role does technical expertise and equipment play in capturing the perfect shot?

Arif: I do agree that gears give the perfect shape & mood to the scene and environment. But no expertise is needed to capture the innocence and beauty of Northeast, it’s already there.

Aiyushman: Your experiences of Arunachal?

Arif: Arunachal being my second home, I have only good memories to cherish. I’m amazed how diverse culture and tradition mingles and co-exist harmoniously out here. Every inch of the magnificent land gives a different experience. Even I am worried to how I can live without the North East after my retirement.

‘The news is yet to sink in’

Film on Konyak headhunters selected for Cannes film festival

The word has been going around the last couple of weeks about a short film from Nagaland, Last of the tattooed head hunters, has been selected for the prestigious Cannes festival. Since this is the first time that a film from the Northeast has being selected for the festival, Last of the tattooed head hunters has indeed created a landmark for the people of the Northeast, especially the State of Nagaland. The film was selected in the short film corner of the festival.

The film, which is based on the head hunting practice of the Konyak Nagas, has been directed by Vikeyena Zao under the banner of Hawksbill productions. I chanced to meet the young director at her Beltola residence yesterday and I was amazed to learn that the film also has an Assamese connection: the 15-minute long documentary has been produced by Indrajit Narayan Dev – Vikeyeno’s husband and a national-award winning short filmmaker-researcher himself. The script has been written by Air Cdr (Retd) DJ Sharma, an airforce veteran who is extremely well-versed in the region’s history and ethnography of the people.

Last of the tattooed head hunters is an attempt to capture the glorious head-hunting tradition of the Konyak Nagas. One of the fiercest among all the Naga tribes, the Konyak Nagas continued the practice till the end of the twentieth century. “The film is based on the ritualistic details connected with the head hunting tradition of the Konyaks, with attempts also being made to project their traditions and ancient customs. The principle reason for making this film is to tell the people about the tattooed head hunters before they are gone,” said Vikeyeno Zao.

Today, the Konyaks like most of the Naga tribes are Christians. With the advent of modernity into their lands the young generation have all but forgotten their past traditions and culture and are forward looking along with the rest of the world. However a dilemma faces these brave and hardy people today, and it is a political one. Vikeyeno explains, “In 1972, when the international border between India and Myanmar was demarcated, the border was drawn right through their villages, and even through their homes. No consideration was given to the rights of the Konyaks to live as one people in one country. Today their wish to live as a homogeneous tribe face an uncertain future. This documentary film aims to project the Konyaks in their homeland, their traditions and ancient customs and their plight today and a presentation to the world about these last tattooed Konyak Naga Tribes before they are gone forever.”

The scriptwriter Air Cdr (Retd) DJ Sharma further elaborates, “The aim is to highlight the Konyak Nagas and their practice. It is easy to label them as savages but we should try to examine the reasons for them following this practice. Headhunting is even prevalent in countries like America but over here it was more of an act of self-preservation. The Konyak villages, which now fall on the international border with Myanmar, were located in a hostile area and they were surrounded by hunters as fierce as them. It was an act of counter-defence for them. With the passage of time, the Konyak people have also moved on embracing new sources of livelihood like agricultural cultivation. An area that we have tried to examine is how they have survived this length of time and that too in an area lacking in resource, which is something we should all try and understand.”

A veteran soldier, Air Cdr (Retd) DJ Sharma is an alumni of the Airforce War College and is deeply interested in the battlefields of Northeast India. He has also fought in the 1971 war.

For Vikeyeno and her husband Indrajit Narayan Dev, who produced the film, the selection of the film in the Cannes film festival is yet to sink in. As Vikeyeno says, “We are deeply honoured even though the news is yet to sink in. When we first heard the news, we thought someone was playing a prank on us. But we are glad that our hard work has paid off.” Her filmmaker husband Indrajit Narayan Dev, who has probably made the highest number of short films in the region, adds, “You don’t know what door will open for us now,” says Dev. Incidentally, Dev is also one of the descendents of the Chilarai clan of the Koch Royal family.

Garo rock band believes in power of music

One of the most successful bands to have come out from the Northeast in recent times is Northwind – a hardrock band from Tura. Formed by a group of friends in the Garo Hills to practice their love for music, Northwind had grown exponentially since then, a result of dedicated practice and dedication of the band members towards their music. With more than 30 Original Compositions (OC’s) in Garo and English and a live album to their credit, the band dedicates their journey to the power of music. As a member says, “It’s the power of music that has carried us so far. It’s part of our life and not a single day has gone without it.”

The present line-up of Northwind reads something like this: Reynold Sangma (vocals), Dolrich Marak (Bass), Tete Momim (Guitars), Britto Marak (Drums), and Dipu Marak – one of the binding forces of the band who acts as the manager and sound engineer. I recently had a discussion with Dipu on the live music scene of the Northeast and we got around talking about Northwind. Following are excerpts:

AD: When the band was formed?

Dipu: Northwind was formed at Tura in the year 2002 when me, my brother and some other friends for around to practice our mutual love for music. We all enjoyed our music and Jamming together. Thus, Northwind was born.

AD: Tell me about your album.

Dipu: We had recorded eight Garo songs for our first album, Gangbo Nokma. Besides, we have more than 30 Original Compositions in Garo and English. Two of our compositions have also been featured in The Northeast Today’s Great Eastern Rock Cd Vol 1 and 2.

AD: Where has the band performed till now?

Dipu: We have been performing in a number of prestigious venues in the region. We performed thrice in the Shillong Autumn Fest in Umiam, Hornbill National Rock Contest, Rock-O-Phonix (Alcheringa) at IIT Guwahati, the Guiness World Record Guitar Ensemble at Shillong, the Tsunami aid concert at Tura besides performing many times for DDK, Tura and during the DDK Golden Jubilee celebrations in Tura. We also created history by becoming the first band from Garo Hills to open for the Mr. Big Reunion concert in Shillong.

AD: How would you rate the rise of Northwind?

Dipu: The rise of the band has been phenomenal, as we have been loved by the public. Though we could not win anything as a band, our members have gone on to win individual prizes. Jeetu Marak was awarded the Best Bass Guitarist at Hornbill National Rock Contest 2007 and Dolrich Marak was awarded the Best Lead Guitarist at Rock-O-Phonix Alcheringa at IIT Gwahati 2008.

AD: The music scene of the region has undergone a massive shift in recent times. What are your comments?

Dipu: The music scene here is improving with many capable, talented and promising young bands are coming up almost every week. We were earlier able to count the number of bands in Manipur, Nagaland and Meghalaya on our fingertips, something which is no longer possible. The quality of music has also gone through a massive overhaul in the past decade with the availability of good quality guitars, drums, effects processors and accessories. But even today, it is really very difficult to practice as we do not have proper rehearsal rooms and practice studios. Since we practice in a residential area, there are times when we have to rehearse and somebody in the locality is having exams and sometimes somebody is sick or something…

Taking Kokborok to the globe

A film from Tripura has bagged the first national award for the State this year. I am talking about the much acclaimed Kokborok film, Yarwng (Roots), which was bestowed with the 56th National Film Awards at a function held in Vigyan Bhavan recently.

The film was produced by Joseph Kizhakechennadu and was directed by Father Joseph Pulinthanath. Both are priests of the Don Bosco mission and Yarwng was their second film. The duo received their award from Indian president Pratibha Patil. Pulinthanath, dressed in a white cassock, and Kizhakechennadu, in his preferred saffron lungi and half-sleeved white kurta, were among the 52 film award winners of 2008, including high-profile Bollywood actor Priyanka Chopra and the doyen of Indian cinematography VK Murthy. It should be mentioned that Murthy was bestowed with the highest honour in Indian cinema this year – the Dada Saheb Phalke Award.

A host of ministers, bureaucrats and other top officials accompanied the president during the award ceremony.

The award-winning 95-minute long feature film, Yarwng (Roots), tells the story of large-scale displacement of tribal people that took place in the tiny Northeastern State of Tripura when a hydel-project was set up there in the late 1970s. Yarwng was the opening film at the prestigious Indian Panorama section of the 39th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) at Panaji in November 2008.

According to the filmmakers, the script of Yarwng emerged from the numerous encounters they has with displaced people in the sanctity of their ramshackle homes. “All the incidents and emotional turmoil we see in the film were etched in the subconscious psyche of the people. All we did was to get close to them and feel their stories as they recalled them with looks, sighs, tears and also words,” recalled the priest director, who brought Tripura its first national award with the film.

“Although the technical team came from Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala) and the support team from Guwahati (Assam), the best part of the production was the involvement of the local people,” says producer Kizhakechennadu who claims cinematic traditions from his legendary relative John Abraham, a genius in Malayalam cinema and founder of a people’s cinema movement called Odessa.

The cast of `Yarwng`, which New York Times described as a `rare glimpse into tribal India`, is made up mostly of indigenous people who are themselves victims of displacement and had no experience whatsoever in acting. The crew list included noted actors like Meena Debbarma, who plays the lead role of Karmati, Amulya Ratan Jamatia, Nirmal Jamatia and Surabhi Debbarma. The other members of the crew, including the technical part, also had a lot of people from Tripura. The award for Yarwng has provided a major boost to the film industry there. Taking Kokborok to the international level, the film has done justice to the language and people, promoting the language, culture, and its people worldwide.

Yarwng has travelled across film festivals throughout the entire country and has been screened in most of the major cities of the world, including cities like New York, Brisbane, Moscow, Taipei, Stuttgart and Dhaka. Yarwng has also won a Special Jury Mention Award at the 3rd Eye Asian Film festival held in Mumbai in 2008.

The film, which has been partly financed by Church organizations – Missio Germany, Signis and the Salesian Congregation, is also a compelling testament to the commitment of the Church and the Don Bosco Society towards the preservation and development of local and indigenous people and cultures.