Monthly Archives: December 2010

‘Northeast had less of phoren and more of desi in 2010’

For a region known for its fascination with rock, 2010 was a bit of a dampener in the Northeast because of the absence of performances of international bands worth reckoning; a major reason being the lack of viable venues and the closing down of some of the previous ones. But despite it all, the music calendar of the region was packed to the brim this year, marked by the emergence of a lot of new local talents thanks to the fast emerging pub rock scene. Another interesting development that could be witnessed here was the re-emergence of folk or experimental music as a preferred choice of music fans here.

Talking about experimental music, the ICCR-sponsored performance of Mexican singer Jaramar in Guwahati was one of the most notable. Jaramar, who feeds on her traditions to create a deeply personal music, was part of a unique fusion experience in Guwahati where she incorporated Mexican music with the Indian Sarangi, Flute and Tabla. Wvoath – a folk-fusion band of the Lepcha community of Sikkim – tops the list among the new home-grown experimental bands.

As it is with other parts of the country, metal has become the preferred genre for the youth in most States of the Northeast. Judging from that angle, a number of prolific bands have indeed touched base here this year. Mention can be made of outfits like Swiss folk metal band Eluveite that performed in IIT – Guwahati’s annual cultural fest ‘Alcheringa’ in the month of February. For the uninitiated, Eluvietie is presently raging across the European folk metal circuit, with its authentic bend of Celtic folk music and melodic death metal. With a wide population of metalheads spread over the region, the band’s performance in Guwahati was definitely worth reckoning. One also remembers the performance of DeProfundis – a UK-based death metal band that performed in the city towards the fag end.

While the overall music scenario is most of the States does not appear to be too rosy and can be said to have even gone down from previous years, a significant development could be noticed in the emergence of pub gigs which have caught the fancy of music lovers in most of the States. Besides serving as a potent launching pad for new artistes, these places have also witnessed performances by some visiting artistes and bands. In Guwahati, mention can be made of Cafe Hendrix, the Rockarolla Pub Rock gigs held at Cafe Blues and the gigs organized at Traffic Bar and the Basement Jaxx. While Nagaland has a number of lounge bars that organize such shows, Tango Lounge is the chief organizer of gigs in Shillong. Jumping Bean Cafe, Cafe Hiyo, Cafe Destination and Dream Cafe are some of the most popular lounge bars in Nagaland that organizes such independent musical events.

To provide a State-wise break-up of the music scene, Nagaland – the only State to have a clear-cut music policy – remains the most proactive among all the State governments. That should not come as a surprise when we take into cognizance the fact that it is probably the only government in our country to have dedicated an entire governmental wing in the form of the Music Task Force (MTF) for the promotion and propagation of music in its land. The Music Task Force, led by its project director Gugs Chishi, has indeed been doing a commendable job in pursuing the objectives it has been set up for.

One of the most successful initiatives of the Music Task Force would be the Hornbill Rock competition, which is being projected as the mother of all rock competitions in India. With a huge prize money of more than Rupess 10 lakhs dedicated for local rock bands of the country, I don’t see any reason why they should not get that tag. The Hornbill rock competition is organized as part of the annual week-long traditional Hornbill festival of Nagaland. Twenty top bands from all over the country participated in this year’s competition, which saw Slain (Bengaluru) walk away with the winners trophy of Rs. 5 lakhs. Traditional music, dance, food and the best of rock – Hornbill truly is a festival not to be missed!

Talking of traditional festivals, music has become an inseparable component of the many such festivals organized in the region. One can talk about the Autumn festival of Shillong, the Sangai festival of Manipur, Cherapunjee festival of Meghalaya, etc. All these festivals had a host of prolific musicians performing therein. For instance, Indus Creed, who are presently on their re-union tour, had Cherapunjee as one of the venues and watching their performance, all one can say is that they are much stronger than ever before. The other bands who performed in Cherrapunjee were Blues-rock band Soulmate, Shillong-based bands Colours and Snowwhite, Japanese Buddhist monk Gyomyo Nakamura, experimental rock band Abiogenesis, multiphronic chant master Lama Tashi, Delhi-based singer-songwriter Sushmit Bose, amongst others. Nakamura, for those who don’t know him, is a Buddhist monk who lives in India for most of the year and who is also a rock musician with insane guitar skills!

Besides these frequent gigs and festivals, another significant development would be the emergence of music being used as a social tool for peace and reconciliation. The lead in this regard has been taken by the Eastern Beats Music Society – one of the foremost bodies of musicians, music lovers, artists and activists. From streets shows and jamming sessions to the much hyped 2nd Karbi Anglong national beats, this society has been really reaching out to people in the hinterland, showing the healing and nurturing qualities of music. The Karbi Anglong Beats is an unique attempt to promote village bands as well as channelize the energy of youth in a positive direction. Ten top bands from across the country had participated in the second edition of this contest that was held in a insurgency and ethnic-violence hit area, and which was incidentally Assam’s first national rock contest. Dementia from Nagaland walked away with the winner’s trophy while Cleave from Manipur finished a close second. Talking about the use of music as a social tool, one also remembers the efforts of the Haflong Music Association which had actually dared to organize a peace concert in the middle of strife-torn Haflong town of NC Hills! Brave souls who have shown the immense healing power of music!

While the region continued to host its annual music festivals, like the Lou Majaw-led Bob Dylan celebration in Shillong, the club circuit of the region also had some prolific musicians performing in their midst; litterateur and experimental vocalist Amit Choudhury, Indian Ocean, santoor player Rahul Sharma, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, KK, being a few of them. A few musicians and groups from the region have also established their hold firmly in the independent industry in the mainland and abroad this year. Talking on these lines, how can we forget the performance of the Shillong Chamber Choir that is presently raging across the South-east Asian choir circuit? This group, which performed for visiting US president Barack Obama after winning India’s Got Talent and gold medals in the World Choir competition, had it coming for a long time now and it is of much pleasure that Bah Neil Nongkynrih and his troupe finally got their due. The Angarag ‘Papon’ Mahanta-led East India Company is also proving a point, having performed in the cultural evening of the Commonwealth Games.

A melange of performances but when it comes to the audience, the response is loud and clear: We want more!

Christmas in Nagaland House, Guwahati

Naga Christian Fellowship pastor Senti Naga, former DRC of Nagaland House Bijaya Chettri and present DRC Maria Yanthan inaugurating the pre-christmas celebration at Nagaland House.

Indian harmonica player blazing across international Blues circuit


For harmonica players of the country, who have long been relegated to the shadows, there is now a reason to smile. A fellow musician has done the fraternity and the entire country proud by winning a international music competition. I am talking about Aki Kumar, who recently released album, Tip of The Top, won the SF Bay Area edition of the International Blues Challenge last Sunday. Aki and the team are now on their way to Memphis as the official Bay Area representatives at the International Blues Challenge next year.

Though hailing from our very own Mumbai, very little is known of Aki in the Indian music circuit. But this young man has been blazing across certain influential quarters of the global music circuit with his harmonica. His latest album – Tip of the Top – had been earning rave reviews from people all over before it won the prestigious title last Sunday. And to make it all the more merrier, he also got the chance to open for Blues legend Robert Cray at Fox Theater in Redwood City last Friday.

Aki – short for Akarsha Kumar – was born and raised in Mumbai before he moved to the States. His initial middle-class roots and the subsequent Silicon Valley credentials do present an unlikely backstory for one of India’s finest Blues harmonica players. Talking about his introduction to the world of music, he reminisces, “While neither of my parents were formal musicians, they exposed me to the world of music at a very early age. I remember music playing around the house since my childhood days – be it jazz, classical, Hindustani or classic Bollywood oldies.”

His tryst with the harmonica, however, was not planned. As he says, “After moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, I pursued a successful career in the high-tech industry but deep down I knew something was amiss. I picked up the harmonica to join an informal musical group with a few colleagues, but soon found a richer appreciation for the instrument and the raw, emotive power of American blues.” After exhausting the available avenues for self-study in print and online, he decided to pursue formal studies under David Barrett, a blues harp (harmonica) virtuoso and one of the most authoritative sources of information on the subject. Aki was also very fortunate to discover a thriving music community in the SF Bay Area, one that included modern Blues harp legends Gary Smith, R.J. Mischo, Andy Just, Mark Hummel and Rick Estrin, among others.

As a fellow musician Abe noted: “Aki’s progress from an enthusiastic student of the blues to a dynamic stage performer has been rapid, earning him recognition as a rising blues star. In the last few years he has appeared with some of the premier blues artists in the area, including Kid Andersen and Earl Thomas. He has also shared the stage with some of the finest contemporary harmonica players alive: Gary Smith, Rick Estrin, Mark Hummel, Charlie Musselwhite, Lee Oskar and Jason Ricci.”

The album, Tip of the Top, is a collaboration with Bay Area blues veterans and has been the culmination of Aki’s journey through American roots music. The group performs vintage blues with subtle flair and a respect for the deep history of the genre. Experts and aficionados agree that only a group with raw talent and a true appreciation of the art form could produce a sound so authentic. I guessed it’s time we all cheered for our own Aki Kumar!

Raj Dweep’s debut collection

City-based journalist Raj Dweep released his debut collection of short satires in the ongoing 12th Northeast Book Fair on Thursday. The book, Guwahati.Com, which is a collection of Assamese satires, was released in an unique manner. No distinguished guest or celebrity was present to release the book but the honours were done by a group of readers and young and upcoming journalists of the state

Shillong Chamber Choir releases Christmas album

Following its high run all over the country after their win in the India’s got talent reality show on television, the Shillong Chamber Choir is presently blazing across the international circuit with concerts lined up in places like Malaysia, etc. The choir had recently performed for US president Barack Obama.

More recently, the group released its debut collection of Christmas songs. Leader of Opposition, Conrad K Sangma, released the album. Speaking at the occasion, Sangma said: “As a citizen of Meghalaya, I feel extremely proud and happy to be associated with SCC. I think the way SCC has come up in recent months speaks about itself.” Choir member Damon M Lyndem told reporters in Shillong that they will gift the album to Barack Obama.

Citing an example about the extent to which SCC has promoted Meghalaya, Sangma said that when he was recently in Kolkata for a conference, he introduced himself from Shillong to which other members said: “Oh, you’re from Shillong! That’s the home of SCC!” Apprising of SCC’s stint in India’s Got Talent–2, Sangma said that his friends from Mumbai, who are members of parliament, told him that seeing the choir win the talent show made them feel like they had won an election. “I also share a similar passion for the SCC,” he said.

The Christmas album has been produced by choir member Damon Melam Lyndem. Lyndem, spokesperson of SCC, apprised those present on the journey of the SCC since the year 2001. He also reminded of the vision of the SCC – to start a home school for underprivileged children. Meanwhile, elder sister of choir’s conductor and mentor of SCC, Neil Nongkynrih, Pauline Warjri, said that music was the only language that connected everybody.

The music album is priced at Rs. 249 and will be available at all major shops in the city. The album will also be launched in New Delhi and Mumbai at a later date.The choir is currently in New Delhi, except for Damon, who is preparing for a corporate show in Malaysia by Mahindra.

Capturing the flight to eternity

Conflicting human emotions vis-a-vis infinity of space mark Ulup’s new series

A preview of the recent works of well-known Assamese artist Debananda Ulup to be exhibited in New Delhi next month is currently underway in the Guwahati Artists Guild. The preview exhibition, which has around 25 of the artist’s works on display, was inaugurated last Thursday, with human relationships vis-a-vis space being the recurrent theme in most of the artworks.

The artist’s new approach is markedly different from his previous concepts till now. Elaborating on the reasons for this new approach towards art, Debananda says, “Eternity, the horizon, the complex and conflicting human emotions within oneself and in trans-personal relationships, all these stimulates me to wonder about the space around me, the space which is all engulfing and infinite in all possible dimensions.”

The complex nature of human relationships when compared with the complexity of space is an area which the artist wants to focus in. As he says, “When compared to the vastness of eternity the human being is a cluster that makes for just a tiny tot. But the hopes, aspirations, expectations, desires, dreams and wishes of humans travels and transcends far beyond the eternity. Human emotions transcends beyond understanding, at times, many a times, and, most of the times.”
The drive of human beings to achieve material and small-term gains depresses the artist no end and the delusion of human beings of being able to defeat time reflects in his new works. He adds, “We define humans as a species endowed with the abilities to be rational, logical, and compassionate and having a sense of purpose. But we act to the contrary. We make futile, pointless, baseless and senseless attempts to hanker after materialistic things which have no end value. Time can penetrate and travel through the strongest of the walls, we can’t. But we tend to believe that we can, we live in the delusion that we can defeat time or race ahead of it. It amazes me when we keep running after the delusional oasis throughout life. We delude.”

Music can overcome all hurdles

The occasion might have been the World Disability Day, but these special children enthralled the audience with their unique set of talent, belting out hit numbers, strumming the guitar to melodious harmony and shaking a leg to the right rhythm.

As the top names of Assamese music industry participated in a function of World Disability Day on the banks of the Dighalipukhuri in the city on Friday (December 3), the children and teenagers of Destination too displayed their musical skills to much applause from the big-wigs and the audience.

Students of Destination danced to the tunes of a popular Hindi film number ‘Ek Tara’ as their teachers and guardians fondly held their hands and guided them through the movements.

Neelotpal enthralled the audience with two songs in accompaniment of live music, making the audience swing and clap with him. His friend Rohan was not be left behind as he strummed soulful tunes on his guitar.

The programmes by these special children of Destination were punctuated by performances of professional artists.

Popular heart-throbs Zubeen, Dikshu vied for attention along with senior singers like JP Das and National Award winner Tarali Sharma. Zee TV’s dancing star Jeetumoni too put up a special performance.

But the clear favourites were the Destination students, who proved with great success that a handicap in some form cannot be a hurdle for musical excellence.

Books on ethnic Assamese cuisine released

Noted foodie Jyoti Das recently started her new series of book, Aaita, Ma aru Mur Akholar Pora with the successful release of three new collections of ethnic Assamese cuisine. The new books are Mangshor Juti, Kharor Juti and Mithar Juti.
The three books were released last week in an august gathering at the Guwahati Press Club by eminent anthropologist Dr. AC Bhagawati, noted poet Nalinidhar Bhattacharya and the author’s mother Bina Saikia.

Releasing the books, Dr. Bhagawati reminisced about his first acquaintance with the author and how she has since then been working steadfastly for the promotion and documentation of our traditional ethnic cuisine. Expressing happiness at the work of the author, the eminent anthropologist wished her the best in her future work.

Mangshor Juti is a collection of meat recipes, Kharor Juti is a collection of Khar recipes and the third book Mithar Juti has some delightful desserts to offer. “The book is the refection of a typical Assamese course. We normally begin our meals with Khar (alkali), meat is an indispensable part of our food, while we follow it up with a dessert.”

Comics Power

Children take help of comics to express their views

Comics, though apparently childish, are a highly powerful social medium, the latent qualities of which are being exploited by activists across other parts of the country. A similar venture called the Young Reporters had been launched in Dibrugarh last year. Following its successful launch, the Young Reporters initiative has been successfully replicated in Kamrup district by Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust in association with Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti and UNICEF Assam.

Under the programme, children of 20 schools in Kamrup district have been oriented on child rights and grassroots comics to highlight their issues and concerns and exercise their right to participation. Subsequently, children have developed comics on many issues concerning them and put them on public display at Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra. The objective is to highlight children’s issues and voices, and generate a discussion amongst peers and community, with a view to bringing about a change in attitudes and practices as well as programmes and services for children.

Dr (Capt.) Suchitra Kakoty, Chairperson of the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR), inaugurated an exhibition of comics drawn by school children at Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra here last Tuesday. The comics are also being exhibited at the Regional Science Centre. Appreciating the initiative, Dr Kakoty, urged the society to provide them a congenial atmosphere to develop their skills and potential. Stating that ASCPCR would always act as a watchdog for any violation of child rights, she urged the society to be vigilant and help prevent child abuse. She also
urged everyone to respect a child’s individuality and personality.

Mr Kushal Bora, Deputy Secretary, Department of Secondary Education, Govt. of Assam, said comics play a crucial role in the lives of children and cast a permanent influence till they become adults. He appreciated the Young Reporters programme and thanked the KGNMT for their support to young minds in helping develop their skills. He urged the society to create a conducive atmosphere where “young minds can blossom without any fear”.

Ms Nipurnh Gupta, Communications Officer, UNICEF Assam, said, “Through simple yet insightful comics, they have drawn attention to the lack of roads and health services in their villages, the lack of toilets, drinking water, sports in schools, the ill-effect of child labour, child marriage, alcoholism, corporal punishment and other issues.” She said that children have a right to be heard and it is now up to the duty-bearers – parents, teachers, government, civil society and media – to pay heed to children’s voices and take action to ensure children can enjoy their rights to survival, development, protection and participation. She emphasised that children have immense potential and need to be encouraged, guided and supported to participate meaningfully in their own and community’s development.

Earlier, two young reporters – Jakir Hussain, 14, and Reema Chakraborty, 14, shared their experiences of the Young Reporters programme with the dignitaries and thanked the organisations concerned for having provided them with a platform to get their voices heard.The children also presented a small skit wherein they highlighted the importance of education for young girls on the occasion. A copy of “Mukta Akaash”, a newsletter brought out by young reporters on children’s issues, was also shared with everyone present.

The Children’s Comics Exhibition also commemorated the 21st anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) which is celebrated globally and nationally as the Universal Child Rights Day on 20th November.