Monthly Archives: April 2011

Release of Northeast India: Land, People and Culture

Nagaland Post Editor Geoffrey Yaden and NEZCC director Som Kamei releasing the coffee table book North East India: Life, Culture and People. The book has been written and edited by Aiyushman Dutta and was produced as part of a project undertaken by NEZCC, under Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

Photos: (Clockwise from left)
– Ao dance
– Tati singer,
– Guests: CCRT officer Dr. Sandeep Sharma, Eminent cultural personality and Padamshree awardee Sentila Yanger, Hope – Academy director Zubeno Mozhui
– NEZCC Director Som Kamei felicitating the author
– Lotha dance

Experimenting with heights

Kinu Kou deals with complex realities of the lives of dwarfs

What is the most likely source of dilemma that a young man or woman might be confronted with while searching for a partner? Physical looks? Or maybe his or her social standing? Background may be another reason. But I am sure that height of the would-be partner is never a dilemma for someone searching for his or her better half. And yet, this is one of the many issues that often find members of the physically handicapped dwarf community in a quandary.

This and many other such issues dealing with the joys, sufferings, dreams and complex realities of dwarfs were brought to the forefront in Pabitra Rabha’s latest play Kinu Kou, that was staged to a highly enthusiastic audience in Rabindra Bhavan on Monday evening. The play was a result of a month-long workshop conducted by Pabitra Baruah in Tangla – a small town in BTC’s Udalguri district.

Talking about the play, Pabita Rabha – a pass out from the National School of Drama in 2003 – said, “The play reveals the darkness imposed on this inferior section of society and questions the so-called distinction between perfection and odd ones. The human civilization is, no doubt, progressing but the community of dwarfs still remain away from the sunshine.”

Lights and laughter thus become the natural motifs around which the play revolves, bringing out the internal soul and basic instinct of these underprivileged people. While light can also produce deep and dark shadows, laughter too may at time be translated into heinous mockery. An interesting concept, which the director has dealt in a skilled manner, ensuring that it moves without a jerk. The beautiful costumes and the imaginative props have further lifted the production to higher aesthetic levels.

The story behind the play is equally interesting. Pabitra’s theatre group – Dapon – had brought together thirty dwarfs a month back in a bid to hone their skills and make their realise that they are inferior to none. “I have seen these people becoming victims of negligence and humiliation for no fault of theirs. It is very unfortunate that they feel shy to even come out of their homes despite being equally talented like normal people. Three years back, our theatre group decided to do something for the dwarfs in whatever way possible. It started with an intention to guide them in the various ways of life. Moreover, we wanted to let people know how traumatic life is for them.”

Rabha further says, “Our so-called project is to make the dwarfs physically, mentally and philosophically tuned for the corporate world. We want to expose the self-pity inside this discriminated human being who is lonely and terrified of emptiness.”

The play, which will now be staged in various parts of the country, however, is just a small step in Dapon’s efforts towards the psycho-physical development of the dwarf community. “The workshop and its modules have been designed to improve both the physical and mental power of the dwarf community, to help make them fit for survival. Besides vocational and theatre training, we are also organizing interaction programmes between the dwarfs and socio-cultural organizations so as to develop their powers of interaction.”

The amateur theatre group also plans to establish a permanent Physically Challenged Citizen (DWARF) village in the future.

When two worlds collide!

Songs of Mashangva traces impact of Christianity in tribal cultures through music

This is the story of two worlds – of one being overshadowed and thrown on the verge of extinction by the other. But though it is easy to diminish physical boundaries, it is not possible to suppress tradition. For culture is not static, it is constant.

This is the basic thread around which young Manipuri filmmaker Oinam Doren weaves his film, Songs of Mashangva, which is now being screened in film festivals across the world, including the Miaac Filmfest in New York, DOK Leipzig in Germany, and others. Based on the life and times of a tribal folk musician settled in the hills, the film dwells on how the inroads of Christianity has led to the destruction of a vibrant and rich cultural tradition in the hills of Northeast India, and the efforts of the protagonist to bring the people closer to their traditions through his music and folk instruments.

“It’s always the same old story. What do Christian missionaries do when they invade indigenous cultures? They ban the old gods and everything that reminds people of them: songs, language, holidays, names. And to further their aims, they raise the threat of hell. The Tangkhul Nagas in Northeast India didn’t fare any better than the tribes of South America in this respect. The disastrous missionary fervour destroyed a rich cultural heritage there, which in the case of the Tangkhul Nagas spanned more than a thousand years and which is now on the verge of final extinction,” says Doren. In his film, Doren strives to show, through Rueben Mashagnva and the language of music, that no culture is superior than the other.

In the domain of folk music, Reuben Mashangva is a name that hardly needs an introduction. This wandering minstrel, belonging to the Tangkhul Naga community, has been serenading about the joys and travails of the simple people of his community in his trademark folksy-blues fashion, resulting in the creation of an entirely new musical genre called the Naga Folk Blues. In his film, Doren shows how Rewben travels through the remote villages of the Tangkhul Nagas in the hills of Manipur to talk to the old people and collect their instruments. “He links the traditional melodies, rhythms and lyrics with his own Blues music and uses it to spread the message that there is no reason to be ashamed of one’s own culture.”

The music Rewben plays is called HAO music, derived from the name of the community before it was changed by the British. The main instruments he uses while performing are the ‘Tingtelia’, a traditional violin type instrument, which took him 7 years to modify to suit his needs, and the Yankahuii – a long traditional bamboo flute which he has now modified to be more consistent tonally. The acoustic guitar and harmonica are the other two instruments Rewben uses a lot. His son Saka, donning the traditional hairdo called Haokuirut like his father, usually accompanies him with cowbells.

Producing the script and content of a film like this on the cultural traditions of the people in the hills is a tough proposition, primarily due to the absence of any written history in place as almost all the tribes in Northeast India depended more on oral communication in the days of yore. The death of most of the elders in the tribal societies has also compounded matters further. Doren says, “The elders who are still alive are either too old to speak or settled in some remote corner which is inaccessible by modern day roads and communication forms. Moreover, no books or recordings of folk songs are available in the market or in libraries that we know of. So basically it was very raw first hand data and song recordings we collected in the process of our production.”

The filmmaking team did have some written evidence about the inroads of Christianity in the hills. We got second hand information about the arrival of Christian missionary William Petigrew in Ukhrul district in 1896 from the sons of those who studied under the reverend. We were also lucky to find a book in a Christian literature outlet ‘Forty years mission in Manipur – mission reports of Rev.William Pettigrew’ in which the reverend has written in detail about his experience with the natives, i.e. the Tangkhul nagas.”

Watching Rewben traverse the exotic landscapes amidst the lush greenery, the old Tangkhul elders singing folktales to each other while sipping rice beer besides the fireplace, women pounding rice in the traditional method and other such details, in the nostalgic rides of the director, truly proves to be a cinematic delight. The ‘dreamy-nostalgic’ sequence also has dangerous honey bees walking up and down a path, buffalo heads hung in front of old houses, crafted wooden tribal motifs in the facade of the old traditional house ‘haosym’, depicting the order of the relationship between the Tangkhul-nagas and other living organisms, trees, mountains etc.

Songs of Mashangva was shot for more than a year in different locales of Northeast India, including Shillong, Imphal, Nagaland and a number of villages in Ukhrul and Chandel district of Manipur, as also in Kolkata, Rajasthan and New Delhi. The filmmaker, Oinam Doren, is a former TV producer who left his job to pursue his passions of filmmaking and culture. Having won the Tata Fellowship in 2010 to research on Angami folk music, Doren is presently developing an international feature film project, Little Lama, with the support of the Goteborg International Film Fest. Songs of Mashangva will also be screened in the Almaty International Film Festival in Kazakhstan next month.

Of guns and poems

With guns in hand, poetry in mind. I would like to borrow this phrase coined by a senior of mine while describing Taheruddin Ahmed, an officer of the Assam Police. A prominent name in the cultural and social sector of the State, Ahmed, who has earlier dabbled in script writing, is also a poet and his debut collection of poems, Pratidhani, was released recently by Assam Sahitya Sabha vice-president Kanak Chandra Sharma.

A deligent office, Taheruddin was recently elected as the general secretary of the All Assam Policement Association. It would not be wrong to say that Taheruddin’s poetry is an extension of his role as a law enforcement office for the spirit of nationalism and his love for his country and humanity is amply reflected in his debut work. His poetry can be said to be a new approach in the use of linguistics in the fight of corruption, greed and jealousy that is predominant in today’s society. Talking about Taheruddin’s debut collection, Kanak Chandra Sarma said that the message contained in the collection was very important and required to minimize incidents of violence among different communities and disturbance by anti-social elements.”

All in all, a promising debut.

Shillong Chamber Choir starts new trend

There seems to be no stopping this band from Shillong. The Shillong Chamber Choir, who shot into llimelight following their victory in India’s got Talent and winning the Forbes Person of the Year award 2010, conducted the world’s first personalised music concert in Mumbai recently. The group’s maiden concert in Mumbai set a benchmark by becoming the first personalised concert where audiences were offered to select songs of their preference for the choir to perform at the concert. Audiences could nominate their song preferences through,

Best described as eclectic, youthful, crossover music, the repertoire of the Shillong Chamber Choir includes works of western classical greats such as Handel, Bach, Gershwin and Mozart, besides popular genres of music such as rock, retro, Hindi crossover and Khasi folk songs.

The event in Mumbai was promoted by Indigo Live, a joint venture partnership between Bengaluru-based conglomerate Jupiter Media Ventures and Red Light Management and live music promotion companies, both committed to promoting live music in India through city concerts, club performances, destination festivals and creating concepts to promote world music in india.

Indie rock ‘n’ roll band Dossers Urge crowned Meghalaya Icon 2

In a scintillating performance in the grand finale of the Meghalaya Aids Control Society (MACS) hunt for the music star of Meghalaya, Indie rock ‘n’ roll band Dossers Urge outclassed eight other bands to win the crown of Red Ribbon Superstars Meghalaya Icon 2. Winning a prize money of Rupees One lakh, the band also won a contract with MACS to generate AIDS awareness in the State. Progressive metal bands 11th Hour and Dwar were declared the first and second runners-up with prize rewards of Rupees 30,000 and 20,000 respectively.

The second edition of Red Ribbon Superstars Meghalaya Icon was an event undertaken by the Meghalaya Aids Control Society and produced by Springboard Surprises to generate AIDS awareness in different corners of the State. More than 22 bands had signed up for the competition from different corners of the State, out of which eight groups were selected for the grand finale held at the Laban Sports Ground on March 31 last.

The journey to the finals of Red Ribbon Superstars Meghalaya Icon 2 was marked by two preliminary rounds that were held at the Talents club auditorium on March 29 and 30. But not just music, the auditions were more of a comprehensive approach towards generating AIDS awareness as the bands also had to attend interactive counselling sessions with AIDS victims. Springboard Suprises director Keith Wallang, who produced the event, says, “As was mandatory, all the musical groups attended the counselling sessions that were held at the ICTC’s in their respective towns. This was done to ensure that Meghalaya Icon II was not just a music competition but a platform where the issue of HIV and AIDS could be addressed positively.”

Keith further informed that all the 22 groups who had signed up for the event had to compose a special theme song related to HIV and AIDS. “In keeping with our strategy to continuously make awareness on HIV and AIDS the centre of this whole exercise, we had all the musical groups visiting the DIC’s straight after their performances so that they all get firsthand knowledge of the real life situations from People Living with HIV (PLHIV), he says.”

judges Byeming Bareh, Muz Marak, Amarnath Hazarika

Muz Panto Marak from Tura, Byeming Bareh from Jowai, Amarnath Hazarika from Shillong and David Laitphlang from Shillong formed the panel of judges which selected the winners of Red Ribbon Superstars Meghalaya Icon 2.

Besides the three best groups, a number of individual prizes of Rupees 10,000 each were also awarded. Gregon Facon of Empirical Tribe won the best vocalist trophy, Imti Khargonkar of Dwar won the best guitarist trophy, Adrian Tlau of Dead Note picked up the award for Best Bassist, T. Gideon Kom for Best Drummer, Samboklang K. Lyngdoh of Slave Of Honour for Best Keyboardist, T. David Livingstone of Dosere’s Urge for Best HIV/AIDS song while the Anderson’s Band received a Special Prize. All the winners received a set of musical merchandise, which included a acoustic guitar, bass guitar, microphone, double bass pedal, guitar amp and keyboard, and which were sponsored by Fantas Music, Casio, Roland, Hertz and Bhargava’s Musik Pvt. Ltd.

Dossers Urge

11th hour

Red Ribbon Superstars Meghalaya Icon 2 was a grand success and undoubtedly proved the power of music and the immense scope it has in addressing issues of social importance, especially in the Northeast of India.

Photographs courtesy Baia Marbaniang & Nathaniel Majaw

Lifetime honour for Ramen Barua in Assam’s first music awards

Angarag, Tarali voted artist of the year; Joi, Pranami bag Best Debutant awards

The existence of the Assamese music industry has finally been acknowledged. In what can be termed as a huge boost to all the practitioners of the loosely structured music industry of the State, the first-ever State music awards, conceptualised to recognise and promote the best of Assamese music and its torchbearers, was recently organized in Guwahati. I am talking about the Mustraj Big Asomiya Music Awards 2010 which was instituted by BIG Live – the experiential marketing arm of Reliance Broadcasting Limited.

In a glittering evening held at Pragjyoti ITA Centre for the Arts in Machkhowa that saw the best of Assamese music and dance, Angarag Mahanta and Tarali Sharma walked away with the trophies in the best singer (male) and best singer (female) category, while Dikshu’s Aah oi aah from the album Deboadaru won the song of the year award. Tarali won the award for her song Sinaki Osinaki while Angarag’s Ujaiye Ja was the number which impressed the jury and public alike.
Joi with his hit single Aikon Baikon walked away with the Best Debutant (male) award, even as the award in the female category was bagged by Pranamika for her song Borokha. Ibson Lal Baruah, on the other hand, was declared the Best Lyricist for his song Aah oi Aah. While Zubeen Garg and Zinti Das won the awards for the Best Bihu Singer in the male and female categories respectively, Manash Robin was adjudged the Best Lyricist for his song Ebar Dubar.

The Assamese music industry, despite having produced some exceptional talents of national and even international fame, has neither been acknowledged nor recognised as such till date. The winners of the Mustraj Big Asomiya Music Awards 2010 were selected by a jury comprising some prominent musicians of the State in various music categories based on musical releases in 2009-2010. The public was also roped in to decide the winners as some of the categories, like best debutant, best singer – male and femalge, best Bihu song, etc were also thrown open to popular voting through sms, online and physical ballots.

The jury members included the likes of Bhupen Uzir, dhruba Jyoti Phukan, Syed Sadulla and Anuradha Sharma Pujari. A number of special awards were also constituted by BIG and which were selected by the jury formed. The most special among them all, however, was the Big Lifetime Achievement Award which was awarded to Ramen Baruah for his immense contributions to the music industy of Assam.

While Bhupen Uzir was selected by the jury as the Music Guru of Assam, Zubeen’s Anuradha was declared the most requested song of the year. Swapan Nath of Filmcraft studio received the award in the category of pioneering music studio of the State and Subhas Roy of Roy Cycle Mart received the award for the pioneering music production house.

Talking about the Mustraj Big Asomiya Music Awards 2010, Terence Mandle, Regional head – East, Big Live, said, “Assam has a very rich musical heritage though it has not received the recognition it deserves. The Mustraj Big Asomiya Music Awards 2010 is part of our endeavour to acknowledge the music contributions from some of the best musicians of the State. Conceptualised by our experiential marketing wing Big Live, this is an excellent offering to be amplified through our radio station 92.7 Big FM whose core content is music. We are very happy to have Mustraj Natural Mustard Oil partner us in our endeavour of recognising and thanking our music stalwarts for their contribution.”

Musical delight in Guwahati

While March was harrowing and nerve-wracking for professionals and the business community on account of the closure of the financial year, the same month proved to be a delight for music connoisseurs living in Guwahati. Despite the increasing number of cultural and allied events that are organized in the city in regular intervals, the city hardly gets to witness music performances or concerts worth reckoning.

M Jitender Singh

But to soothe the blues associated with the financial closure, the city hosted two prolific music festivals last month, each within a short period from the other.

Sangeet Madhuri, a carnival of dance and music which was organized from March 11 to 13, was initiated by the Department of Cultural Affairs to make up for the lack of a classical music festival in the region. An open air concert held at the newly inaugurated Shradhanjali Kanan park, the festival featured many prolific musicians like Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Ghulam Mustafa Khan, Manoj Baruah, Prabhat Sharma, Pragyan Baruah, Hem Hazarika and his son Subhankar, besides a host of other danseuses and musicians.

Ghulam Sadiq Khan

Organized by a department that seems to lay more emphasis on theatrical productions and other performing arts, Sangeet Madhuri proved to be an earnest attempt by the directorate to reaffirm that music was still part of its agenda. Cultural Affairs director Shankar Prasad Kakoti Bora said, “Our effort is not only to make great Indian classical music performances by reputed artistes accessible to the people of the city but to also provide patronage and encouragement to young and talented artists.”

Hundreds of people were seen thronging the open air park during the festival, proving that the city indeed has a sizeable audience which appreciates quality music. And just while the enthusiasm of the people was settling down, another vocal and instrumental music festival was organized in the city that proved to be a treat for listeners. Organized by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Sangeet Sangam or ‘Confluence of Music’ featured a host of well-known musicians from the Northeast as well as from outside. The event was spread over three days and it was special in the sense that in addition to the regular evening performances, it also featured a couple of morning sessions that enabled the audience to hear some of the later morning raags – a rarity in concerts held in the city.

jatin goswami

Sangeet Sangam was inaugurated by eminent Sattriya exponent and Padmashree and SNA awardee Jatin Goswami in the presence of Assam Satra Kendra project director Dulal Roy, flautist and SNa awardee Prabhat Sharma, violinist Minoti Khaund and Indian Art History Congress chairman Robin Choudhury.

The festival kicked off on the evening of March 23 at Rabindra Bhavan with a presentation by violinist Ashok Das of Agartala, whose performance echoed the style of his guru late Pt VG Jog. He was followed by Gulam Sadiq Ali Khan whose vocal recital was strongly rooted in the Rampur Saheswan Gharana. Having chosen Raag Anand Kalyan, Khan was accompanied by Kamal Sabri on the Sarengi and Pradyut Mishra on the harmonium.

The second and third days were both divided into morning and evening sessions. The first morning saw flautist Dipak Sharma and Satoor artist Pankaj Sharma engaging in a duet. They were followed by Paban Bordoloi and his group, which provided a stellar performance exploring the varied aspects of percussion. Later in the evening Vinayak Torvi captivated the entire audience with his vigour and powerful voice, while Hindustani vocalist Mandira Lahiri brought out the exuberance and joys associated with the current spring season in her kheyal. With Sabir Khan from Kolkata accompanying her on the tabla, the singer’s rich baritone was the defining feature of her performance.

Hindustani vocalist Jitendra Singh’s performance marked the beginning of the final day performance and the same ended with vigour in the form of a highly energetic recital by Purabayan Chatterjee. Marked by his trademark liveliness, Chatterjee was accompanied by Anindo Chatterjee on the tabla.