Monthly Archives: May 2012

‘Market is not even a shadow of what it was a decade back’

It has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride for Debo Borkotoky, who in a span of three decades has established his family business into a mega empire. His label NK Productions, a King maker of sorts in Assam, has seen it all – a stuttering start with simple humble beginnings, which reached its crescendo during the nineties, to now reach a stage where it has been compelled to diversify to other allied industries in the wake of the fast evolving music industry and stiff competition from national and international labels. The evolution of NK Productions through the past few decades has stood as perfect testimony to the fast transitioning music landscape of Assam.

Having been in the business for the past 29 years, NK Productions started off a family business in the Borkotoky family when they used to produce Bihu albums, besides records of Khagen Mahanta and devotional music albums. Debo took over the reins of the business in 1985, at a time when the physical market was rapidly growing in Assam. The eighties was a defining point as their albums started registering huge sales, with one particular Bihu album selling around 60-70,000 copies.

A NK production release

Although NK Productions major focus area was Bihu albums and devotional albums – both of which enjoyed a lot of popularity in Assam during that time, young Debo also started the trend of introducing contemporary artists. One of NK Production’s major finds was none other than Zubeen Garg, one of the most popular singers in the history of the State and the State’s first export to Bollywood. His debut album, Maya, which was released under this label sold a record 7 to 8 lakh pieces in the first year alone. “We have released records of almost all the popular artistes of Assam. Khagen Mahanta, Bhupen Hazarika – they have all shared a long relationship with us,” says Debo.

Just for the record, NK Productions is the only music label in Assam to have a full professional set up. “I installed a Loopbin system in 1995 and also have three studios with my own dedicated manforce of directors, assistants, technicians and other crew members,” says Debo. Banking on this set-up, Debo also was the first to produce audio and video cds on a mass scale and make it available to the average consumer for sums as low as Rs 12- 20.

Dwelling on his move, he said, “Piracy was a major menace that we had to encounter. We decided to sell our cds for as low as possible to beat the threat of piracy. We also started the concept of making short Bihu video albums where all the songs were weaved around a story. We normally used to produce 15-20 such albums every year during the Bihu season, all of which were much in demand among the public and registered sales of around 15-20 lakh copies every year. One such product, Janmoni, had become a craze and we had to produce it sequels every year.”

However, the VCD craze has also petered out and Debo released only 2 VCDs this year. “After the entertainment channels came up in Assam, the sale of Bihu VCDs totally diminished. People still love to listen to their preferred music. The only difference is that now they won’t buy for it,” he rues.

During the heydays, another strong factor in NK Production’s favour was its extensive distribution network. “We have our own dealers in every major town and city of Assam and we do our own production as well as distribution.” While other national and international labels are now foraying into the Northeast’s folk and devotional music market, Debo certainly has a upper hand here.

While Debo made a smooth transition from cassettes to cd productions, the changeover to the digital era has been pretty taxing. In his words, “Assam is the only State in the country where physical sales continued till the last. While the switch over to the digital era has hit us hard, we are doing whatever little we can to keep pace. For instance, we have uploaded our entire database of songs on the internet and have also tied with all major telecom companies for revenue sharing on song downloads. But the market is not even a shadow of what it was a few years back and we are gradually diversifying into film production.”

Northeast all set to pay tribute to Dylan

It started off as a small celebration amongst a few friends. But the Bob Dylan tribute concert organized by Lou Majaw of Shillong has literally assumed gigantic proportions, with its popularity spilling over to various parts of the country and even abroad. So much so that Lou has almost become synonymous with Bob Dylan himself in India.

Lou – a icon in the Northeast himself – has started the Bob Dylan celebrations on May 24, 1972. What started off a small get-together amongst friends has continued for more than four decades now, with the magnitude of the show increasing every year. Also has increased Shillong’s passion for one of the greatest musicians in the world.

While hundreds of people from different parts make a beeline for this small hill town of Meghalaya ever year to take part in the festival, Lou has been pressurising the government of Meghalaya to declare the day as a government holiday. A number of well known bands have performed in Shillong on May 24 every year to honour, what Lou says, “how his music infuses life with meaning”. “His songs lit up my life and gave it a lot of meaning. His new stuff doesn’t touch me as much though,” says Majaw, the 59-year-old rocker who grew up playing in clubs of Shillong and Kolkata.

Since 1972, the Bob Dylan fest has been organized in Shillong with unfailing regularity – irrespective of whether there is rain, or a venue, sponsors being a second entity. Be it in parks, halls or personal residences of the many music aficionados living here – Bob Dylan is sure to come alive in Shillong every May 24. And in every tribute session, the set list remains the same – edgy, angry Dylan, which somehow reflects the youth angst of this hill station.

The festival is slowly spilling over to other parts of the region as well. Musicians and music lovers of Guwahati who have been part of the festival with unfailing regularity had started their own tribute concert in the capital city last year. Christening themselves as the Guwahati chapter of the Bob Dylan society, these musicians join Lou celebrate Dylan’s birthday over a distance of 100-odd kilometres.

“Lou is undoubtedly India’s own Dylan. However, it has become increasingly difficult for us to go up to Shillong every year to take part in the celebrations. That does not, however, mean we will stop celebrating the day. So some of us friends decided to open the Guwahati chapter of the Dylan society so as to make it easier for us,” says Dr. Nandan Phukan, one of the founders of the Guwahati chapter.

Last year, the celebrations were held in Cafe Hendrix – a local pub in the city which saw a host of senior and new musicians jamming together to celebrate the day. Veteran bassist Dr Ganesh Deka, vocalist Hridoy Goswami joined the Guwahati chapter of the Dylan society and classic rock bands Stags celebrate the occasion.

This year too, several initiatives have been lined up in different towns and cities of the region. While Lou is all set to celebrate his idol’s birthday in his hometown, the Guwahati chapter has organized a night of creativity to mark the occasion. The event, organized in association with Eastern Beats Music Society and Cafe Hendrix, will be held in the newly inaugurated performing lounge of Cafe Hendrix in the city. Besides jam sessions of Dylan numbers by musicians of the city, popular Manipuri rock band Cleave and city-based band Bolt from the Blue is also scheduled to take part in the celebrations.

Dr Nandan says, “Dylan is a person who advocated creativity and change throughout his life. So this year, the theme of our celebrations will be creativity in any form – it can be writings, poetry, music, songs, whatever. Anyone who has a piece of something creative with him or her is encouraged to come and take part in the event.”

Meanwhile, the sense of creativity has been taken up in Shillong as well. Noted poet and folklorist Dr. Desmond Kharmawphland has also organized a “poetry and song” event in Cafe Shillong on May 25. “All those who write poetry or sing songs are invited to come and be part of the event,” he said, even as he asked Dylan fans to spread the word among their friends.

Thanks to Lou Majaw, Dylan certainly lives on in Northeast India. And will surely do so for quite some time to come!

Stacy’s Penitence crowned Scavenger Rock Idol 2012

Towards the fag end of last month, I travelled down to one of the extreme frontiers of the country – Mizoram – to watch the tiny State hunt for its new music idol. Scavenger Rock Idol, as the event was christened, was the brainchild of two highly proactive musicians – Victor Vanlalhruia and Booma Hansing of Scavenger Project and Boomarang respectively. Dubbed as the first “national rock competition” of Mizoram, the entire music fraternity of the State came out to support the duo.

Like other States of the Northeast, the people of Mizoram too swear by music. The State is home to bands like Boomarang and Scavenger Project and musicians like Mami Varte, Liadingpuii, Pensy B, and the like who are increasingly carving a niche for themselves in the international circuit. But although highly vibrant, the music market here is yet to develop at the same pace as those of the other States, primarily because of the lack of government support. Event management companies are a non-entity and Victor runs the only group that manages artists or bands. Scavenger Rock Idol, therefore, was truly a landmark event, which Victor hopes, would force the government to take musicians of the region a bit more seriously.

Scavenger Rock Idol, however, turned out to be a pleasant surprise. As many as 21 bands from different parts of the country came out to participate in the competition, which offered a prize bouquet of Rs 1,00,000 in cash for the winners. Held over three days, the bands battled it out amongst themselves to remain in the race.

The craze for music amongst the youth of the Northeast could be gauged right from the preliminary rounds of the festival as young school kids, who were almost as tall as their guitars, also joined in the fray. I would make special mention of two young teen bands – Shair and Faithhealers, both made up of school going boys, who left the judges and rest of us dazed!

While the participating bands were required to sing one of their originals, they also had to sing their own rendition of Beatle’s popular number, While my guitar gently weeps, which is supposedly based on the concept of changes. Be it rock, new age electronic or metal, the number of makeovers that this song went through for the three consecutive days would have certainly had George Harrison interested. Though I don’t know about the rest, but me, yes it surely did.

The Scavenger Rock Idol also had a new concept that could be noticed for the first time in the region. The organizers had tied up with LPS, one of the biggest cable networks in the State, and also online radio station, thanks to which they introduced the concept of online voting. The entire show was streamed live by these two channels and listeners of nine countries were able to vote for the participating bands. The online votes acted as the fourth judge in the competition. While I wouldn’t dwell on the effectiveness of this concept in a region where there is a very limited audience, it is really nice to see organizers here experimenting with new innovative methods.

In the end, Stacy’s Penitence was adjudged the winners of the competition while Prophets and Prophecy ended up in the second and third spot respective. Guwahati-based Digital Suicide, who was in the running for the top spot, however, managed only the fourth spot.


8th Bamhum Day celebrated

Robust Network, Dimapur in collaboration with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, successfully organised a grand cultural show to commemorate the 8th Bamhum Day with performances by various artistes at Soul Speak Studios Hall, Nuton Bosti, Dimapur last Thursday. The Bamhum is a wind instrument invented by Moa Subong of Grammy nominated experimental rock band Abiogenesis.

Abiogenesis presented the first ever Bamhum songs composed by them like Saramati Tears, Misty Dzuko, Wah Taj and Hitch Hiker. All these songs are from their first album Aeon Spell, which was released by Saregama and which was listed for nominations in the 50th Grammy Awards. Arenla, the front lady of Abiogenesis, said that the invention of the Bamhum brought about Howeymusic, a fusion of Naga music with various genres of music.

A young upcoming rock band from Dimapur, ‘Gentlemen and Slippers’ also presented a few numbers during the concert. A jam session followed the programme where musicians got to meet each other and played and jammed together for a few hours.

Assamese Beauty in Big League of Kollywood

She has been quoted as “fresh face in Kollywood” by the Deccan Chronicle and a “fresh face” by the prestigious The Hindu. She is the lead actress of highly acclaimed Vazhakhu Enn 18/7, a film by Balaji Shaktivel of ‘Kaadhol’ and ‘Kaloori’ fame. She is none other than Sonapur girl Urmila Mahanta.

A graduate from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, Urmila was spotted by famous south Indian director Balaji Shakitvel during the Goa film Festival and offered her the lead role in his upcoming film : Vazhakhu Enn 18/7. After many audition in Chennai, she finally got the lead role of Jyothi., a slum dweller of Chennai.

Vazhakhu Enn was premiered in Chennai last month. Tho who’s who of the Tamil Film Industry attended the premier and praised Urmila for her performance. In fact few notable directors of Tamil Industry approached her with wet eyes and remarked that she has proved to be from the prestigious FTI of Pune. Similarly during press screening, journalist literally stood up and clapped on her last shot, which is very rare to see in Chennai.

Urmila is flooded with appreciation calls from journalist and critics who are lining up to take her interview. She is busy in shooting for an upcoming Hindi Feature film in Kolhapur and flew down to Chennai yesterday when the film was officially released.

‘Vazhakku Enn: 18/9.’ is produced by Linguswamy’s home productions “Tirupati Brothers”.  It is a take on teenagers, and looks fresh and prim. The film showcases two couples from opposite ends of the economic strata and their crush and something goes dangerously awry. The film has already created the right amount of expectation among the crowd urging them to wonder about what the film is all about.

The music for the film has been scored by noted guitarist R. Prasanna, who bagged the Oscars for his documentary film ‘Smile Pinki’. The back ground music score as well as the songs have a raw and natural feel to them.