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!