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‘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!

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When music came calling

Indian Ocean: Live in Concert

Last weekend, Guwahatians woke up to a concert of a lifetime as Indian Ocean performed live in the city’s premier Racquets and Billiards (R&B) club. For the uninitiated, Indian Ocean is the oldest band of the country, as also the most well-known, having taken Indian sounds to the globe through performances all over. Given the band’s illustrious career and the number of chartbuster hits they have to their credit, it was not surprising to see Guwahati’s music-loving crowd get all heated up as news of their arrival did the rounds. In fact, my phone hardly stopped ringing towards the fag end of last week as enthusiastic fans kept calling at regular intervals to find out if I could somehow manage a ticket or pass for them!

A band renowned for its member’s penchant for experimentation and originality, Indian Ocean has, over the years, evolved a sound of its own – something which cannot be classified under any of the conventional and established genres, and which critics have left under the broad spectrum of ‘Hindustani-rock with jazz-spiced rhythms’. Notwithstanding the genre its music belongs to, the band’s skillful blending of Indian folk songs, classical music, slokas, Sufi, Baul and contemporary melodies with modern instruments has mesmerized people the world over.

The band, however, is no stranger to the Northeast, having performed here on four different occasions throughout their 20-year old existence. Though their performances in the city also include venues like IIT (Guwahati), I particularly remember their performance in Diphu a few years back when they had shared the stage with Karbi fusion band Warklung, which was led by Phuninding – our very own rocker Sadhu. Coming back to their performance in Guwahati last weekend, I was truly amazed to see the growth of the band’s fan club, which has risen by epic proportions. Racquets and Billiards club – the venue for the concert – was packed to the brim that Saturday evening, even as the crowd swayed in a mystic stupor to the quaint chords being strung on stage.

Though I have been following Indian Ocean’s music for quite some time now, I looked forward to their performance this time for a number of reasons; the first being the fact that this was the first time I would be watching them perform as a band after the demise of their founder member and ace percussionist Asheem Chakraborty. Indian Ocean’s very genesis can be traced back to the focused jamming sessions between Asheem and Sushmit, and I wanted to see whether the former’s demise has had any impact on their music. This issue had also come up during the band’s exclusive interaction with The Sentinel earlier in the day when Sushmit had said, “Asheem was the man and face behind many aspects of the band. It is impossible to fill the void left after his demise; he cannot be replaced. We all have to look at a new direction now. Each one of us have our own identities; we have to see whether out own individual identities, when combined, can help give a new dimension to our music.” The band’s line-up consists of Susmit Sen on the guitars, Rahul Ram on the bass, Amit Kilam on the drums and Tushar – the new replacement tablist in place of Asheem.

But all my doubts about any new dimension to their music were put to rest as the band members of Indian Ocean began with a highly spirited rendition of one of their hit tracks, Pau jamin pein aur aasman pe najar. Be it the on-screen chemistry between the members or bassist Rahul Ram’s on stage histrionics – the band simply dazzled throughout their performance that day with the trademark Indian Ocean sound, representing the improvisational depths of Indian classical music and the invigorating intensity of rock. The band was also joined by Papon for a duet in one of their compositions Ma Reva, a eulogy to the Narmada river. The composition is based on a tune Rahul had learnt from local communities on the banks of the river who were engaged in the struggle for self determination against the large, ecologically unfriendly Sardar Sarovar dam. I especially like the jugalbandi towards the end between Rahul, Amit and Tushar, and the same brought everyone to its feet. Bandeh, the song from Black Friday which rode the popularity charts and marked Indian Ocean’s foray into Bollywood, also expectedly struck a fancy with the crowd. The evening ended with the band performing their famous Syrian prayer song Kandisa. Now listening to this song is always special for the same is a rehash of an Aramaic prayer – a 3,000-year old Semitic language believed to have been spoken during the time of Jesus Christ. Knowing that I am listening to a practically “dead song” gives me a real kick, no matter how many times I listen to it. Watching the song being performed live is an altogether different trip in itself.

All in all, a brilliant concert that is bound to remain in our hearts and minds for a long time to come. My heartfelt thanks to the organizers and also R&B Club for creating the perfect ambience for an evening of music.