Live performances are held literally throughout the year in the Northeast, though the density of prevalence is more during the winter months. While the venues of live performances were earlier limited to a few specific areas in the region, the major cities like Guwahati and Shillong, it has now spread across the region with more and more smaller towns trying to host live performances at regular intervals. But while Shillong is currently witnessing a downwards trend, Guwahati has emerged as a major destination for live music performances. The main centres for live music performances in the Northeast are Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland (State-wise break-up given).
Besides the occasional music concert, traditional festivals where music is invariably a part have become major revenue-generating occasions. Nagaland has the annual Hornbill festival and the much-hyped Hornbill national rock competition, Meghalaya has the Autumn festival, Manipur has the Sangai festival, while a number of festivals are held in Assam also.
While a lot of new venues has come up for live events in all these States, clubs still continue to be the major hub of live music performances in the Northeast, especially Assam. The major clubs spread across major cities and towns of Assam play host to a number of prolific musicians and artistes at frequent intervals. Specific festive occasions like Diwali, etc continue to be major revenue-generating occasions for these clubs, while the year-end celebrations are huge affairs. In Guwahati, the major clubs are India Club, Guwahati Gymkhana, Guwahati club, Guwhati Town Club, Guwahati Raquets and Billiards, etc.
Seasoned event organizer, musician and founder of Springboard Surprises Keith Wallang feels that the live music scene has really not picked up in the Northeast. “There is nothing special about the live music scene here in Northeast India. A lot of people are trying to change things but it’s not yielding any results. Till now, we have not been able to develop a circuit for even our local musicians to play.”
The States of Northeast Indian have an abundant pool of talented and creative musicians though the respective governments do not have any clear cut policy for music till now. Given the abundant talent, it is surprising that no steps have been taken by the governments of the respective States to develop this pool of musicians and give it the shape of an industry. As Keith says, “The situation is really bad because we might have just tried to take the pool of talent and creativity that the Northeast has for granted.”
The main centre for live performances in Assam is Guwahati, whiles shows are also held occasionally in a few small towns like Nagaon and Diphu.
Gateway to the Northeast and the biggest city of the region, Guwahati – the capital of Assam – is presently the hub with most live performances being organized here. The scene is doing much better than earlier with the emergence of a lot of new event managers and the coming of a host of new corporate houses ready to sponsor such initiatives.
Main challenges: Lack of venues in the city and lack of sponsors for big events.
Changing audience tastes: While live performances in the earlier days in Assam were limited to Bihu songs and performances of popular music, performances by Hindustani classical, Indi-pop and Bollywood musicians have also become popular in recent times. There is an audience for matured music in Guwahati though that again is very small and most often than not, these events go unnoticed. Though there is a huge audience of rock lovers, this particular genre has not been exploited to its fullest here.
Venues: The lack of proper venues in Guwahati is a major problem in the organization of open air live concerts. While the existing venues are indeed being used, more facilities need to be extended by the administration towards the hosting of live performances.
The most popular Assam Engineering Institute playground has now been closed by the administration citing security problems. The other venues are Shilpgram, Indira Gandhi stadium at Sarusajai, College of Veterinary Science ground (Khanapara), which are located a bit on the external arteries of the city. Rabindra Bhavan and Pragjyoti ITA Centre for Performing Arts are the two other centres for live performances.
The government’s role on live performances is questionable as security measures often prove to be a major hurdle for organizers. This apart, the State government has no clear cut policy for live performances.
At present, the State of Nagaland is one of the most vibrant among the Northeastern States as far as live performances are concerned. A lot of concerts are being held here on a regular basis with a lot of support from the government. The main centre for live performances in Nagaland is Dimapur although the capital city of Kohima hosts the much hyped annual Hornbill National Rock contest – which is a big draw for rock musicians from all over the country.
Live music scene
Nagaland is a State that has witnessed the oldest insurgency movement – the Naga separatist movement – of the country. With all the factions of the underground outfit at loggerheads with each other, the situation had not been exactly conducive for hosting events. But over the last four-five years, the ground situation here has stabilised to a huge extent and a lot of events are now taking place here.
The State has a highly vibrant live music culture with gigs and performances being held in the place on an almost regular basis. In many ways, there also make up for the lack of big scale music events. There are many restaurants and cafes in the two main cities of Dimapur and Kohima that are dedicated to live music performances. Some of the prominent music cafes of Dimapur are Jumping Bean Cafe, Cafe Destination, Cafe Hiyo, etc, while Dream Cafe is a popular music destination in Kohima. As such, music has been a high source of revenue for the local entrepreneurs of the State. The setting up of the North East Zone Cultural Centre (NEZCC) of the Ministry of Culture in Dimapur has also helped this State. A lot of events take place at the behest of this funding agency.
Such a vibrant culture has helped a lot of experimentation and innovation, which has led to maturity in the tastes of the audience. The vibrancy of this State’s music culture can be gauged from the fact that Dimapur witnessed the highest ever audience turn-put for a rock concert in this part of the world when a 35,000 + audience (moderate estimate) stormed into the Mr. Big Reunion Concert last year.
The main challenges facing the music scenario here is improvement of the law and order situation and more corporate and financial support. This is because despite the vibrancy, it is still difficult for musicians and event organizers here, and in other parts of the Northeast, to survive on the basis of live music performances alone.
DDSC stadium and the NEZCC ground in Dimapur, Indira Gandhi stadium and local football ground in Kohima are the main venues for major live performances in Nagaland. The IMC Lobby and Town Hall is also another favourite venue for shows in Dimapur, while the State Academy Hall is a favourite venue in Kohima.
Music is an art form that comes naturally to the Nagas. The huge potential of the music industry in the State is something which the government wants to exploit. Accordingly, Nagaland is possibly the only Indian State which has formed a separate government department called the Music Task Force (MTF) to exploit the huge talented pool of musicians here and also to support and promote the local musicians. The Hornbill National Rock contest has, within a very short time, become a most loved festival in the country and has plans to go international in the next few years. The Hornbill National rock, with a total prize money of Rs. 10,00,000 (Rs Ten lakhs) is possibly the only Indian rock show with the highest prize money for local talents.
At its current pace and if the support of the administration continues, the live music scene in Nagaland is only bound to improve in the days to come. A lot, however, depends on the law and order situation on the ground.
Whenever we talk about music and the Northeast, Shillong – the capital of Meghalaya – is the first thing that comes to one’s mind. Not surprising because the genesis of rock or pop music in Northeast India is regarded to have taken here itself. It is said that every kid who has born and who grew up here knows how to play the guitar! Sounds like a tall claim but not too off the mark also.
Gigs and performances are regular occurrences here in Shillong though the frequency has indeed come down in recent times. Yet, despite performances by a few mega international artistes and sporadic rock concerts, the live music scene here is not as developed as is expected from this place. Keith Wallang, who is based in Shillong, says, “The scene here is not satisfactory at all. In fact, it has come down over the last few years. During the insurgency days, the live music scene here was really thriving but after the onset of peace, it has not really been able to pick up.” Meghalaya, like the other States of the Northeast, also witnessed a long spell of insurgency-related violence.
Keith feels that globalisation and the inroads made by mobile and telecom companies is also another factor for the deteriorating live music scene in Shillong. “Bands here now have to compete with what television channels are offering. Many a times, the quality of shows have not been up to the mark so people are slowly losing interest in live shows.”
It is not possible to pinpoint only one factor for the present state of live music in Shillong. One of the main reason for this is the lack of venues in the city. There are only one or two venues in Shillong which really cannot sustain the live music scene of a region. For indoor performances, Meghalaya presently has the State Central Library auditorium. For outdoor musical events, there are two venues in the form of 5th Ground, Polo ground and Laban Sports Ground. In the words of Keith, “This is a far cry from the earlier days when each and every locality had a ground for the hosting of live performances.”
Shillong now witnesses a lot of pub events which are hosted in two local lounge bars called Tango and Cloud 9. But even these places are found lacking. As local RJ AJ, “These events are termed as being pub fests but the space of these lounges are too small for musical performances.”
Like the other States of the Northeast, the State of Meghalaya does not have any clear-cut and definite policy for live music. Though the government has always endorsed musical events here, many feel that a lot remains to be done by the government. “It is sad but just like all the other States of the Northeast, Meghalaya does not have any policy for live music. There is so much the governments can do for the music scene. For instance, in Meghalaya, the government can help by developing the infrastructure for hosting concerts. I am sure private entrepreneurs will take care of the rest.”
Music lovers of Guwahati recently had the chance to be part of a highly interactive jamming session with some of the most well-known musicians of the region. I am talking about the jamming session organized as part of the inaugural launch ceremony of the DJ School of music in Rajgarh area of the city. The music school has been started by singer-guitarist Dhruva Sharma, who was the frontman of Friends – the oldest rock group of the State.
Some of the most prominent musicians of Guwahti and Shillong were in town last Saturday to be part of the official opening ceremony. The guest singers list included Khasi singer-guitarist Lou Majaw, Rudy Wallang and Tipriti of Soulmate, veteran Assamese guitarist Utpal Barsaikia, JP Das, Keith Wallang, amongst others.
While Guwahati has always been home to some prolific musicians who are doing very well in their professional careers, the lack of proper music schools have often proved to be a major hindrance for aspiring music students who are often found to lack a proper foundation. As such, a music school which has an experienced western classical music faculty is reason enough for good cheer. The faculty of the DJ school of music has musicians like Bredner Momin (piano), Madhurjya Bordoloi (guitars), Nomoni (drums), Ambar Das (drums) and Proma (piano).
Following a simple ceremony where all the musicians were felicitated with gamosas and japis, the guest musicians got down to do what they do best – jam together, of course! – much to the delight of all those present that day. While Rudy and Tips showed those present their musical acumen which has taken their band places all over the world, JP Das and Lou Majaw proved that despite their age they are still going strong. With his deep baritone and the occasional nasal twinge, Lou was at his characteristics best that day.
A host of musicians and music lovers of the city had descended at the Rajgarh area to be part of the opening ceremony and it was a sheer trip down memory lane for most of them present.
“My music will go on forever. Maybe it’s a fool say that, but when me know facts me can say facts. My music will go on forever.” Bob Marley – June, 1975
I guess even the legendary Rastafarian did not know the amount of truth the words he uttered more than three decades back held. For Bob Marley – undoubtedly one of the greatest reggae artistes to have ever walked this earth – would not have imagined how hard his fans all across the globe would strive to carry forth his legacy. The extent, I guess, can be judged by a musician from our own region who has left no stone unturned to pay obeisance to his idol.
You have guessed it right. I am talking about the Northeast’s very own Rastafarian Keith Wallang – the man behind the much popular Bob Marley Tribute fest. Inspired by the words and music of Bob Marley, this annual event was started by Springboard Surprises way back in 1996 in Shillong. The only musical event of its kind in the country, the Bob Marley tribute made a debut with the audience of reggae and Marley lovers from Shillong and Guwahati.
Bob Marley or Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley was born on February 6, 1945. He was the front man, songwriter and guitarist for the Ska-reggae bands The Wailers (1964–1974) and Bob Marley & The Wailers (1974–1981). Marley was responsible for spreading the Jamaican Ska/Reggae style of music and the Jamaican ‘religion’, the Rastafari movement to the world. Bob Marley’s best known hits include ‘I Shot the Sheriff’, ‘No Woman, No Cry’ and ‘Redemption Song.’ He has, with The Wailers and the Bob Marley & The Wailers about 15 studio albums and a score other compilations, live albums and recordings. The compilation, Legend (1984), released three years after his death, is reggae’s best-selling album.
The Bob Marley fest in Shillong has had a humble beginning. As Keith himself says, “We surely had a humble beginning in 1996 with only one band playing Bob’s songs and reggae and all the other artists singing songs they liked to a audience of only about a hundred people.” But over the years, through word of mouth and media coverage, this lively reggae event has grown drawing audiences not only from the region but also from around the country. The festival is now into its 15th year.
Last year was a major leap for the festival for it crossed borders for the first time since its inception. Having become almost like a home-grown festival, the festival moved out of Shillong for the first time to enthral reggae lovers and Marley fans in Imphal. Held on the iconic Rastafarian’s birthday on February 6 at the Iboyaima Shumang Leela Shanglen, the event had seen performances by the Roots Reggae Band from Shillong, Daniel Boko from Itanagar, Rewben Mashangva from Ukhrul, Dymsal from Shillong, Phuningding from Karbi Anglong, Sarah Lee from Shillong, Jerry Sailo from Mizoram and X Cannibals from Imphal.
This year, the festival had moved into Dimapur as well with Bob’s birthday being celebrated in Jumping Bean cafe of Dimapur. “We specially wanted to bring in a taste of Reggae music to Nagaland which has never been done before, or has been attempted but received poorly. We hope to make this an annual thing if it kicks off well with the audience here in Dimapur,” said Jumping Bean’s proprietors Sarah Pongen and Nokcha Aier.
But today, after a hiatus of three years, the festival is back to Shillong once again. The 15th annual BOB MARLEY tribute concert will be held in Tango today with Live Marley music by the Roots Reggae Band featuring Andrea, Amit, Elaine, Jeremy, Keith, Mup, Ribor, Sarah, Scarllet.
The celebration has truly grown.