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Not insurgency, but music rules the roost in Nagaland!


Moving on with this new episode on the state of the independent music industry in Northeast India, let us look at the state of affairs in Nagaland – undoubtedly the most vibrant State in the entire country as far as music is concerned. The Naga stalemate in the form of the talks between the NSCN (IM) and the Indian union may have resulted in a stalemate, stretching on for more than 13 years now, but that has not stopped the blooming of a pulsating music environment in this interior state.

Besides being home to the “mother of all insurgent outfits”, as a political commentator had once commented, Nagaland also has the proud distinction of having an entire governmental department dedicated to the promotion and development of music in the State – the Music Task Force (MTF) – the first in the entire country. One of the biggest achievements of the MTF is the successful hosting of the annual Hornbill Rock contest, which over the years, with a prize money of around Rs. 10 lakhs, has become the most sought after competition for rock bands of the country.

The following is a brief take on the scene there:

1. Major cities: Dimapur, Kohima

2. Population: 1,990,036 people (According to 2001 census)

3. Major language: English, Nagamese, Hindi

4. Radio stations: AIR

5. Telecom operators and subscriber figures:

6. Popular television channels: A number of operators run their own cable networks. Naga cable, City cable, Global Chapter are the popular ones.

7. Music stores: Lot of music stores can be found dotted over the landscape of Dimapur and Kohima. In Dimapur, most of the parlours are concentrated in Super Market and Hong Kong market area. Dimapur also has the only retail outlet of Furtados in the Northeast.

8. List of popular local talents – Artistes, composers, lyricists, musicians.

• Nise Meruno – Composer and pianist
• Abiogenesis – Experimental Rock band
• Lipokmar – Founder of Chancel Choir
• Theja Meru – Musician and founder of Rattle n Hum society
• Dr. Tekatemjen Jamir – Pioneering Ao sound composer
• Alemtemshi – Composer
• Methanelie – Composer and singer
• Melodrama – Rock band
• Dementia – Rock band
• XTC – Rock band
• OFF – Rock band
• Divine Connection – Rock band

9. Venues for live performance and whether the State has a culture of live music: 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. A lot of gigs and concerts are also held regularly in music cafes and lounges, the prominent among them being Dream Cafe in Kohima, Jumping Bean Cafe and Cafe Hiyo in Dimapur.

10. Major local music labels: APH Records

11. Local organizations for the promotion or appreciation of music

• Music Task Force
• Rattle and Hum Music Society
• Mindblowers Club
• Robust Network
• Native Rising Network
• Mokokchung District Art and Culture Council
• Abiogenesis society

12. Genres of music that sell here: Rock, Gospel, pop, country, choir, Hip-hop. Gospel and rock music would top the charts in Nagaland each and every time. The State also has a good choral culture.

13. Studios or recording facilities: Most of the studios are located inside Dimapur. Some of the better known studios are Crescendo, Soul Speak studios, Gospel studio and Aries Music Foundation.

14. Unique facets:

– The Nagas are also wonderful singers and dancers, having a wonderful sense of rhythm. Their traditional festivals and ceremonies are usually incomplete without a heavy dose of traditional folk songs and dances. In fact, music is an integral part of life here; whether it is the folk songs eulogising the brave deeds of warriors or poetic love songs immortalising ancient tragic love stories; be it Gospel songs that touch your soul or the modern rock ‘n’ roll tunes –– music truly defines life in Nagaland.

– Music runs in the veins of the Nagas. So much so that the State Government became the first government of the country to dedicate an entire government department for the promotion and development of music. Scholarship schemes, music development workshops and seminars and courses in college, contests, etc are some of the initiatives of this task force.

– The Hornbill national Rock contest, organized as part of the week-long Hornbill festival of Nagaland, is one of the biggest initiatives of the Music Task Force. The Hornbill National Rock Contest is the biggest rock event in the country, having a total amount of Rs. 10 lakh as prize money.

15. Organizer, music promoter or label guy who is in the news

Akum Jamir, who is a musician himself and guitarist of XTC, runs Crescendo – one of the best music instruments shop in Dimapur. He also provides the sound gear for most live performances in the State. Theja Meru of the Rattle ‘n’ Hum Music Society organizes the Handshake concert in different parts of the country, wherein folk artistes and musicians from the Northeast perform to audiences in the mainland.



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.”

‘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!

Hornbill National Rock 2010 promises to be a big draw

Digital Suicide and Sunday Mourning from Assam among 20 shortlisted bands

The mother of all rock contests is back. The Hornbill National Rock competition is just round the corner, scheduled to be held in the first week of December next. As twenty top bands from across the country get ready to battle it out for the winner’s title, all I can say is that this year’s contest is turning out to be much bigger and better!

For the uninitiated, the Hornbill National Rock contest is part of the famed Hornbill festival of Nagaland, which is possibly the longest music festival of the country. The Honrbill festival is one of the most loved dance and music festivals of the country and thousands of people throng to Kisama – the games village – every year to take part in this mega cultural extravaganza.

Talking about the objective of the festival, an organizer of the festival pointed out, “Such an extravaganza is in keeping with the essence of the many Naga festivals; marked by feasts, dances, games and music, all in full measure. Nagas do not do things in small instalments. These celebrations invariably coincide with agricultural lean periods such as after-harvest, and therefore the feeling of gaiety and generosity, even to a fault. Circumstances have changed; some have moved on while a few still embraces the old ways. Nevertheless, in either case the joie de vivre of the Nagas lives on. The annual Hornbill Festival, and therefore the Hornbill National Rock, is set in this background. In time, we hope to go international.”

The Honrbill national rock contest is held on the final day of the Hornbill festival and is the most popular event among the youth. The contest carries a reward of Rs 5,00,000 (Rupees Five Lakh only) for the winners, which is possibly the highest prize money in a rock contest in our country. The first runners’-up and second runners-up get prize rewards of Rs. 3,00,000 and Rs 2,00,000 respectively.

The contest is divided into two segments: the first part involves submission of compositions by rock outfits of the country. The second segment sees the selected bands battling it out for three days of competition at the venue. Meanwhile, separate auditions are held for bands of Nagaland.

The list of bands selected for the Hornbill National Rock Contest 2010 includes 3rd Sovereign (Delhi), Da Primitive Future (Darjeeling). Digital Suicide (Guwahati), Incarnadine (Bengaluru), Insanity Quotient (Pune), Not Yet Decided (Kolkata), Phobia (New Delhi), Rosemary (Mumbai), Sixes and Seven (Mizoram), Street Stores (Shillong), Slain (Bengaluru), Sunday Mourning (Guwahati), The Fringe Pop (Pilani), The P.A.G.E (Kolkata), Tripwire (Mumbai), Underground Authority (Kolkata).

Meanwhile, the separate Nagaland State auditions for the Hornbill national Rock Contest 2010 was held at the Heritage Bungalow near Raj Bhavan in Kohima. A total of 20 spirited bands armed with talent galore fought it out in the battle of the bands to take the top four slots. The judges for the event were Tangit Imsong, MDACC’s Director of music (Mokokchung District Art and Culture Council), Vesato Theluo; (M.Mus) Major Voice Phillippine, presently music lecturer in Patkai christain college and Abemo Enyie, a seasoned senior musician of the State. The audition was formally launched by Youth Resources and sports (YRS) Secretary Bendang Longchari, while Music Task Force (MTF) Project Director Gugs Chishi gave the welcome address.

The four selected bands from the state are Dementia, Melodrama, Incipid and Sunep Assemble Band. The final segment for this year’s Hornbill National Rock Contest kicks off in Kohima from December 4 next. And as the contest heats up, I wish all the bands the very best!