People from the north-eastern hill states have a penchant for music that embraces everything from folk to jazz. While their love of music attracts top bands from across the world, it also helps them to cope with the tensions of living in this strife-torn region, Saswati Kaushik reports
THE common image of the North East is of a wide variety of folk cultures, dresses and lifestyles which sometimes confuse an outsider to the region. There is also a tendency to club together the diversity in a common platform which, understandably, angers many native dwellers. However, the love of music is something that runs like a common vein among these different people. By tradition, tribal communities lead a simple life with music and dance forming an integral part. Today, even though they are in contact with the outside world, the affinity for music has not diminished. Traditional folk tunes may have morphed into love for international trends like jazz, blues, rock n’ roll, and hip hop, but the basics remain the same.
Recently, drummers from Shillong took the region to the portals of the Guinness Book of World Records. As many as 7,951 percussionists beat drums in a synchronised manner to a tune called ‘Positive Vibrations’ composed by local musician Rudy Wallang, beating the previous world record of 7,727 drummers assembled at Hong Kong in 2005.
News about international bands performing in India are avidly followed by the young and old alike. This is a reason perhaps why these visiting groups, who must be aware of how rhythm is a part of their lifestyle, often make it a point to perform in the North East even if they have to give a miss to some bigger metros. Shillong (Meghalaya) and Aizawal (Mizoram) continue to be the preferred venues, with Kohima (Nagaland), with its Hornbill Rock Festival, and Guwahati (Assam), the gateway to the region, also fast picking up. Shillong, called the Scotland of the East for its picturesque destinations, played host to international band ‘Air Supply’, besides many smaller bands from the country and abroad in the past few years.
From ‘Air Supply’ to Paul Dianno, formerly of ‘Iron Maiden’ fame, all have made appearances in the North East within the span of a year in 2006, with heartthrob of the music world Bryan Adams expected this spring. Former lead singer of ‘Iron Maiden’ Paul Dianno also performed during the year.
The first foreign band had come to Shillong way back in 2003 when the Australian ‘Afro Dizzi Act’ performed during the Independence Day celebrations that year. Then came Grammy Award winner Petra, followed by ‘Fire House’ in 2004 and ‘Michael Learns To Rock’ in 2005. Italian jazz-rock band ‘Emtrio’ had also performed in Shillong in 2004 as also Australian singer Aurora Jane during the Roots Festival that same year. Currently, the line-up of performers set to sway Shillong include the likes of Bryan Adams and the Nashville (USA)-based pop band ‘Difference’.
Besides the internationally famed performers who visit Shillong, the city has its home-grown festivals to keep the music quotient running throughout the year. Singing legend Bob Dylan’s birthday is observed annually in May by Lou Majaw, a renowned musician of the country and founding member of Great Society. An Elvis look-alike and The Beatles show are other annual events in Shillong, organised by the Fashion Society, Shillong. The hill-capital also hosts the All India Campus Rock Idol for the eastern region, where campus bands from North East states vie for the top positions and then proceed to metro cities to compete with other campus bands.
Mizoram, nestled among the southern hills bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar, may not be easily assessable by road, but music has made inroads into the lives of the people long back. Gospel singers and choir groups are a specialty of this pre-dominantly Christian state, with the most sensational female Gospel singer Liandingpuii cutting an international album in the beginning of 2006. A Christmas-special music show in the capital city of Aizawal for the past couple of years always proves to be a crowd-puller, with people from other parts of the country joining the local people in the celebrations.
While its local musicians continue to hold attention of the state, across-the-border bands also have gained popularity from the past year. A group from Myanmar, ‘T-Melody’, has been the latest craze in Mizoram, with the members of the band sharing ethnicity with the people of the state. "Political re-unification may be a distant dream. But music can forge a bond by erasing physical barriers. That will be our message," lead guitarist and front-man of the group Thanthawnga says.