Songs from the Hills
The lofty range of hills in the far Northeastern corner of the country have inspired many – a region that is bound with folk songs about love, war and harmony. The Northeast is characterised by its own very distinct beauty and has given us bountiful gifts in terms of talent – be it Papon or Soulmate or award winning engineer Debajit Changmai. Here’s taking a look at where the music of the Northeast stands today.
An Era of Influx
In itself, the Northeast poses a number of challenges with regard to location and connection to media. These states occupy an area at the extreme end of the country and aren’t easily accessible, making it difficult for artists to travel to other cities (assuming their promoters have a budget at all). Keith Wallang of Springboard Surprises, who manages bands like Soulmate mentions that once they land at a particular city, artists and managers make sure they play as many gigs as they can, since frequent travel isn’t a feasible possibility. Hence, however agonizing it may be, fans of a particular band get to see them perform only on rare occasion.
Realising this, certain artists have left their hometowns in the east and have made larger, metropolitan cities their home. Papon, Debajit Changmai and Kalyan Baruah are among those who have shifted their base to Mumbai because of the limited exposure and lacks opportunities for work in the Northeast. Sound engineers, in particular, find more work in city studios than in the limited options available at their hometowns. The difference between the two schools of thought can be understood by the nature of their work – musicians don’t need a base – they can continue to travel back and forth from city to hometown, whereas engineers need to operate out of a single location. It makes sense in that case, for them to make a permanent move to their place of work. As the Northeast does not have many radio stations or television channels which could provide reach, this further limits possibilities and opportunities for artists who wish to make a mark.
A Magnified Issue?
Some artists from the Northeast find that the problem lies elsewhere. The band Abiogenesis complain that, “The music scene in India is crying out for the media’s attention. It’s the media that has made rockstars out of local performers in the West. Unfortunately, here in India, even music magazines focus mostly on artists from the West.”
Alobo Naga has a different story to tell with their album ‘All We Have Is Now’ which was produced by the Grammy nominated Tim Palmer. They say, “The growth of the Internet is making our world smaller and smaller. We discussed virtually everything – from songs to style while sitting in Dimapur, Nagaland with Tim. With the advent of new media, exposure has increased. Every second sees a new band or artist promoting themselves on Facebook.”
The Governmental Angle
Som Kamei, Director, Northeast Zone Centre, Ministry of Culture, Government of India says that they have tie-ups with Thailand and the Philippines for cultural and musical exchange programmes. “We offer jobs to artists in clubs as a part of our Look East Policy. Identifying the need to promote tourism, we have many programmes designed to sustain the livelihoods of our local musicians. We are bringing in promoters, music labels and agents to interact with these artists and carve their careers,” he adds.
Last year, in 2013, the British Council collaborated with Music Task Force (MTF) where a residency was set up with artists from the UK and the Northeast. Gukhato Chiso of the MTF narrates, “When the Music Task Force was set up, we were looking at opportunities for the music industry to operate. The Northeast as a whole has been seriously misunderstood as a hub of conflict. The MTF, set up in 2006, was initiated with the intention of encouraging young people to take up music professionally as opposed to just a hobby.”
Today, The MTF facilitates training for bands and artists in sound engineering, recording, instrumentation, creating awards scholarship schemes and organising music development workshops, seminars and courses in colleges. It also holds contests like the Hornbill International Rock Contest and the MTF has been instrumental in setting up Nagaland’s first music hub – the recently inaugurated Centre of Excellence for Music and Performing Art in Kohima.
Chiso states, “The state government is already keen to make music a part of the educational curriculum.This is an area we will be seriously focussing on.” It does seems only a matter of time before things take off – with 3 crores invested by the MTF as awards and scholarships for musicians, educational institutions and music schools, the future of the Northeastern music scene may just be heading towards a brighter place.
written by Divya Naik