A playlist of Imphal Talkies and Rodriguez
Jyaneswar Laishram *
Imphal Talkies - 'When The Home Is Burning'
"Daa, what's on your playlist?" asked a plump-faced boy sitting next to me, briefly monitoring some MP3 files I scrolled up and down on my mobile. He sported a punk hairdo. Little punk and more of something so weird was what his every-which-way hair locks made him. Beguiled by his interest in my playlist, but miffed at the way he enquired, I replied in short, "Imphal Talkies N The Howlers and Rodriguez." He heard a bit about the former and knew nothing about the latter. "I'm a blues guy. I play blues guitar," he said in a clever tone. I looked at him straight into his eyes, said nothing. His uneasiness in responding to my gaze indicated that he could sense the pity feeling I felt for him, not for the hairstyle but his 'blues' intellect.
Blues in some way or the other is imbibed deeply somewhere in the protest songs of both Imphal Talkies N The Howlers and Rodriguez. Folk musician Sixto Rodriguez has recorded only two studio albums in his lifetime - Cold Fact (1970) and Coming from Reality (1971). Very coincidentally, Imphal Talkies N The Howlers is also a two albums old band - the first being Tiddim Road released in 2009 and When The Home Is Burning is the latest. And yet another stark similarity between front-man Ronid Chingangbam of Imphal Talkies N The Howlers (also popularly known as Akhu) and Rodriguez is their satirical anti-establishment lyrics. People hardly knew who Rodriguez was in the first place in the US, where he is a native. Recognition of him was dawned in South Africa only when his influential songs served as anti-apartheid anthems in mass protest rallies.
Now on my playlist are those 25 songs from Rodriguez's two albums and 13 songs of When The Home Is Burning being loaded on my mobile phone, which I turn on whenever free from work or while on walk. Rodriguez, in most of his songs, takes a political stance on the sorrow and difficulties of the poor and working class in the capitalist society he belonged. His working-class Mexican parents came to Detroit for industrial labour jobs in the 1920s, which was a miserable period for immigrants in the region facing both alienation and marginalisation.
Apart from sharing pang, anger and ridicule in general terms with Rodriguez, Akhu's songs in When The Home Is Burning are composed of a different rage - the rage against the odds and anomalies pulling everything upside down around the politically and economically handicap Manipur. The title song in the album is condemnation of the social activists in the state, working something for the wellbeing of the society, but ended doing everything of their own benefits. Most of the songs in the album are directly or indirectly connected to real life experiences of Akhu. He wrote India, I See Blood In Your Hand dedicating to activist Binayak Sen, who was arrested on sedition charge.
Mr President Is Coming, my favourite in the album, has its share of a true story narrating a bizarre incident or an awful accident of Akhu thrashed by a troop of high handed local police commandos while he was on a sundown stroll with some band mates, yes a bit drunk, on a curfew-laden evening during President Pranab Mukherjee's maiden visit to Imphal a few years ago. Other songs in the album, such as Napa Thorai Macha, Eegee Nong, I Wanna Go To Moscow, Ei Sirage and Ode To Loktak recount the tarnished lives of civilians in Manipur and social turbulences they face every day, any moment, anywhere so insecurely, in forms of suppression or oppression laced with corruption everywhere.
Despite inspirations from a handful of overseas musicians, namely Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Pete Segre and others, the inheritance of the sound of Imphal Talkies N Howlers is eccentrically woven with indigenousness - perhaps the first ever successful attempt of a Manipuri rock group giving an ideal intersperse of pena (stringed folk instrument) and pung (traditional drum) to rock n roll. They beautifully integrate local folk sound into rock, pleasing the fans across the globe. The band's lyrics are simple and straight, but powerful. And the overall blends of instruments are well crafted. Ode To Loktak is an ideal instance, in which humming pena in the background of a haunting guitar gives a right tinge to the bluesy howl of Akhu.
When it comes to reckoning who the Imphal Talkies N The Howlers are, fans find only Akhu and Sachidananda Angom (lead guitarist) holding the fort in the foreground since the band's inception five years back. Of course, Singthoi Irom, who was originally a pung player, is the newest addition to the band as drummer (cajon). But a galaxy of session musicians is always behind the Impahl Talkies N Howlers to deliver any new effect one can ever expect blaring out so unexpectedly from the band. Among the bunch of big names being roped in for When The Home Is Burning include Chaoba Thiyam on pena, drummer Sunil Loitongbam, bassist Ringo Golmei and Jimbo Ningombam on organ and accordion.
It is the style of Lullaby, their internationally acclaimed single released in 2012, which Imphal Talkies N The Howlers continues in Ode To Loktak where children give howling backing in form of a chirpy demeanour. In this, Rodriguez did the similar trait in his song Gommorah (A Nursery Rhyme), a lamentation against oppression in the society and bloated future of marginalised children. I think there's some kind of a common nerve connecting all protest singers across the globe - musically, lyrically, philosophically or something else, that make them peer enough to be together on my playlist.
(This article is reproduced from the same published in The Sangai Express)
* Jyaneswar Laishram wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at ozzyjane(at)gmail(doT)com
This article was posted on March 14, 2015.
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