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Ema Gi Wari by Imphal Talkies & The Howlers
(Critical Analysis and Dissection)

Ningombam Captain *

 Ema Gi Wari by Imphal Talkies & The Howlers



Ema Gi Wari
Artist: Imphal Talkies & The Howlers
Genre: Progressive folk rock
Length: 30min 7sec
Released: 31/03/2019

I don't like Google that much. Call me over dramatic but I think this search-engine-turned-multinational-company is an insult to my countless encyclopedias and silverfish-infested yearbooks. As a new-found habit I spend days avoiding Google, sometimes weeks, getting lost over the meaning of a Latin phrase that I encountered on a Hollywood courtroom drama or the whereabouts of a German rock band or how many Indian Rupee is one Dollar?

Or say, am I mistaken to use "many" to express the measure of money? It's all just one google away but I choose to cram over my voluptuous encyclopedias, hardback Latin dictionaries and old newspapers that reek of fungi and lies (pun intended).

Now, there is this one curious term that has been tempting me for a thorough Google search as it does not appear anywhere throughout the volumes of my papery arsenal, and that term is "Galactic Archaeology". Is it a field of study? Is it a branch of Archaeology? Or is it just a slang for Astronomy?

By the look and sound of it, "Galactic Archaeology" might be the excavation and research of... the Galaxies? I'm not sure but as far as Archaeology is concerned, one certain statement is resolute in my mind now: Ema Gi Wari (Rivers and Valleys Where My Roots Breathe) by Imphal Talkies & The Howlers is undoubtedly an archaeology of the history, literature, oral traditions, and even architecture on the Manipuri's of Assam and Bangladesh.

Everybody in and around Imphal is virtually familiar with the name "Imphal Talkies", for it is either a movie theatre or the brainchild of Akhu Chingangbam, or to my orthodox grandmother, the vulgar "band party" that advocates against her act of hiding the nail-cutter and khujin-thang from us on Thursdays. The point is that Imphal Talkies, short for Imphal Talkies & The Howlers, is now a household name in Manipur.

If there is an acoustic guitar lying around the house, the name reverberates even more. Ema Gi Wari is the third full-length studio album of Imphal Talkies, released exactly 10 years after their debut, Tiddim Road. This 30-odd minutes length of an album is modest enough to be spangled with only 7 songs. However, in terms of the writing, production, and prospect the album socially distances itself far from modest.

In fact, Ema Gi Wari is the most ambitious Manipuri rock album ever to have graced the array of significant releases for the last decade. Mature writing, opulent instrumentation, odd time signatures, Chaoba Thiyam, commendable guitar work, literary allusions— this album has it all!

Ema Gi Wari opens with Chahi Taret Khuntakpa, an uncanny track that does not, at all, define the sound of the album. Its literal translation is "Seven Years Devastation", an indispensable chapter in Manipuri history equivalent in infamy to that of the Holocaust. This unforgettable catastrophe, from 1819 to 1826, was the Burmese conquest of Manipur (erstwhile Meitrabak) by the Awa king Bagyidaw and the resultant genocide of the Manipuri's.

Akhu Chingangbam blatantly presents the graphic details of massacres that happened during the Devastation and addresses the fountainhead of this cataclysm— the cowardice and incompetence of the aristocrats. And in order to express the frustration and anger, the opening track resorts to the use of strong language and harsh vocals, which is not surprising because hey, this is the same band that sang Napa Thorai Macha. Duh!

Chahi Taret Khuntakpa consists of three divisible segments. It opens with a haunting arpeggiated E minor chord layered with a contemplating lead guitar. The second is a hard rock segment featuring one of Akhu's angriest vocals recorded yet. Keeping in mind that the guitars are not distorted enough for the occasion, it is quite impressive that he does mid scream vocals in exclaiming, almost rebuking, the spineless aristocrats. The monophonic guitar solo with ample overdrive, that precedes the conclusive segment, is one of the best moments of the album. It is satisfying and totally called for.

The second track, Tongjei Maril / Ting Ting Chaoro, has two distinct parts. The first is on "the subsequent displacement, migration, settlement, struggles and lives of Manipuri's in the Barak and Surma Valleys", which was brought about by the Devastation. The "hey-hey heya-hey" vocable is comparable to a field holler that accompanies the physically working individual.

The backing vocals create an illusion of call and response to the buoyant vocable giving a sense of unity and hopeful beginning. The song itself chronicles the birth of a civilization, from the construction of a homestead near a river to the opening of a market. The second part is a traditional Manipuri folk rhyme about development apropos of nurturing of a child; in the album, it is: the epitome of hope; the antithesis to the Devastation; the genesis that follows a genocide.

Wahoudok : Singerband / Hojai expunges the macabre and dead seriousness of the previous tracks. Being faithful to the literal meaning of "Wahoudok", the song, in the key of G major, introduces the true sound of optimism the album promised at its premise. The flute intro serves as a fitting prologue to the unmistaken sound of merriment and celebration. Akhu sings of Singerband, then Hojai, both laced with Sachidananda's addictive bouncy guitar solos.

The writing is imagist in nature, where the avoidance of superfluous words adds to the establishment of imagery just like the band encountered on their journey to Singerband and Hojai, which are both scenic places in Assam. In terms of composition, instrumentation, writing, and mix, this is my favorite track on the album.

There is this one thing that keeps me infatuated with this song, no, not because of the yongchak in the lyrics, but the way how the part of Singerband seagues to that of Hojai with that sudden change in tempo, which is reminiscent of how the segment Someone Like Him transits to Medicate (Awakening) in that lengthy Dream Theatre track Octavarium. This sounds a bit specific, but do compare the two. You won't be disappointed.

Khamba Thoibi Tangkak appeals in handling literary allusions with a treatment of modernist wit. Chaoba Thiyam provides the prologue to the retelling of an excerpt from Khamba Thoibi, a Manipuri epic written by Hijam Anganghal, all the while paying homage to another work, that is Ilisha Amagi Mahao (transl. The Taste of an Hilsa) a realist short story by N. Kunjamohan Singh.

While it seems clichéd to hyperlink such well-known references in the lyrics, Imphal Talkies shines in such an undertaking. Thiri Ema gi Khongul is by far the weakest track of the album. Although it features a wealth of lyrics with quotable significance it, however, fails to stand out from the other tracks. Suffering from a lack of uniqueness which it traded for mere catchiness, the only admirable aspect of this track is the energy of fast-paced lyrics delivery that races Karnajit's bouncy bassline.

The highlight of Eisu Nangi Nachani is the pena. The outro, which is an amalgam of a funky guitar riff and a cascading pena revolving around a steady beat, is unforgettable. Angangba Korou, the closing track, is the most Imphal Talkies-like song on the album.

It channels the early sound of the band with a ukulele and blatant lyricism disrupting regular meters with polysyllabic words made tangible only by Akhu's unique delivery, for if I were to put the name "Meghalaya" to a tune, not in a freestyle rap but to a constrained meter, I'd reconsider my life choices.

It is not advisable to keep mentioning Romeo and Juliet in an English love song these days for it is difficult to avoid the clutches of cliché. Similarly, corresponding Khamba and Thoibi to the representative sexes as emblematic of true love is not a million-dollar idea.

But Imphal Talkies can sing of such, and still manage to not sound clichéd. Meddling with elements of quasi-mythology while incorporating pop culture references suits them quite well. This right here is the pathology of the several bands wielding a derivative sound and style of Imphal Talkies and why they will remain in obscurity. They will not suit to such an enterprise if they try to sound like Imphal Talkies. The phenomenon of Imphal Talkies & The Howlers can be an influence, but not be replicated.

Ema Gi Wari will stand the test of time as an emblem of the Manipuri spirit. I have a Bangladeshi Meitei friend who is saving up to visit Manipur, and this album endorses his ideal—the ideal of the displaced Manipuri to connect ties with their provenance or shall we say, to realize the "Manipuri dream" and vice versa.

In brief, Ema Gi Wari is, in many ways, an informative Anthropological Archaeology project recorded and documented in the poetics of a progressive folk rock concept album. It will live on as the comparatively unknown magnum opus that the band is really proud of, that Akhu thinks of and smiles himself to sleep at night. Or does he? Maybe I should... google it.


* Ningombam Captain wrote this article for e-pao.net
Ningombam Captain is the creator of Blue Bannerman Reviews and can be contacted at ningombamcaptain(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on February 09, 2021.



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