A musical revolution asking 'Where Have All The Flowers Gone?'

Jyaneswar Laishram *

'Where Have All The Flowers Gone?' :  Art and Music Festival at Khurkhul ::  6th August 2017
'Where Have All The Flowers Gone?' : Art and Music Festival at Khurkhul on 6th August 2017 :: Pix - Lamdamba Oinam

A vast green moor at the foothill of Kounu Chingsang topping a blanket of fluffy cottony summer clouds at Maning Sabal Lampak of Khukhrul Makha Leikai in Sekmai was where the stage of 'Where Have All The Flowers Gone?' stood.

Such a tranquil open air venue full of green virgin grass, chosen for the two days of annual music festival, organised collaboratively by the non-profit group Folksy Triumph, Khukhrul Welfare Organisation, Apunba Khukhrul Nupi Chaokhat Lup with folk-rock band Imphal Talkies N The Howlers, hosting a handful of truly avant-garde musicians from Manipur and outside, truly fascinated everyone seeing the event live at the venue or online. All it took was a load of music and fun on the lap of nature, and braving some rain, too. And it was all worth it.

The title of the festival 'Where Have All The Flowers Gone?' is named after the song of the same name by the American folk singer Pete Seeger, rather known to many for his ever popular song We Shall Overcome people sing the world over as a universal protest anthem, especially in civil rights movements.

As per Akhu Chingangbam, frontman of Imphal Talkies N The Howlers, the festival, which entered its fourth edition this year, has been designed to celebrate the laudable social work and music of Pete Seeger, at the same time, to bring the overall sense of community involvement, promotion of the region's indigenous culture, music and tradition among people.

Onset of the two-day festival was marked by unfolding a handful of social activities in connection to environmental protection and preservation of the region's culture. It was a breezy cloudy Saturday morning, on August 5, people from all walks of life, predominantly music enthusiasts, came out to take part in the festival's non-musical inaugural programmes, which consisted of a 20-km bicycle rally from Palace Compound in Imphal up to the festival venue, followed by children's painting competition and unveiling of an art/photography exhibition. A member of Folksy Triumph said they wish to make everyone from far and near corners involved in the festival to bridge the ever existing rural-urban divide in Manipur.

People of Khukhrul wholeheartedly supported the festival. The village chief Khulakpa Phuritsabam Somorjit delivered an introductory note on Khukhrul and its people. In the follow-up, Dr Shantarani Louriyam elaborated the insight of the village's age-old tradition and cultural heritages. Then turned up on the stage was a troupe of Khukhrul womenfolk crooning khunung eshei (rural folk song). The programmes continued and the crowd around the stage gathered spirit for it was time to rock now, and the venue from a drone cam angle appeared to be a mini Manipuri version of Max Yasgur's Woodstock farm.

There is nothing that would beat the zeal of audience seeing their favourite musician climbing upon the stage. The crowd got frenzied when Guru Rewben Mashangva emerged on the stage in frivolous mood of jest and wit, and rendered Bob Dylan's A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, followed by the festival's title song Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

The day's proceeding carried forward as a host of other solo musicians successively gigging one after another stretching over diverse genres and styles. The lineup went on as: Nassif Ahmed from Guwahati; country crooner Anungla from Nagaland, who made her first stage debut at the festival; Uday Benegal, lead vocal of Indus Creed or the then Rock Machine, from Mumbai; and of course, Manipur's celebrated folk singer Manka.

Those who were teens or youngsters in the late eighties would never easily give up Rock Machine, the one and only Indian rock band then singing their own original songs, cut successful studio albums, while their counterparts were busy merely doing covers. And it was Uday's husky voice that won the heart of rock folks in Manipur. Finally, of late, after three decades, his Manipuri fans could caught him live on stage at Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

In the late eighties and early nineties, Rock Machine's popularity was infectious. When the motorbike Hero Honda CD 100 was launched in the market, it accompanied a pleasing TV commercial aired on DD National - it was admired by many because Uday huskily crooned it: Sandar sawari...Hero Honda. Moreover, some good old songs of Uday as lead vocal of Rock Machine/Indus Creed are still found humming undying among many around, which may include Rock 'n' Roll Renegade, Karen, Can't Wait Anymore, Pretty Child and the latest among others like You Think I'm Crazy, Alive that he enchantingly performed at Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

Concluding session of the 'day one' of the festival witnessed Manka on stage grabbing the nerve of young crowd who lately realised and enjoyed the essence of khunung eeshei (rural folk music). Emergence of Manka over the last few years has redefined the overall profile of khunung eeshie listeners in Manipur; she has also changed youngsters' perception of rural folk music. In addition to traditional instruments like pena, pung, langden, dholok, toudri, Manka adds some fresh accompaniment of guitar, bass (guitar) and drums into khunung eeshei, which in turn bred a sound that could pull attention of young listeners, that means rock folks.

Till date, no khunung eeshei singer in Manipur could ever make such an impact of Manka on youth. Like any other top-charted popular rock or pop numbers, Manka's rural folk songs like Samaton, Nura Pakhang, Major Chongtham, to pick up a few, have so far gained a huge fan base of young people, which was evidently seen at Where Have All The Flowers Gone? At the festival, a big cheer from the crowd for Manka was for her wigwagged performance of khunung eeshei minced a bit of rock.

Day two of the festival was dawned with yet another set of non-musical activities of environmental awareness, such as 'tree plantation' and documentary film screenings. In the latter, what were selectively screened at Khukhrul Cinema Hall were international award-winning filmmaker Tarun Bhatiya's Songs To Live By a cycle of six documentaries, which was unfortunately not completed the 'cycle' due to time constrain; Nagaland is Changing – a film by Gurmeet Sapal; and Haobam Paban Kumar's Phum Shang. In the meanwhile, on the other side, on the green field of the festival venue, crowd poured in as music session of the second day had to resume. The overall excitement of the crowd was for about Tapta to perform.

Before Tapta occupied the stage, two young regional rock groups - The Cajon Diaries and Eyoom - lifted the spirit of the crowd to a level, regaling everyone with some good old songs. As the organisers often say one of their focal intentions in the festival is to promote budding and serious musicians in and around Manipur, every edition of the festival sees new faces of young musicians who play something fresh of their own, not as pale imitators. With this, the festival every year picks some old prodigies as well, so was why Tapta in the list.

Like a blazing comet, as he always is in a gig, Tapta shook the crowd with some of his timeless numbers like Hairamdana, Bomb-Bomb, Thawai, Bad Boy, picked up primarily from his two landmark albums - The Power of Attraction and The Power of Attraction-2, which critics claim his best till date.

Musicians at the ambitiously organised fourth edition of 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?' inherited a world where in a diverse musical styles and genres are converged on a common platform, to offer something for everyone else. Besides all, the festival in its three editions over the last three years has set a meaningful musical revolution. And young people respond to it.

The last three editions of the festival were held at Chingnungkhok, Andro and Phayeng, and this year in Khukhrul, for which many heedless critics ask why the festival goes only to places where brewed yoo (beverage). The answer: these places are where Manipur's pure and pristine tradition, culture and language dwell in. The next edition of the festival, according to the organisers, will surely head to such another place next year too, regardless of it being a yoo place or not.

* Jyaneswar Laishram wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on August 23, 2017.

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