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E-Pao! Rock Concert Reviews - Rock Music in Manipur - 1

Rock Music in Manipur
- The art of imitation, creativity and intervention -
- Part 1 -

By: Ronid Chingangbam *



Every art is an imitation. But every art imitates to fit the local notion of space and time. Rock music in Manipur is just an imitation. We imitate without creative innovation and consequently losing the essence and power of the form.

Yes! People say music has no language or music is the universal language. But rock music does have a distinctive language not as conveyed by the lyrics but through the power of its creative sound. It is not just the power of guitar riffs or amplification of the sound.

Rock music has also been a medium through which aspirations are projected representing contestations in politics, social issues, personal views etc. Many have used rock music as the medium to protest and contest dominant views in the past and in contemporary times.

The Sound of Music: Inheriting the Tradition

Blues artiste McKinley Morganfield (April 4, 1913 - April 30, 1983), better known as Muddy Waters, sang "Blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll." Here, the song had served two purposes; first, the song is telling you how Rock and Roll evolved from blues, second, it tells you how a song can be used to tell a story/history.

In America, rock music has even preserved real or fictitious characters that last for decades. Tom Joad is the protagonist of the classic novel called "The Grapes of Wrath (1939)" by the Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck which was later made into a movie.

Tom Joad came out of prison after serving four-year term for murder. When Tom arrived at his childhood home, he found his family members have deserted it. He subsequently joined them on their journey to future in search for greener pastures.

Unable to fulfil his dreams amidst capitalist mode of production, he committed murder again and became a fugitive. He, however, vowed that no matter where he hides, he will stand for the oppressed.

The American folk and protest singer Woody Guthrie was inspired by this story and composed a ballad called "Tom Joad". Bruce Springsteen too paid tribute to the protagonist of "The Grapes of Wrath (1939)" in his 1995 track "Ghost of Tom Joad". Lately, 'Rage Against The Machine (RATM)' covered the same version in their own unique style.

Yes! Guthrie was the original protest singer and the man's imagination of the power of the six stringed instrument could be gauged by those words written on his the guitar: This machine kills fascists. The symbolic conversion of wooden hollow guitar into a machine speaks volumes.

Yes! He indeed resisted fascists and exploiters with his words and music using the same machine. No wonder, he paved the way for the rise of other politically conscious icons like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

We would not have heard that "knocking on heaven's door" if Guthrie did not inspire the young Dylan or the later version by Guns N Roses (GNR). All I want to say is: All these individuals and bands exactly knew the power of the medium called music.

Decaying Decades: Where are we?

Rock music came to Manipur over three decades back. And for a perpetual optimist like me, I thought three decade is good enough time for rock musicians to evolve and create at least the idea of the music that can be called our own. Have we made sense of our imitation of western rock music?

We love rock music that is why there is so much of talk of it. We are most often than not overwhelmed by the nostalgia of the past. It has become an inevitable habit for all of us to recall those days when our brave rock pioneers led from the front.

Those rockers were/are great and important. They have made us reach this stage and taught us to not only to enjoy the medium but spread the significance of the medium. If they were not around, I would never have known what Rock n Roll is all about and its current role in a troubled society like ours.

Many former rock musicians, die hard fans and well informed critics in and from Manipur whom I had the honour of speaking to often say or claim that rock music in Manipur cannot survive because of the lack of financial support or mass audience.

For me, this thesis has been proven wrong by real stories I had heard or read. Lou Majaw of Shillong's Great Society fame still does not own a home. He travelled from Kolkota to Kathmandu in the late 60s and early 70s in search for his dream, slinging an acoustic guitar on his back and just with one meal a day. He found the answer without a home.

Music gave him shelter and love. Finally, he discovered his deep rooted sense of belonging to Shillong, all too apparent in all his lyrics beginning with the Great Society's first album "Breakthrough". The foundation he laid was so strong, it helped sprout many young talents rooted in the reality that was/is Meghalaya.

And the multiplying effect is wonderful. Now, we see countless bands in the state. Of all these, two great bands from 'the Scotland of the East", Soulmate and Snow White stand out like two shinning stars.

The existence of fully matured bands playing well textured compositions in the Northeast is no longer a new phenomenon now. But there is a haphazard route in Manipur.

I have seen rock bands members with amazing talents setting the stage on fire with their magical fingers. Some have the gutsy inimitable voice while others are just happy performing covers. But there has not been many who impressed me, make my hair raise or tickle my brains. The craft most of them are into reminds me of a peculiar situation.

Their craft is like delicious Hyderabadi Biryani served in our famous OK hotel at Imphal. Why would OK hotel serve Biryani when they have mastered the art of their distinct item "Yen Angouba"( Yummy!)? We eat "Ooti" almost every week. We enjoy Yongchak Eromba every winter. We hit the streets to protest almost every odd that affects our lives.

We hear the same gunshots and read the same newspaper that the "Meira Paibis" read. And whenever we come for the ultimate performance on stage or are given a chance to scream against the vastness of the night sky, against the maddening crowd, we just sing of California or Detroit City.

We even sing of Zapatista. Call that well imagined!! We are just awful! How can we miss the chance to be our own SELF in this land where we can not roam free without being harassed by the armed security forces? Had we been so sensitive, would we not be singing something lyrically closer home. We still have time! The show is not over yet.

Amplify our own Sound and Souls!:

Let us amplify our feelings just like the electric guitars and oppose the cacophony of noise produced by scary gunshots that flow from the barrel of those who wield them. To this end, we already have "Eastern Dark", the band that has lit the flames of political consciousness. Their future is not "Dark" if they simply continue to rock!!

We need more bands like Eastern Dark. And there is Tapta too with his powerful lyrics and spontaneous poems. This guy, despite his 'confused forms' takes the best out of available resources and makes the 'weakness' his 'strength'.

Inspite of his disability to dabble into the American or the European experience of rock music, he is not scared of experimenting and creating his own sound to prove a point, be it social, political and cultural. It may take time.

And over the hills, we have Tangkhul folk and blues exponent Reuben Mashangva who had composed number of politically and socially sensitive songs like "My Land and People" and "Naga Folk Blues".

But there are troubles from other quarters as well. We are also known for not appreciating an innovator's contribution or one's sense of social, political and cultural intervention. If hurdles are overcome, someday, we will be able to shoot at the Sun (Numit Kappa).

I am looking forward to have an informed rock based music tradition. I wish my sound and soul are amplified too.

May be we are on the early stage of our journey just like Ernesto Guevara touring the Latin America in a motorcycle and maintaining a daily memoirs on an innocuous looking diary.

Browse Ronid Chingangbam poems here.


* Ronid Chingangbam contributes regularly to e-pao.net . The writer can be contacted at ronidchi(at)gmail(dot)com . This article was webcasted on December 03rd, 2007


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