Socially conscious songs have had a long, eventful history. From Bob Dylan’s stirring Blowin’ in the Wind, describing the aggravation and aspirations of black people and being regarded as an anthem of the civil rights movement in the 1960s; to closer home, the Indian People’s Theatre Association, which tried to awaken people through cultural activities during 1940-50. Now, Imphal Talkies, an Imphal-based band has conceptualised The Imphal Music Project, a platform where artists can express themselves and share their views on important issues, musically.
“I’ve always felt that Imphal needs more political form of arts that can strongly voice the happenings in this town — communal hate, fake encounter killings, AFSPA, or even drug abuse and HIV. I belong to the Meitei community and my co-artist Rewben Mashangva belongs to the Tangkhul Naga community. We writing a song together is like a slap on the face of all these communal propagandists. So I thought of this project with Rewben and Rahul Ram (Indian Ocean) accompanied by Imphal based artists Hem Gurumayum, Sunil Loitongbam and Sachin Angom,” says Ronid Chingangbam, vocalist, Imphal Talkies.
The project was conceptualised when Indian Ocean toured Thailand, where Chingangbam was pursuing his post doctorate, and Ram and him got talking about recording Chingangbam’s second album. “Rahul said he could play bass for me, and when he finally visited me in Imphal, the project materialised. The idea of artists from different backgrounds collaborating fascinates me. So, when Rahul was in Imphal, it felt like the right time to initiate the project as he is someone who understands my music and the socio political issues of the North East region,” Chingangbam explains.
There are very few musicians who take a stand against the world or the country despite the issues we are surrounded with; be it the recent gang rape or fighting for justice of the Gujarat carnage. May be musicians are scared to be tagged political, but being ‘apolitical’ is also being political but in a very stupid way.
But he is quick to add that though the project attempts to bring out conscious music, it will not only be about the North East. “I have written songs on Tamil genocide in Sri Lanka, Salwa Judum, and also on Kashmir,” he says. Through this project, they also want the world to know how hard it is for artists to record songs in Imphal as there is hardly any electricity in the state.
On what basis are the various musicians selected to be a part of the project? “I want to work with singer/songwriters who have certain level of awareness about the happenings of the world. But surprisingly, there are very few musicians who take a stand against the world or the country despite the issues we are surrounded with; be it the recent gang rape or fighting for justice of the Gujarat carnage. May be musicians are scared to be tagged political, but being ‘apolitical’ is also being political but in a very stupid way,” he says.
Mashangva, who collaborated for the first song of the project, Nonglei (The Storm), that talks about Manipur and its people says, “Music can be used to bring about peace and harmony as it has no boundaries. This song, talks about Manipur and questions that when all the things like love, friendship, fellowship and communal harmony are gradually disappearing from the Valley, will the Siroi lily bloom and smile at us?,” he says. He explains that the Siroi lily only blooms in the Siroi hills of Ukhrul, a Naga inhabited district of Manipur and this line expresses how even these flowers are whiffing the scent of sadness reeking in the Valley.
The project does not plan to cut an album; instead they plan to release songs after each episode. The next session is likely to happen before summer and will feature Mumbai based singer/guitar player Sumit Bhattacharya along with Dhaka-based singer/songwriter/poet Rushaf Wadud.