My howling Mashangva experience

528
by Jyaneswar Laishram
Truncated from the maddening crowd of Delhi is a greenbelt where its 
essence of natural tranquility reminds me of my hilly hometown of 
Bishenpur. A momentary stroll down the serpentine roads across the 
lush-green campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi is an 
incredible delight as it offers me the contentment of my long-lost 
Manipur days. My recent visit to the campus on August 21, 2010 was not 
only to touch the greenery but also feel the spirits of my far and away 
homeland through the music of Guru Ruben Mashangva, Imphal Talkies N 
Howlers, HR Experience and H Kom (Stoney).      

I was late to the musical event titled �Shared Solace� held at the 
School of Social Science 1 Auditorium, JNU under the philanthropic 
efforts of Burning Voices supported by Manipur Research Forum Delhi 
(MRFD) and E-pao. Amid the leafy arcadia of the campus I kept running 
for awhile in search of the auditorium where the musical event was 
staged. Fresh raindrops still clawed on tips of tree leaves after a 
sudden downpour. Sweet smell of mud I felt was from the rain-soaked red 
soil lying on roadsides. What fascinated me in the scene also included 
the western horizon painted in crimson of April sunset, appearing 
partially through tree boughs. 

With a little help from my friends via mobile phones, I finally entered 
the auditorium, abandoning the serenity of the campus. I was regretted 
for missing the first half of the historic musical execution, which was 
unveiled in a perfect way to deliver a message of love, peace and unity 
to the people of my turmoil-hit Manipur. No matter how much I know about 
Tangkhul (Naga) folk music, but what Ruben crooned at the show touched 
my emotion deep inside, reminding me of those winter mornings I woke up 
to the sound of songs which wind brought down from the hill of Parengba 
during Christmas.  

Parengba is a small Kabui village located on a hilltop, approximately 
three kilometers away from my Bishenpur home. Many lads from the village 
were in my class when I was in elementary school. They often told me 
stories about the ways Parengba and other neighbouring villages like 
Chingning Khun, Nungsai and Thangning Khun conduct musical sessions on 
Christmas nights. It was the soul stirring folk songs played in rhythm 
of a single-string instrument (a pena kind) that broke the eerie of 
mid-winter nights bathing in cold midnight dew. I sometimes left open my 
bedroom window to let in the harmonious wail that dragged me away from 
ordinary ecstasy of Christmas carol to a more abstract imaginary of folk 
tune. 

�Shared Solace� was my first event seeing Mashangva performed live on 
stage along with his nine-year-old son Saka Mashangva. I have already 
heard uproar among many folk purists praising the significance of 
Mashangva�s music. But my maiden experience of his music at �Shared 
Solace� was something else beyond what I expected from him. In fact, my 
knowledge of music is not mature enough to give proper appreciation of 
Mashangva�s songs. His music is perhaps a discovery of the finest facet 
of our homegrown tune which had been buried unnoticed for a long time. 
Mashangva�s songs have to be understood in terms of its autonomy and 
ability to transcend time and place. 

Moreover, �Shared Solace� developed the buoyancy of widespread creation 
of new genres and ensembles through cross-cultural interactions in some 
forms or others based on the emulation of Manipuri rock music. Songs of 
Ronid (Akhu) Chingangbam, front man of Imphal Talkies N Howlers, 
imparted to a new standard in the realm of contemporary rock music. His 
folk rock-centric howl modeling on Bob Dylan marked a bottom line far 
removed from the occasional and sporadic fashion of conventional 
Manipuri music. The band�s lineup is energetically arrayed with Thingnam 
Sanjeev on lead guitars and bassist Raju Athokpam who extensively play 
big roles to churn out nerve racking protest songs viz. When The Home Is 
Burning, The Ghost Of Machang Lalung, Freedom among others that 
enthralled the crowd at �Shared Solace�. 

Emerged as an exponent in the scene of Manipuri folk rock, Ronid has a 
gamut of songs in Meeteilon (regional language) under his belt, each of 
them drew from the influences including blues, soul, alternative and 
some rock n� roll. His distinctive delivery of a Lai Haraoba (Manipuri 
folk) song fusing with blues in an alternative lyrics at the onset of 
�Shared Solace� simply proved a characteristic contentment in the music 
of Imphal Talkies N Howlers. In the similar line was H Kom (Stoney) who 
delivered (boar hunting) Kom folk song composed in a refined blend with 
popular R&B tune. 

After all, my earnest assumption is that �Shared Solace� couldn�t have 
reached its crescendo without HR Experience. Loosely inspired by Jimmy 
Hendrix Experience, output of HR Experience was an amalgamation of 
different inputs thoroughly overhauled as a result of blues combined 
with free jazz, by rejecting the normative jazz practices. Those who 
lately discovered the band lineup of HR Experience at the end of the 
event were astounded to see the new avatar of Manipur rock music. Of 
course, lead guitarist Chongtham Vikram and bassist R K Raju of HR 
Experience need no introduction if you are in the league of those who 
have been revolved around the Manipuri rock scene over the last two 
decades. 

Vikaram and Raju had played pivotal roles to write success stories of 
several current and erstwhile rock bands including Cannibals, Phoenix, 
Eastern Dark and others across the region. Further, perceptible in HR 
Experience is its young and enthusiastic drummer, Aditya Singh. I have 
seen a couple of HR Experience concerts so far in which Aditya did 
magic, often taking unusual instrumental sounds as the basis of timeless 
jazz techniques sculpted with distorted conventional rock and roll. 
Overall concepts and performances I found at �Shared Solace� forecasted 
a generation of would-be professionals in Manipuri music world. 

This is not the end of my story as well as �Shared Solace�. What it took 
to make the musical extravaganza a complete affair was the premier 
screening of Songs of Mashangva, a documentary film by Oinam Doren, 
based on the life and works of Mangshava. The film depicts unique 
components of multiple trans-cultural interactions of folk music and its 
dynamic influences on social development. During his documentary 
filmmaking career, Doren is known for new milestones in cross-cultural 
exploration of North East Indian music. 
Giving peace a peace march to unite hill and valley, �Shared Solace� 
developed a wide variety of dynamism in the forms of music. The event 
really set new development in context of social, ideological and 
cultural similarities, and to understand sharing spaces among different 
communities as integral to the history and tradition of Manipur. Hope 
such event would someday help rebuild the common roof for all of us!
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